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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 7039

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (19:33): I rise tonight to talk about football and netball. In Victoria and across the country, the lifeblood of many regional communities is their local football or netball club. As generations of families work together, playing, supporting and volunteering for their local clubs, a strong sense of connectedness has developed. Many lifelong friendships and, yes, I admit, rivalries have been forged on the sidelines while cheering a local team on. We can all picture our local club where families, particularly in country areas, drive long distances for a day out, packing chairs and thermos as well as beanies and netball gear that display the passion for local teams. Over the last month, during finals time, particularly in country areas, the main streets of country towns have been decked out with team colours.

Dr Ramon Spaaij, a senior research fellow at La Trobe University, states that:

Local sports clubs are integral to the social and cultural life of many country towns and provide an important public space for connection.

In his book Sport and Social Mobility: Crossing Boundaries, Dr Spaaij quotes a school teacher in north central Victoria he interviewed as part of his research who says that organised sport in their community is 'the binder rather than the segmenter'. That's about how local football and netball clubs bring communities together in places where there may not be as many opportunities for social and community interaction.

Communities are strengthened through their clubs, breaking down barriers between social classes and between people who might not otherwise interact. Many parents start out on the sidelines of junior football and netball and go on to become involved in coaching, fundraising, working in the canteen and progressing to team trips away for carnivals. They even stick around when their children have children of their own, coming along to watch the grandchildren. These children and young people are imbued with a sense of pride in their team and their club, and hence in their local community. Their commitment is fostered, they have role models and this spirit goes beyond the team, filtering through families to the broader community. Football and netball clubs also, of course, promote physical activity and fitness, and promote self-esteem and wellbeing in young people. These are all qualities to be commended and something I am particularly interested in, specifically for young women.

During the sitting break, I had the privilege of attending the Bendigo Football Netball League grand final day. Congratulations to the mighty Golden Square for winding up 2011 football premiers with a very powerful performance, one they sustained all season, against Eaglehawk. Congratulations also to the Bendigo Football League on its 130th anniversary—an impressive history. In country Victoria, grand finals are a celebration that is part of the fabric of so many communities. Talking about participation in football in country areas, I am reminded that almost one in four eligible juniors in regional and rural Victoria participates in local football. That figure is substantially higher than that of Melbourne. In some regions participation is much higher again. In Buloke Shire, north of Bendigo, 90 per cent of young men aged between 13 and 18 play football. That is an extraordinary figure.

However, I am not here to speak just about football. There is another game with rich traditions and, as a monarchist, I am proud to say it is played in most Commonwealth countries. ABS statistics show that 376,000 Australians play netball, more than AFL, rugby league and rugby union combined. Last night, I attended a dinner with many other members of the parliamentary sports club, for which, after hearing the results, I see that participation is clearly the focus. The focus last night was on the great sport of netball and, in particular, on the guests of honour: the members of the Australian Diamonds netball team. Tomorrow night they play England here in Canberra at the AIS. I am sure that everyone will join with me in wishing them the best of luck as they represent our nation as elite athletes. The Diamonds, winners of this year's world championship, are an inspiration to all budding netballers. The Australian Diamonds are great role models for Victorian and Australian girls and women. They are strong, physically active, healthy young women.

In wishing them all the best for tomorrow, I also want to congratulate the thousands of Victorians who participated in recent weeks in their own footy and netball grand finals. In the great tradition of the parliamentary netball team, where participation is more important than performance, I really applaud all those fantastic Victorian footballers and netballers who played all season without getting to the finals and are in there having a go. Like us, there is always next year.