PDF printable version of Interview on ABC News Radio with Tracey Holmes (PDF 235 KB)
19 February 2017
Topics: Participation in sport; sport funding; AOC; ASC; Essendon; ASDA; WADA
It would seem that you’ve got a number of pressing issues at the moment, but the most pressing issue would have to be the broken relationship between the presidents of the AOC and the ASC. You’ve said you’d like to play a bridging role in that relationship, but what authority do you actually have over the AOC?
Look you actually come with good officers in this role. And I start by making the clear point that both organisations, both the Sports Commission and the AOC are fundamental to Australian sport, and also the individuals involved.
I have had the opportunity to meet with each of them to talk with them. I have immense respect, immense respect for each of them and I’ve already seen, only today, I’ve already seen some very positive signs.
So, I am extremely hopeful that we can make sure that the fundamental parts of our sports and Olympic movements work together, work together well.
I’m not going to comment on individual relationships, my job is to ensure that the two organisations cooperate for the good of Australian sport and I’m happy to do that, whether in a formal or an informal role.
But I have to say just today, just in the last couple of hours, I’ve seen some very constructive steps forward.
Okay, you say that’s the position you want to take, but take the personalities out of it and let’s just look at the organisations themselves.
The Australian Olympic Committee is an arm of the IOC, which is completely independent and stands alone from any oversight or governance from the Australian Federal Government.
So what sort of influence can a Federal Sports Minister have?
Well I think you’re absolutely right. It is an independent organisation and the board comes from within the sporting organisations and of course the head it comes from the different sporting organisations that choose through an election, so it is an independent organisation that’s independently funded.
So the last thing that I would want to do is to overstate my role. My role is to deal with the arms of government, but also to work for the good of Australian sport.
I actually have very strong confidence and belief in not just the two organisations, but the individuals who head it.
One of your roles when you’re a minister any area of public life is to work with the different players in the field, not necessarily with ministerial authority or the rule of law, but to seek to find common ground and direction.
That’s what I did in environment and what I was doing in innovation and science. Just before coming into this current role, I spent days and days helping in shuttle diplomacy between two major companies, between Alcoa and AGL.
Technically that wasn’t my role, but through the role of being a minister you have a certain licence to work with different parties and we were able to save and preserve the Portland Smelter. It wasn’t officially the minister’s job, but it comes with the territory.
I notice that the AOC is at the moment looking for a new CEO, and part of the information package that is sent to prospective applicants includes a letter from John Coates, and part of that letter says, the CEO of the AOC must be prepared to stand up to interference by government authorities, the position is not for the faint hearted.
Is it possible to have an equal and nice working relationship when that is the position they start from?
Look I’ve got to say John Coates could not have been more welcoming or more professional in his dealings with me so far.
So I really appreciate that, and he and I have talked about clear directions for participation and performance in Australian sport.
Those are my two fundamental pillars, along with the opportunity that sport provides for preventive health.
So you put those three things together, participation, performance, obviously at the elite level, And then preventive health, and that becomes the governing structure.
And from my dealings with him, there were no differences at all on any of those principles. And I understand that the AOC is linked to the IOC, linked to the international movement, and that’s how it was created, and why would I seek to change that?
You mentioned preventive health, let’s talk a little bit about that, because the health and sports portfolios fit together, although sport is very much dwarfed by the health budget.
Talk about how you see sport fitting in there, and whether it can make substantial inroads, because there are plenty of sports departments around the country, whether they be state bodies, federal bodies, local community level, that talk about the fact we are constantly aware of issues of obesity, all of these other health issues that affect our young kids and future generations and yet there seems to be less and less money that is made available for investment in sport.
And you would think that an investment in sport would have an equal offset to the challenges and the pressure that are put on the health budget?
So there is a direct link between health and sport and I think that’s not just in terms of individual health, but there’s also a very clear link with mental health, and there’s a very clear link with community and society.
So in my view and my experience, you know I grew up as a kid who would play cricket and football for local clubs as well as at school. My little seven-year-old is already doing that, my daughter’s been engaged in sport; it’s just fundamental to the fabric of Australian society and fundamental to individual health.
So, going forward, this year we will be putting a renewed focus on preventive health and I’m working on bringing things forward on the preventive health space.
And that’s one of things that I will work on with both the AOC, with the Sports Commission.
I’ve had discussions with many people across many different parts of the sports sector already, and then build that into the question of how it can assist with mental health, and, in particular, the fact that the Prime Minister himself, and I think this is a great thing for the sports community to know, has already flagged that for him this a shared passion.
So he and I have a shared passion on the link between sport and preventive health. And here, sport for young people, obviously, is often related to team sports but it’s also about bringing older Australians into physical activity to recreation, and that for me is part of the big vision.
So, as a sports enthusiast yourself, where do you see this balance sitting? Because it’s such a difficult line to find.
And that is Australia puts so much pressure, angst, passion, support on our elite athletes and if we don’t come home with a bagful of gold medals from every international event, they are somehow seen to have failed.
And yet we know from experience and from looking at other nations that do well on medal tallies that it’s very much equivalent to the amount of money that’s directed to the elite level, and yet at the same time we’ve got to be looking after grassroots.
You have to deal with both fronts and that’s common across many different roles in life and portfolios.
So, participation and performance actually strengthen each other. There’s no question about that and I spent time this week with James Sutherland, the long-standing and in my view outstanding CEO of Cricket Australia.
Actually, he and I used to play together at university. He would come thundering downhill at 135 kilometres an hour and I’d come thundering uphill at 35 kilometres an hour as the slowest fast bowler ever to play for Ormond College, and we’ve got a great relationship.
And he talks about, and I agree with this absolutely, the role of performance bringing young people in but the joy of young people creating life-long fans of cricket, as an example, and participants right throughout.
And so you can’t separate them, they are two sides of the same coin, and one of the things I’ve been discussing is how we can actually draw on our athletes to get them more involved in the schools and in particular outside of the sports that have access to television revenues, is there a way that we can be providing additional incentives for, let’s say our Olympic athletes, who don’t have access to big gate tickets and big sponsorships, to be working with the schools, to be bringing young people in, but at the same time being able to support themselves and for us to provide additional support to them in their activities.
Let’s talk about the funding model then, and I know there has been some discussion about a lottery, how far away is that?
So, when I was in environment, I was a strong advocate for a lottery which would support sport and arts and heritage.
My view hasn’t changed. I think that there is a role for that and I think it is achievable. There’s a fair amount of work to be done but I come to it having already been an advocate of that model and when we put out a National Heritage Strategy, I made sure that the lottery option was on the table.
It unites the AOC and the Sports Commission and I’ve spoken with not just each of those organisations but many people to get their views.
I think this provides an opportunity for funds that can assist with both participation and with performance, and in particular, we obviously have to work with the states in a way that supports them.
But I am optimistic and I think that this is something we can achieve, it’s not a policy decision yet because we’d have to work with the states but I’ve now spoken with a series of state health ministers, I’ve spoken with a series of state sports ministers and so far I’ve had a very positive response from all of them on both sides of the political divide.
This has something to do with it, but the funding of sport, sponsorship of sport, where the money comes from and how it’s directed, you mentioned previously the health and welfare also of our athletes, so what about gambling?
Because I know the gambling sponsorship at the moment is topical in AFL, just ahead of the start of a new season. Do you see that role perhaps heading down the same path that we saw cigarette advertising go, some time ago back in the mid-1990s?
So, my concern here as Sports Minister is on the integrity side and one of the things that I will take a very strong on is making sure that we have very, very, very strong integrity measures and regimes in Australia.
That’s the appropriate role for me to have to make sure that what’s an activity elsewhere and regulated in other portfolios and other parts of government across Australia, that there is no impact on integrity.
And for me, zero tolerance, zero acceptance of any impacts on integrity and over the course of this year, I will be working on integrity as a major initiative.
So, if you think of my major initiatives, one is in terms of preventive health, two is related to that participation, three is following from that performance and support for funding for performance, and four is the question of integrity.
Do you see that, perhaps, gambling will go the way of cigarette sponsorship and move out the door because of the number of issues we see?
Even athletes themselves standing up now saying that they’re told at their athlete education programs that gambling is bad, they should steer away from it, not participate, not get caught up in it because of its addictive nature in some instances, and yet their shirts are emblazoned with gambling companies, ads are prolific in the coverage of sport on television and you have young people, young children, exposed to this messaging again and again, normalising gambling and sport and the relationship of the two.
So, as a general principle, do I like it? No. Am I going to keep a very close eye on it? Yes. What I think I want to do, so early on in the time in the role, is to talk very widely with the states and the heads of the different sports.
I’m progressively working my way through the sports, so the basic principle, though, the thing I have to be most focused on is a zero tolerance, uncompromising approach on integrity and I’ve already been working with the heads of integrity within my own federal department, but I want to make sure that I’m working with all the different arms of sport and government on that question.
A Supreme Court writ has been lodged against the AFL, its CEO Gillon McLachlan and its chair Mike Fitzpatrick.
There’s a big push from a group called Justice for the 34. This is the Essendon, ASADA, WADA saga that keeps on going, we’re now into the umpteenth year, it now threatens another season of the AFL. The Greens Leader Richard Di Natale says he’s going to push for an inquiry. Where do you stand on that?
So, firstly any court matters are rightly for the courts and this case has spent a lot of time in different considerations and through the courts and there was a decision of the Federal Court of Australia, and so I don’t want to comment on matters that, A, could be before the courts, as there is a new Supreme Court writ that has been reported, and nor do I want to reflect on decisions made by the court other than the fact that as a minister you must respect, must respect the decisions of the courts.
It’s been reported obviously that I’ve had some material submitted to me. What I have done, and I think this is my duty, is to begin consideration and to seek advice on whether that contains any new or significant material, not previously considered, and my role going forward is to deal with any new or significant material, not to deal with matters that have rightly been the province of the courts and, as you say, are now before the court.
So, if that new material is shown to you, you go through it, you find that it is there, will you agree with the Greens Leader Richard Di Natale for a review?
Look, I will respectfully consider the material, I won’t try to pre-empt it. I think that’s the right and proper thing for me to do.
Well, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the ASADA boss Ben McDevitt part ways with the organisation. Did he resign himself or did you ask him to leave?
No, he was preparing to leave prior to the change of minister and he informed me shortly afterwards that he’d had a three-year contract, his time was up, his intention was always to leave, and so that was entirely of his own choosing.
Now we’re going to go for a global executive search, so we’re going to go globally to look for a new leader for ASADA.
One of the things that I will do once the new CEO has been appointed is to sit down with him or her to then chart out a strategic plan on integrity, doping, and the role of ASADA and to work with the other sporting bodies on that.
But what we will do is lay out a long-term strategic plan for integrity in sport and as part of that ASADA’s role with the new CEO once he or she has been selected through a genuinely global source.
And what about WADA? Now as the Federal Sports Minister, you have a seat on the WADA board.
I’ve always thought that an odd alliance. Does it not feel in any way conflicting?
Especially when issues such as the Essendon saga pops up and WADA wants to appeal a decision that had already been made in Australia in favour of the athletes, WADA appealed that to an international Court of Arbitration for Sport that we have no sway over.
So, I would put it this way that Australia has an absolute uncompromising focus on integrity in sport and that’s whether it’s in relation to the way the game is conducted or the way in which athletes are tested and that’s given us one of the strongest systems in the world.
That gives us a seat at the table and my approach for WADA, and there are certain historic arrangements that have simply been inherited, but my approach for WADA will be to make sure that they operate to the extent that Australia can influence it without fear or favour and in an absolutely consistent manner and fashion across all countries and all sports.
Alright, I look forward to talking to you again and you can be sure that at that time we’ll talk about some of your cricketing achievements and …
It’ll be very disappointing for your listeners in the end.
And the memories you hold dear.
But the main thing is it’s always been a labour of love for me. My secret passion in those few moments you get to yourself is Cricinfo and HowSTAT! you know, I love to just sort of peruse those.
Okay, Minister, thank you for your time on The Ticket.
It’s a real pleasure.
PDF printable version of Interview on ABC News Radio with Tracey Holmes (PDF 235 KB)