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Remarks at luncheon for the PM's XI versus New Zealand Cricket Match, Manuka.

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Prime Minister of Australia


Remarks at luncheon for the PM's XI versus New Zealand cricket match Manuka Oval, Canberra

29 January 2009



Thank you John Gallop for that tactful and diplomatic reminder of the fact, and I quote you, that New Zealand was supposed to be part of the Federation. I am sure that will be reported positively in tomorrow’s New Zealand press. Your career in Australian diplomacy is once again assured.

Speaking of the diplomacy which unites our two great lands, I was speaking earlier to Sir Richard Hadlee, where is Sir Richard, gone somewhere? Can’t see him (inaudible). Anyway, that means I can misrepresent grossly what he actually said. We were talking about his contribution to diplomacy and his experiences on an Australian tour in the early 1980’s, when one of my distinguished predecessors was Prime Minister, RJ Hawke.

He said it was a provincial game in Australia against Geelong, or Victorian Country I think, Victorian Country XI - where one little kid at the end of the day raced on to the field and said to Sir Richard, ‘you know, you’re a real mongrel’.

Now Sir Richard, as you know him well, is a proper chap and has a sense of proper decorum in behaviour. He then told me that he then chased after the kid across the ground and then proceeded to give him a solid dressing down.

This is of course partly caught on camera, which then caused Sir Richard when interviewed to widen the tent of his attack, and then say it was obviously a reflection of parental standards generally in Australia. And how could the Australian education system possibly produce such people, and wasn’t this a problem for the current standard of Prime Ministerial leadership.

So that’s what we call in the business of politics, escalation with intent. And your comments this morning John, were near brushes in the breeze compared with all of that.

Can I just say this about the Australia - New Zealand relationship though, it is the closest relationship that this country has. And for those of you who are here from across the Tasman, and having spent some of the last week with John Key, the new Prime Minister of New Zealand - from our point of view as Australia this is a fundamentally important relationship; has been in times past, will be for the future. And I think of no two countries with a closer set of ties than those between those from the other side of the ditch and ourselves.

I was perusing the record on how previous Prime Ministers have fared in this series. There is an interesting mathematical principle which derives from this which I have just invented.

Ming, Prime Minister Menzies, probably I think cricket tragic extraordinaire, even compared with Mr Howard. I mean I think Ming would regard himself and I think people would regard Ming as almost co-definitional with the game to the extent of tours of England that I referred to last night.

Ming however when it comes to the Prime Minister’s XI, has this as his result: seven games played for one win, four losses, one tie and one no result. Not a very good score, Ming.

RJ Hawke who is thought himself as not only keen sport enthusiast, but in at least Hawkey’s estimation, a damn good player of all sports as well. Bob always has a virtue when it came to, let’s call it, self-confidence. Hawkey: eight games played, four wins, three losses, and one no result. So a bare pass for RJ Hawke but considerably better than Ming.

Mr Howard: 11 games played, six wins and five losses, again a bare pass.

Guess who gets the best result overall? That well-known national sporting enthusiast, PJ Keating. Three games played and three wins, no losses.

I am not sure what the mathematical principle is here but if you have a Prime Minister in office who has no demonstrable interest in this game, the national team will do better.

For myself, who actually really enjoys the game, I am following the historical trend. I’ve been Prime Minister for one game so far and I lost it. So I am sure Paul would be encouraged by that if he could actually understand the statistics of the game. We love Paul. It’s just that as you know, he wasn’t a big fan of sport.

It’s a great pleasure of mine to welcome you all here today to this event and it is a real fixture in the annual calendar. As we look out on this field, and I saw this, this morning when I was here for the toss, we looked at the Jack Fingleton scoreboard. And it is my working assumption that most people in this room are either political or cricketing junkies or both - the life and times of Jack Fingleton were dominated by both in equal measure.

Jack donned the baggy green on 18 occasions for Australia in the early 1930s. This included fronting up at the top of the order in the infamous Bodyline series of 1932-33, a challenge that only the bravest competitors could ever wish for.

This was also a series for which he would go on to write the definitive historical account later in his life.

At the conclusion of his cricketing career he moved to the nation’s capital, where he could cover politics for Radio Australia from the Parliamentary Press Gallery for a remarkable 38 years.

The scoreboard to our right was for many years located at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, overseeing test matches and football games alike for a generation, before she came here to retire gently and elegantly at the Manuka Oval.

I think it would be more apt, that in this fine city of Canberra, this scoreboard resides here as an ongoing reminder of his legacy to both of his professional pursuits: politics and sport.

One of the great things about this event, this game between the Prime Minister’s XI and visiting touring sides, is its history.

Sir Robert Menzies as I said before, a great cricketing tragic, a great fan of the game, initiated this series a long, long time ago. And I believe it has done the city of Canberra proud by adding it to the annual events which we celebrate here.

More importantly though if you look at the role which this game has played, or this match has played in encouraging players who are younger in years. And if you look at today’s list of the Prime Minister’s XI, you will note that eight of the eleven players are in fact selected with an age under 25. And let’s wish them all well for their future cricketing careers.

Justin Langer, I referred to at length and positively last night and I will qualify my remarks as appropriate by the end of today’s play. No pressure Justin if you are listening to this anywhere and I’m sure you’re not. You’re concentrating on an encouraging session with the players downstairs.

The Kiwis have left us with a formidable task after lunch, five for 271 is a reasonable score here at Manuka but I am confident that we will do well in rising to the challenge and the occasion. After all, I have my own modest score line to be mindful of over here.

Mind you, when it comes to games or matches between Australia and New Zealand even it was marbles or tiddly-winks, it would bring out a degree of intensity and a performance on the field. And I believe we have seen that this morning and we will see it again this afternoon.

Already the battles between the teams representing both sides of the Tasman have been formidable. In the limited (inaudible) game there have been 112 games between Australia and New Zealand. And I believe they have contributed a lot to the overall condition of the game or the new form of the game.

The less that is said about the underarm scandal of 1981 the better. I have chosen not to mention it because my notes here actually provide an egregious joke about it which would get a big run in the New Zealand newspapers. So I am not going to do it.

In recent times, New Zealand and Australia have struck the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy, for which our visitors are here this summer. This I believe is a fantastic initiative that enables us to recognise on an annual basis the unique relationship we share on the cricketing field. And I am sure this is going to be a great season between the two of us.

So ladies and gentlemen, it’s great to be here at Manuka. I appreciate the support which the local business community in particular provide to this event each year.

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I appreciate the fact that the good denizens of Canberra themselves come out and support this fixture. And I think it is a great thing that here in the nation’s capital we have this great sporting event each year.

If I could just say this about the great game of cricket itself more broadly. I was talking to Sir Richard Hadlee about this earlier today. We should never forget the role which this game plays, and our great national sporting culture in general plays, in underpinning the nation’s spirit at times of challenge. It has done so in times past, it does so today and will do so in the future.

Some say well it is just a game, well it is. But you know we see reflected in the way in which this game is played, in the intensity of it, on the questions of character which are brought to bear in each game, endurance and courage and all those things.

Things that actually have a wider role to play in the character of a nation and the character of a people as we deal with challenges of life more broadly. And those challenges will be delivered to us in large measure in the year ahead.

This is a great game. I enjoy it heaps. And I look forward very much to seeing which side prevails through the course of the afternoon. I am sure all of you will get out there and impartially back the best team, Australia.

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