Address to the inaugural UN Women Australia Rugby Lunch

Friday, August 17th, 2012 @ 12:41PM

E&OE proof only

***Acknowledgements omitted***

 I would like to start by acknowledging the Cadigal people of Eora nation and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today. Having just returned from the London Olympics, I am pleased to have the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on the future of Australian Sport.

I would like to thank and acknowledge UN Women for their partnership with Rugby for this inaugural UN Women Australia Rugby lunch.

I am also  grateful to have an opportunity to congratulate the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) on their commitment to governance reform as well as their focus on women’s sport with the debut of Women’s Rugby Seven’s at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The London Olympics was an amazing event, surpassing even the expectations of the Brits themselves. For their exemplary event management and strong team performance, I offer my heartiest congratulations.

Our Australian team was brilliant. On the simplistic, but popular measure of the medal count, we reached our forecast 35 medals and finished tenth on the table.

Our swag of silver and bronze medals, complementing our seven gold, reinforces that being the best of the best is hard. Just ask our athletes. For many of them it was only a millisecond or a millimetre that determined the result and colour of their medal. For some it meant they fell just short or shy of a position on the dais. Or the athletes for whom even their personal best was not quite enough to make the final.

One of the obvious take outs is that other countries around the world have worked out that clever public policy can make a difference to sports performance. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) model has been emulated around the world for many years and it shows. The success of our direct competitors, for example, Team Great Britain, Germany, France as well as some smaller countries that have made the medal tally for the first time. This shows that we can’t rest on our laurels. To maintain our edge we must continue to innovate.

 And innovation is the key to our continued success. It has been widely acknowledged that we have funding set at the right level – the challenge is spending it effectively. This was reinforced by the President of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), John Coates, in his comments post-Games that our level of success is no longer dependent on funding, as we have addressed that issue. 

What does innovation look like in sport? It’s a well used term as we pursue the productivity imperative of our national economy. But expressing tangible ideas and then delivering in form and substance stands before us as our challenge.

Applied research across fields of sports science, medicine, allied health and technology to achieve improved performances is a well established component of any nation’s sports system and ours needs to be the best in the world, no less.

Fortunately, we know what this feels like. Being the best means we can present Australia as the destination of choice for the world’s best coaches, including the many ex-pat coaches now scattered across the globe kicking goals through someone else’s goal posts.

How we invest in, train and support our coaches, utilise their corporate knowledge and experience will continue to be a significant determinant.

This is all part of the long-term vision needed for sport. It’s my strong view we need to look well beyond a four year cycle and out to 2020 to ensure our sport system continues to adapt, evolve and deliver in an increasingly professional and competitive environment.

Such a long-term approach means we need to turn our attention to the generations that will be competing for Australia in the future as well as high performance. Australia’s children, freshly inspired by their Olympic heroes, will be wondering how they can be just like Sally, Mitch, Anna and Tom.

Leveraging our great strength in community sport and our outdoor lifestyle not only serves the interests of sport – providing the broadest base from which to source and develop talent – but it also fuels the economies of modern sport. These economies are built on fan bases of participants and enthusiasts that create value for sponsors seeking to promote their brand. In turn, this advertising opportunity drives broadcast revenues and the miracle of modern professional sport thrives – at least in theory.

Add to this the opportunity to maximise the broad social, cultural and health benefits of sport for Australia’s wonderfully diverse population and suddenly humble community sport sits font-and-centre to a range of public policy imperatives in the 21st century.

Managing this multitude of dimensions in sport is no walk in the park. Good governance and strong leadership within sport is essential to achieving as much as we can across these worthy aspirations. 

This government understands that one of the great strengths of the Australian Sport system is the independence and capacity, derived through good governance, and effective leadership of our National Sports Organisations (NSO).

However, if their independence and capacity is sub-optimal, the government has a responsibility to consider the value of, and return on, the public investment provided to our NSOs.

That is why one of the first actions I took as Minister was to formally update the good governance guidelines and urge sports, in the strongest possible terms, to follow them and reform their structures where necessary.

Good governance provides a sound foundation for effective leadership and management practises. As you know, sports organisations exist in a competitive world. Never before has there been so much competition for audience and participants – not only between sports and other pursuits, but also between the sports themselves.

Given it is the strong that will flourish, it is crucial to the future of Australian sport that our NSOs demonstrate modern governance: with clear accountability to stakeholders; a board that reflects the diversity of our society; a board that contains the skills needed to run a major commercial enterprise; and a charter to be innovative and creative. 

I am pleased rugby has embarked on this journey. Perhaps more than any other sport rugby has the most to gain with governance reform give that Seven’s is now an Olympic sport. 

The challenge is now to leverage existing strengths and build a dynamic relationship that introduces the women’s game into the mix.

Already, during the governance review process, steps have been taken with the appointment of Ann Sherry on the board of the ARU.

However, in the sports world women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership positions and this has a direct correlation on the broadcasting of women’s sport and its commercialisation.

But I am speaking to audience that understands this.

Through the assistance of the Gillard Government’s Women in Sport media grant the ARU have begun a campaign to promote Women’s Rugby Seven’s and develop their own unique talent identification program. They will be travelling the country encouraging women to seize the opportunity to represent their country and hopefully win a medal in Rio.

The ARU are providing a model that other sports can observe – encouraging the participation of women from the director level down right through to grassroots participation. 

This is a direct result of their governance review. While it is not yet complete the mere fact it is happening is encouraging internal reform in multiple areas, including gender.

As a government we recognise this. Recently my colleague Minister for Finance Penny Wong announced that the Gillard Government will establish a ‘Women on Boards Network’. 

Minister Wong highlighted that women on boards is not simply an issue of representation, but an issue of ability. I quote: “If we are not utilising the capacity and talents of over half our population, then we’re holding ourselves back”

The peak agency for diversity promotion, the United Nations (UN), has also developed principles encouraging companies to have targets of 30 per cent for women in leadership or decision making roles.

Since returning from the Olympics and speaking with administrators, coaches, officials, athletes, volunteers and their families, it became obvious to me that not all of Australia’s sports are acting in the proactive manner of the Government, like the ARU.

The gender breakdown of the boards for Olympic sports is not an area where Australia leads the world. 

Of the sports that recently competed at the Games two have no women on their boards: Swimming and Judo. But gender equality is no better in the other Olympic sports, twelve have only one female board member, six have two, five have three and one sport, handball, has five.

As certain and predictable as the four year Olympic cycle, now is right time for Olympic sports to reflect on their performances. It is an appropriate time to take stock. As Olympic sports undertake this important reflection, they now also have an opportunity to take a leaf out of Rugby’s book and look at their governance structures.

For too long the governance and administration of sport has been seen as a low priority. The behind the scenes activity in many sports is now having a direct impact on their performance where it counts. 

You have heard me say that the total quantum of funding for sport is about right however, it is important that we use this funding in more strategic ways to leverage optimal success. 

A key part of being smarter about our investment will be to ensure our sports are working in a manner most conducive to innovation and success. Those sports that will grow, those sports that earn the right for our investment, will increasingly be able to demonstrate their strength in governance.

 I look forward to the high performance assessments that will emerge over coming months and I will continue to listen to stakeholders, the Sports Commission and the AIS in preparing our plans for the future.

I offer my congratulations to our national sports organisations and their respective athletes performances in London. Australian Olympians are fantastic role models and each and every one of them will contribute to motivating the next generation of Australians to participate and reach their potential in sport.

For the potential Olympians in this room, particularly the Women’s Rugby Seven’s, and their captain Rebecca Tavo, I wish you luck in your preparation for Rio. And to the Wallabies tomorrow, I have no doubt we will continue to proudly hold up the silver.

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