Address to the Australia and New Zealand Sports Law Association Conference - 19 October 2022

Read the transcript of Minister Wells' speech at the Australia and New Zealand Sports Law Association Conference.

The Hon Anika Wells MP
Minister for Aged Care
Minister for Sport

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General public

Thank you for the welcome Jenny-May (Clarkson, Master of Ceremonies).

And thank you Martin Ross (president) and Sharon Scriven (executive manager) for inviting me to speak today on the policy agenda for the Australian sport sector.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

I recognise and respect ngā iwi Māori as tangata whenua of this land. I acknowledge this land. 

I acknowledge our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of the many lands in Australia.

Together we stand on the shoulders of 1,600 generations of First Nations people, our shared history.

I extend my respect to First Nations people here today. Uncle Alex, a First Nations elder from Turrbul and Jaggera country that I represent in the Australian parliament, would say “Wun-ja-na!” Which means “May the spirits keep you well”.

It’s great to be able to join you in Queenstown— the adventure capital of the world!

I’m not sure I will make the bungy jump… due to lack of time and only a lack of time.

But I’ve had a bit of an adrenaline rush anyway…… it’s my twins‘ second birthday today and getting their cakes done and then here on time to join you all has been a real high velocity effort.

Let me first introduce myself.

I’m not a former elite sportsperson. Nor anywhere close.

Footage of me running along my morning run once featured on a Subway commercial about having a go, and that’s about as close as I’m ever going to get to the elites. 

But, I did start a Park Run event in my electorate on the northside of Brisbane with my friend Mark… it’s now seven years old and like so many of my parkrun friends who’ve come on the journey with me, I’ve gone from running parkrun hungover, to running it with a twin pram.

So, I am a rank amateur sporting enthusiast.

I was also a lawyer before being elected to Parliament in 2019, so I am halfway there on the sports law front.

Sport is more than big business. It’s a hugely powerful and influential social institution.

I don’t see it as a failure that governments and the law need to be more involved in sport.

I see it as a reflection of how important sport is to our lives, our economies, and our culture.

For Australians, sport has a pre-eminent place in our national psyche, which will be confirmed over the coming years.

What we call the green and gold decade has begun—10 years of cracker international events held in Australia, some co-hosted with New Zealand.

Providing a runway to the biggest of all, the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics in my home town of Brisbane.

I’m proud to be a member of the organising committee for what will be two amazing events.

The decade has kicked off, with successful running of the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup in Sydney, and the UCI World Championships in Wollongong.

The 2022 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup has also begun. The big match is of course next Saturday  at the SCG… Australia versus New Zealand.

I hope the Black Caps (NZ) accept their loss graciously.

Because around the same time, DPM and Sports Minister Grant Robertson and I will be taking part in the draw for the FIFA Women’s football World Cup ’23, which our nations are co-hosting.

This green and gold decade continues with the Commonwealth Games, the World Rugby World Cup, the Netball World Cup. And so on.

We are determined to ensure these events create legacies for all Australians.

Like, creating cultural change through increased physical activity, social inclusion, gender equality and engagement with people with a disability, multicultural and First Nations communities.

The Australian Government provides three types of support for major events.

Direct financial support and leveraging events through tourism, trade, business and infrastructure.

We also provide operational support which doesn’t just mean national security and making it easy for people to get through customs.

Very importantly, it also includes sports integrity.

I firmly believe Australia’s strong international reputation for clean and honest sport adds to our appeal for hosting major events.

In fact we celebrated a critical milestone last month.

For the first time in over a decade not a single athlete tested positive due to a supplement in Australia.

Our integrity body Sport Integrity Australia, or SIA, is rightfully proud of this progress.

This is my fifth month as a Minister and arguably what I'm most proud of - is our world-leading initiative to make sport safer.

When I first began meeting with stakeholders in the weeks after Anthony Albanese became Prime Minister - a clear trend emerged.

No one was prepared to tell me sport in Australia was safe.

In 2020, SIA established a phone hotline enabling people to anonymously report abuse in sport.

SIA expected 60 formal complaints regarding sporting abuses in their first year… in two years they have received more than 1300.

The majority, horrifyingly, involve children.

This proves we must do more to ensure sporting participants are protected, not just on field but off field.

To combat the influx of power abuses…and help provide a voice to the unheard, we announced a new Safety in Sport division to be part of Sport Integrity Australia.

The Safety in Sport division will include a broad focus on cultural and intersectional issues.

A key measure will be an expansion of SIA’s existing hotline as a toll-free triage, referral and reporting service so truth-telling is fostered.

From January next year, it will be able to take anonymous reports of wider racial and cultural issues in sport.

This anonymous service will help inform the government’s policies, including prevention and creation of safe sport for young people, and athletes on the path to elite status.

I expect this to feature in our 2032 Olympics and Paralympics Legacy policy, currently being developed.

SIA will not take over from integrity units in professional sports, but will work closely to assist cultural change.

And although it won’t formally hear historic complaints, it may gather evidence of past concerns to guide future strategies.

This however is only the start.

The Australian Government will continue fighting corruption and other threats to sports integrity.

It’s just a year since the G20 nations endorsed the High Level Principles on Tackling Corruption in Sport.

Our Government agrees we need a holistic and pre-emptive approach— to actively look for new ways corruption can impact on sport, on and off the field of play.

We also agree stronger legal and regulatory frameworks against sport corruption are needed at the national and international level.

And that legislation and regulations are only as good as their enforcement.

SIA is also working with other authorities to fight illegal gambling and corruption.

Regulating gambling in Australia is complex, not least because responsibility rests with a number of areas in government.

SIA works with law enforcement agencies, border protection, gambling regulators, wagering service providers, sports, and athletes.

SIA funds the Australian Sports Intelligence Unit which is embedded within the organisation on a day to day basis.

This partnership has monitored major events, such as the Tokyo Olympics last year, and is active now for the T20 World Cup.

Of course, prevention is always better than cure.

In March last year, SIA rolled out the National Integrity Framework—setting out what is unacceptable and prohibited conduct.

The number of national sporting organisations adopting the framework is steadily climbing, and now more than 70.

Any person involved in one of those sports can now lodge a complaint about unacceptable behaviour and provided it falls under the jurisdiction of the framework, have it assessed independently, by SIA and where appropriate, independently resolved through the National Sports Tribunal.

Ranging from physical or emotional abuse to sexual offences, bullying, vilification and discrimination, deliberate or not.

The other aspect to Australia’s sport integrity response is the National Sports Tribunal, set up in March 2020 for a two-year pilot but extended until March 2023 due to COVID-19.        

I’d like to thank John Boultbee, the tribunal’s CEO and the NST members who are here with us today.

The tribunal’s jurisdiction is now part of the anti-doping governance of more than 95 percent of the National Sporting Organisations recognised by the Australian Sports Commission, as well as dealing with matters arising under the National Integrity Framework, selection appeals, disciplinary and governance matters.

Its caseload is increasing and in the latest six months to September 16, it finalised 31 cases, with 20 outstanding.

Women will be the biggest group to benefit from making sport safe and inclusive.

Recognition of women’s sport in general has made huge progress in recent years.

Many of you gathered here have had a hand in that, and on behalf of every Australian woman having a crack, particularly after the birth of children, I thank you for it.

Consequently, an unprecedented sequence of major women’s events will feature in Australia during the green and gold decade.

However, women continue to be underrepresented in sport—as players, coaches and officials, and in governance roles.

Only 25 per cent of the Chairs or CEO’s of national sporting organisations are women.

And AusPlay data shows only 52 per cent of Australian women and 68 per cent of girls regularly take part in sport related activities.

There are many reasons for that.

I recently hosted a Women in Sport Workforce Roundtable in the run up to the broader Treasury Jobs and Skills Summit.

The Roundtable brought together more than 50 stakeholders, including athletes, from the sport sector.

I heard from champion athletes like Lauren Jackson about the gender-specific abuse even she, the GOAT, endures.

In fact Lauren made a point of noting the derogatory way female staff in sport are also treated… she's witnessed throughout a 23 year professional career.

We must do more to help women thrive in sport.

I think we are all capable of doing more if we pull together.

I and the Australian Government are committed to grasping the opportunity the green and gold decade gives us all to make sport better, safer, more accessible and more accountable - which I know is what everybody wants.

Thank you.

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