Parliament Updates

Appropriations Bill (No.3) 2019-2020

4 March, 2020


I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No.3) 2019-2020, which seeks to effectively provide top-up funding to the 2019-20 budget. A quick look at the schedule of appropriations shows the usual areas receiving the lion's share of spending. The portfolio of Home Affairs receives the largest top-up, with an allocation of just under $1 billion. Next is the portfolio of Social Services, on just under $900 million, where I am pleased to see that the National Disability Insurance Scheme has been allocated a further $5 million. Then, predictably, the portfolio of Defence sits with an additional $533 million, the bulk of which goes directly to the department but a small percentage does go to the Department of Veterans' Affairs, which I wholeheartedly support. Then there's the usual scattering of funds to other portfolios, and it is one of those that I wish to focus my comments on with respect to this bill.

Of the $183 million in funds allocated to the portfolio of Health an amount of $125,000 only has been allocated to the Australian Sports Commission. This is on top of the $388 million allocated in the 2019-20 budget. It's here that I wish to shine a spotlight today—because, as the shameful sports rorts scandal was emerging and the unfolding revelations of the misappropriated funds were being detailed, another saga was bubbling along with the Australian Sports Commission. In a series of media reports, revelations were made about the spending patterns of the commission and particularly spending for the Australian Institute of Sport.

Many Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games sports are facing huge funding cuts, some of more than 60 per cent. For instance, the Australian women's hockey team, the Hockeyroos, once the pride of the nation, have had their future funding slashed by 60 per cent. Other sports to lose funding include synchronised swimming, softball, gymnastics, taekwondo, diving, football, basketball, archery, modern pentathlon, volleyball and water polo. The funding cuts will mean some of those sports will lose their elite sports programs and will not be in a position to hire the much-needed coaching staff to stay competitive.

Individual sporting bodies were allegedly told in February how much funding they would receive for just the first six months after the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games, with some additional funding being used to reward the sports that do well. So not only do they get their funding cut but also, if they fail to perform, they will face further cuts. As you can imagine, this puts an enormous amount of pressure on the individual athletes that are competing in the upcoming games in Tokyo, knowing that their performance, their individual result, will impact on the future funding of their chosen sports and the next generations.

There has been widespread criticism and dismay that future funding won't even be maintained at the bare basics that it sits at today for many sports, and an entire generation of athletes will be negatively impacted. Many have concluded that the biggest losers will be the Australian youth, currently aged between 13 and 16, who would be eyeing a shot at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. They simply won't have access to the programs or the coaching that would enable them to reach their potential. At a time when we should be fostering sport in our youth, encouraging them to have big dreams and goals, encouraging them to pursue sporting careers and helping them pursue their dreams, cost-cutting and defunding will mean that certain opportunities are lost. It's at this age that proper support, financial or otherwise, can make all the difference to an athlete and whether they choose to pursue their sporting career or not.

Whilst serious questions were being asked about the defunding of individual sports, revelations were also being made about where some of those funds were actually being spent: $8 million on executive training for high-ranking officials at the Australian Sports Commission; $5 million on recruitment consultants; $17 million in marketing and advertising; $2 million to lease offices in Brisbane and Melbourne; and an estimated travel figure of $3 million for AIS executives who prefer to fly in and out of Canberra for work rather than being Canberra based. As pointed out in the media, that last figure of $3 million is close to the amount needed to fund an entire sport, such as water polo, whose budget is $3.89 million a year; surfing, $2.73 million a year; or softball, $2.26 million a year. I think we really need to understand and ask why such a high proportion of the funds are being spent on travel expenses for AIS executives. Meanwhile, struggling athletes are relying on families and friends to pursue their dreams. They are doing GoFundMe pages. They are doing raffles and they are doing everything they can within their community to put together the funds. I can absolutely relate to that. As a past Olympic athlete, I remember having to fund raise and have the support of my family to afford to take my skis to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics because the funding we received didn't cover the excess luggage that I had to pay to take my equipment to the Olympics.

Another example: the national baseball team, ranked number 6 in the world, has been told it will not get any money for an upcoming Olympic qualifying camp because it is not considered good enough to win an Olympic gold medal. Similarly, the under-20 athletes taking part in the world championships in Kenya in July will have to pay $4,000 for the right to represent Australia. The reality is that we are creating a situation where fulfilling one's sporting dreams and aspirations is only for those who can afford to do it. We are losing the talent and crushing the dreams of so many that aren't in a position to afford to pay for it. Which of our past sporting heroes would we have lost under that approach? Would it have been Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe, Mick Fanning? Sport has always played a huge part in the Australian cultural identity. Which one of our Australian heroes that we celebrate would we give up and say 'Sorry, but funding your sport is not a priority?'

This current financial mess and uncertainty could obviously jeopardise our success and our prospects at the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games in July and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022, and also our success or otherwise beyond those Games for the dreams and aspirations of all our young people that are thinking about what their dreams might be now. MPs will recall that Australia used to be the envy of the world when it came to our sporting success. We would often say that we were punching above our weight, as the saying goes. Other nations used to look at us and wonder what our secret was. At the Sydney 2000 games we ranked fourth in the world on the overall medal tally. That's an incredible result for a country of our size. At those games we got 16 gold, 25 silver and 17 bronze—a total of 58 medals. Our tally has gradually been decreasing at every games since. By London in 2012 we had slipped to eighth position with 35 medals, and by Rio we slipped again, with 29 medals. For each of those Olympic years funding continued to be the issue. Sports simply cannot stay competitive if funding is not there for the coaching and the elite level programs.

But this is not just about medal tallies or Australia's love of sport or our desire to do our best or be the best. It is about shaping a culture, creating role models and keeping our community, particularly young people, fit and healthy. The benefits of playing sports are well known: lower obesity rates, better overall health, improved mental health and greater social cohesion. The ripple effects of sport on general health and wellbeing as individuals and as a nation are widespread. The benefits are in jeopardy if we start undermining the way we view and fund our national sports program, especially Olympic sports.

This is about our national identity, our health as a nation and the importance of where our priorities lie. What do we aspire to be? Who will be the role models for our kids and grandkids if we don't support our young Australians getting to the Olympics and having a chance of being competitive at those Olympics? I have been a director of the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, which takes care of our winter programs for the winter Olympic Games. I know firsthand the challenges of funding. It is a constant struggle, and it's always the families and athletes that are called upon to contribute. Winter sports in particular are consistently disadvantaged in funding in Australia. But our national sporting authority must do better. I call on the Commonwealth government to reassess the funding process, to review the governance in general of the Australian Sports Commission and to support our aspiring athletes. We must be able to have role models, and our youth need to have those dreams.

(Quorum formed)