Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:27): I rise to support the motion, which is about the importance of football to Australian communities, with more than one million players around Australia. First and foremost, of course, playing sport is a significant part of keeping the people of Australia healthy, in particular our young people. Football is now the sport played by more young boys and young girls than any other sport in Australia. It encourages not only the development of local communities but the development of the health of these young people, including the wider Australian public. The continuing growth in popularity of this sport, fostered by competitive organisations such as the A-League and the Football Federation Australia, is extremely positive.
My electorate of Grayndler plays host to a large number of independent football clubs. During my almost 20 years in office, I have seen personally what these institutions are capable of contributing to their respective communities. They call it ‘the world’s game’; indeed, football breaks down all borders. Many people have come to this country with little grasp of the English language and only tenuous links to its culture. Coming to a new nation, the first port of call for many new arrivals has often been the local football club. These clubs not only contribute to the national health of our people but serve as unofficial language and education centres that enable successful societal integration. Often, many of the people introduced to these clubs return years later as volunteers to facilitate and support social building with people in similar circumstances. This type of selfless action is what keeps communities alive.
Clubs in my electorate include Leichhardt, Balmain, the Hurlstone Park Wanderers, the Stanmore Hawks, new club the Cooks River Titans and the Marrickville Red Devils. The Marrickville Red Devils have an extraordinary history. They were formed in 1946, so this year is their 70th anniversary. Tim Cahill is their most famous junior player. The Marrickville Football Club runs a number of community-enriching programs such as the Little Devils preschoolers league, the Red Devils Academy and school holiday programs. This is on top of organising competitive play for all ages and skills groups, while providing a number of jobs for members of the community. Most recently the club’s former president, Ron Royston, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia on Australia Day for his service to football in Sydney’s Inner West. Active in the club since he was nine years old, Ron rose through the ranks to become president in 2000 and to make Marrickville Football Club one of the most respected organisations in the district.
Now retired, Ron continues to contribute through coaching the young Red Devils. Their home ground of Marrickville, Mackey Park, is an example of how governments can provide support for active sport and participation. That oval was refurbished through the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure program whilst I was the minister, with support from Marrickville Council. Importantly, this not only upgraded the oval so it is now used year-round in an area where open space is very much valued but the Marrickville Cricket Club now uses it during the summer.
Importantly given the growth in football participation by young women, part of the upgrade involved putting in women’s, as well as men’s, changing rooms—a challenge right around the country that has to be dealt with. Local sporting infrastructure is particularly important. The ability that football has to bring people together to foster relationships and to form communities is quite extraordinary. The physical and social needs of many Australians are uniquely addressed by football organisations, which I think is critical.
I congratulate those people, particularly Frank Lowy and his leadership in terms of the FFA. For many years while I was young, many of the football teams at that senior level were defined by particular ethnic characteristics. The great thing about the A-League is that that has been broken down, and what we now have is mass participation based on where people live rather than on ethnic background. That has been very positive in terms of unifying communities and building that sense of community spirit. It is an extraordinary tribute to Frank Lowy in particular that he has been able to show that leadership, and also to David Gallop, whom I got to know well when he was with rugby league, on his leadership of the FFA.