ADJOURNMENT – National Rugby League: South Sydney Rugby League Club
18 December 1999
Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.30 p.m.)—The decision by the National Rugby League to exclude South Sydney from the 2000 competition leaves the faceless men who run the game with red and green blood on their hands. It is a fatal blow which will be challenged in every arena—in the courts, in the parliament and in the public arena. The public know that this struggle is not just about South Sydney; it is about community, it is about history, it is about the aspirations of our youth and it is about whether the dollar can override all human and social relationships. Friday’s decision is wrong. As Alan Jones has said:
No country, no institution and no organisation can sweep history aside, without debate, without losing the support of those who have made that history and cherished that tradition.
It is wrong not just because it does not acknowledge the history of the game; it is wrong because it does not stand up to scrutiny.
The whole process was not public and the criteria were designed to achieve the outcome of payback to traditional clubs. There was an extraordinary decision to have two criteria. The basic criterion, which included junior development, ground facilities and solvency, was replaced by the ranking criterion. I will talk about just one of the criteria released last Friday—profitability. On the one hand, clubs like Canberra, North Queensland, Cronulla, Auckland and Melbourne have amassed massive debt with News Ltd. In two years Melbourne has amassed $12 million worth of debt. Their success on the field has been funded by massive debt, which contributes to other criteria such as crowd numbers. That is why South Sydney have asked for all the books of all these clubs to be open to public scrutiny. Compare this with Souths, who have paid their own way, have still been competitive and have still produced the most outstanding young prospect in rugby league in Craig Wing. To complete the farce, the $1.5 million grant from Souths Juniors—more than any club gives any team, junior or senior—was not taken into account in the criteria.
This crisis derives from the Super League assault in 1995. Super League paid too much for its players in a predatory pricing policy which could only have been justified if the game had become truly global. That has, of course, not been the case, and News Ltd have lost up to half a billion dollars through this exercise in just four years. So, if we talk about profitability of the clubs as being grounds for dismissal, News Ltd should be dismissed from their involvement in rugby league due to their financial mismanagement of their involvement. News Ltd have in fact won the war. The clubs which have been folded or forced to amalgamate are clubs which stayed loyal to the Australian Rugby League. Rugby league has lost some of its body parts during this war but it cannot survive if it has no soul. A scorched earth policy does not make sense. Rugby league is the loser if the product loses value and, as the major financial shareholder, News Ltd have an interest in the profitability and thriving of rugby league.
There are two options now before those who run the game: a dreadful, drawn-out fight for survival from Souths supporters over their right to play or News Ltd and the National Rugby League could gain enormous public support and kudos from simply backing off and saying, `We have heard the message of the public. Enough is enough. We will support South Sydney’s right to play.’ The game is not about elites—quite the opposite. It is about the juniors and it is about the mums and dads who sell raffle tickets and cakes so their kids can play. Indeed, rugby league’s greatest shareholder is not Rupert Murdoch; it is the fans, and that cannot be forgotten.
South Sydney have had magnificent leadership from George Piggins, who has led the way he played: with honour, with integrity, with courage, with determination and with principle. The respect he has from his community, who proudly proclaim `In George we trust’, is a commodity which cannot be bought, it can only be earned. As he said about the failure of NRL Chairman Malcolm Noad to even phone him last Friday with the result, `We haven’t got much money compared with them, but we’ve got more class.’
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.