Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Women in Sport
That this House:
(1) acknowledges the success of women's sport in Australia, particularly the:
(a) Australian women's cricket team which retained the Ashes in 2023 after winning the World Cup in 2022, and the T20 World Cup in Melbourne in 2022;
(b) Diamonds which recently won the Netball World Cup for the twelfth time, beating England 61-45; and
(c) Matildas' success in the FIFA Women's World Cup;
(a) that many codes are moving to pay parity and are providing women opportunities previously only seen in men's sport; and
(b) the prestige of women's sport with increasing numbers of people watching sport at the ground, at 'live sites', or on television;
(3) encourages greater free-to-air availability for sports; and
(4) further notes the importance of supporting women's and men's sport to encourage health and fitness—'you can't be what you can't see'.
I'm a sports tragic. Over the years, I've been involved in and played cricket and hockey. I've refereed rugby league and volunteered for many sporting teams. I choose to watch sports—a lot—but it's only recently that women's sport has started to receive the recognition it deserves.
Over the last 10 years, the sporting landscape, not just in Australia but the world, has completely changed. Women's sport has not only emerged but, I would argue, now dominates in some ways. Women's skill, knowledge and execution are on par with men's.
Perhaps we can trace this emergence to Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, who, along with Susie O'Neill in the pool and so many others, caught our imagination. Cathy Freeman's win was magnificent. She ran with the hopes of the nation on her back and won. Regardless of how we got here, the point is: women's sport has arrived.
The year was 2020, the venue was the MCG—I was lucky enough to get tickets to pay my first visit to arguably Australia's most famous sporting arena, the MCG—and I was joined by 86,000 other fans. The occasion was the final of the ICC Women's T20 World Cup. The Bills, Dougs and Gregs of my childhood had been replaced by Alyssa, Beth and Meg, and, over the ensuing few hours, Australia won, defeating India by an amazing 85 runs.
The record books speak for themselves. The Australian women's cricket team have been the ICC Women's T20 World Cup champions in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2020 and 2023, and in 1978, 1982, 1988, 1997, 2005, 2013 and 2022, they were the Women's Cricket World Cup champions.
But it isn't just cricket that women excel in. In netball, the Diamonds have dominated for decades. Last month, they brought home the Netball World Cup crown for the 12th time. To top it off, they won with a record score of 61-45, the largest world cup victory in 28 years. Then, of course, we have the Matildas. It wasn't a race that stopped a nation this time; it was a tournament and a game, and we won't forget Sam Kerr's goal. If you need no other sign that the time for women's sport has arrived, then you need to look no further than the support our nation provided to the Matildas during this year's FIFA Women's World Cup.
For all our strides, there's still a way to go. Women's sport needs greater availability on free-to-air TV, and women's sport needs to have a greater parity with men with regard to pay. But I do commend the work that Australian cricket has made in this regard, particularly the men cricketers in supporting the women to get pay parity. I can't help but think that the generations of women who began this women's sporting movement would be proud—proud and chuffed. Their efforts, after so many years, are coming to fruition. I can't wait for my next MCG or SCG experience. Soccer, league, cricket, netball or whatever, I know that Australia's female sporting champions will do their code and country proud, and the Albanese Labor government will support them every step of the way.
The recent success of women's sport must be accompanied by investment to ensure that the momentum and enthusiasm continues. Those it inspires must be supported. Recently, the government announced a $200 million Play Our Way program that will be used to improve sporting facilities and provide more equipment for women and girls. This funding will go towards local, grassroots sporting clubs, who are the backbone of not just women's sport but sport for all genders and all ages. But it's more than that. Investing in our local sporting club brings our communities together and promotes healthier lifestyles, builds relationships and teaches valuable skills that can be applied throughout life.
I'd also like to commend Catherine Cannuli, a former Matilda herself, who's working with Southern Districts Soccer at Cirillo oval at Middleton Grange in my electorate, providing support for women's and girls' soccer. She successfully ran a tournament for primary school children last week. Unfortunately, because I was here, I wasn't able to be there, but, looking at all the photos on Facebook and talking to Catherine, I know it was a wonderful day.
Congratulations to all those women in Werriwa who support our sporting champions all through their lives.
I want to commend the member for Werriwa for this very important motion. Like her, I'm a sports tragic. It's an important topic we need to talk on. I grew up playing a lot of sport, but I'm now the father of a seven-year-old daughter, which does change your perspective. It shouldn't always be that way, but that's the reality of the world. She's at home today, nursing a broken heart. She had her futsal grand final today, and, after going through the season undefeated, they lost in a penalty shootout, and there were tears on the way home. Part of me is a little bit—'happy' isn't the right word, but I know she will learn valuable life lessons out of that loss today. I was fortunate to receive those lessons growing up and were very much foundational in the person who I am today, and I spoke about that in my first speech. Sport has a unique ability to bring people together and to teach life skills in a safe environment, and I have that opportunity growing up. My daughter now has that opportunity. She doesn't know a world without elite women's sport, and I think that's a wonderful thing.
We cheered on the Matildas like everyone, and her passion, when that final goal went through—I thought I was looking at myself watching a Collingwood grand final back in the day. She was fully invested in that result. This is what it's about. It's about creating equal opportunities, and it's a journey that we're on as a society. There is the Matildas and the success of the world cup and Sam Kerr. The Diamonds have dominated netball for generations. The Cricket World Cup, whether it is the T20 or retaining the Ashes over in England, these are becoming such important moments for our community. I remember watching the first Women's World Cup game, here in Canberra. On one TV there was the final day of the men's Ashes. The Women's World Cup was on at the same time on another TV. I'm a cricket tragic, but the reality was there were about three or four of us watching both screens, and 99 per cent of the crowd were watching the soccer and riding every kick and bump along the way, which was great to see.
But there are challenges we have at the community level. Over 20 or 30 years of playing sport, the facilities aren't what they need to be. In my community and many communities across the country, the reality is many were built when there were predominantly men playing. Even now they are not up to scratch. For example, on Saturday morning I visited the Mooroolbark Soccer Club with the shadow minister for sport, Anne Ruston. There are two changerooms from the 1960s. They have over 25 teams—men's and women's teams—and trying to share that same facility is not conducive to keeping young girls and boys or men and women in community sport. There is, absolutely, more that we need to do in this regard. It is heartening that the government have committed $200 million. It would have been nice if they had matched the $250 million commitment that the coalition made, but we'll start with 200 million and continue to put the pressure on.
What we also need to continue to look at as we go on this journey is how we can start at the grassroots but allow professional women to earn more. It is a journey, and the commercials of the AFL and the Premier League clearly are more significant towards the men's game. That is a historical thing, and we cannot change that overnight. But we do need to continue to provide support—as the commercials stack up—to make sure it is reliable.
Completely unconnected to this motion, my daughter got a Sam Kerr book yesterday, and she was drawing and colouring in a picture of Sam Kerr in one of our rooms. She didn't know I was speaking on this today, but she said to me: 'Dad, I want to be a Matilda when I grow up. Can you make sure I get paid the same as the men?' It hits you. Our job here is not to be parents, but our job is to take note of our experience, and my daughter represents a whole generation. That's what we need to understand: she is seven years old, and whether she makes it or not there will be young seven-year-olds today who will be Matildas in 20 or 30 years time. It is our responsibility to take our lived experience, our family's experience, and extrapolate it across the community.
I will always support all sport—community sports, women's sports. It is a journey we need to make to make sure that it's sustainable and commercially viable. We need to continue to do more.
This is an important motion from the member for Werriwa, for two reasons. Firstly it is right to celebrate success. The across-the-board success of women's sporting teams at the national and international level is something new in the history of our country, and we should not let that pass without celebrating it, marking it and honouring the women, the players, the coaches, the support staff and of course the families in support who have made it happen. Perhaps there was some government policy that assisted along the way too.
Secondly, we need to sustain this. We need to commit to maintaining and continuing to develop women's participation in sport, not just internationally but right the way down to Little Athletics. We can't allow something so good to wane. Governments will have a role in this.
Actually, women's sport has always been a prominent part of our national life. If we cast our minds back, however, we find that many of the famous names in women's sport in this country competed in individual events, not team events: Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Cathy Freeman, Betty Cuthbert and Ash Barty. In swimming, of course, many of those individually brilliant athletes combined to bring us medley gold as well, but what has really changed in recent years is that there is a traceable improvement in the fortunes of women's team sport across many codes. We are now competitive internationally in cricket, netball and basketball to name a few, and at home there is growth and interest across these and AFLW and volleyball and more.
In the world's most popular team sport—association football, international football, soccer, or, as most everyone else in the world knows it, football—the Matildas have had such a surge in performance, success and popularity that the great Socceroos are slightly in the shade. Our most internationally famous and feted athlete of any gender is Sam Kerr—from WA, by the way.
I spoke a while back about the magnificent women making Australia proud in motorsport—for example, motorcycle racing champion, Jessica Gardiner, who has competed internationally and won in her categories in enduro for some 13 years straight. The motorsports have taken great strides to assist interested girls and women to get involved from the ground up. Sometimes individual brilliance in sport can rise up, even if the support structures and the culture of support is lacking. For teams success, however, every member of the team needs to be supported. Sport is great of course, as entertainment. In our government, the ministry of sport sits quite properly under the head of health. The best thing about the wave of success at the international and national level for our women's sporting teams is that it means that the leagues are healthy all the way down to the under-7s and that the drop-off of engagement in sports by young women in their early teens is less of an issue than it used to be. This will mean a few extra torn ACLs, I know, but the balance in favour of a long, healthy and fully lived life is significant.
A big part of that is having role models to look up to. As proud as we are of the Matildas and others for their performances and record setting, each of those players should be immensely proud of the example that they have given, and continue to give, to the next generation—in the stands on tiptoes for 90 minutes, wearing their size 5 replica shirts and watching with wide-open eyes and oft-bated breath. How can we as legislators support these heroes? A couple of ideas to come to mind. Pay parity really should go without saying, but it doesn't. Government funding should always be predicated on fairness. Down the other end, where the kiddies are signing up in droves and extra teams are being put on to meet demand, let's make sure that there are sufficient facilities so that the sisters are not the poor cousins of their brothers, as they've tended to be for so long. With these changes come changes in culture. It's a virtuous circle The Spanish football team won the World Cup here, and their battle against misogyny has been front and centre in the press ever since. This is necessary. Issues need to be issues until they are no longer issues. One day the Australian women will win the World Cup in Spain and come home to nothing but celebration.
In closing, I want to acknowledge some of the older women who were the pioneers in each of the codes and in their sports who have struggled to achieve their dreams in conditions that were wholly unsupportive. Their sacrifices and battles bear fruit now not for them but for the millions of girls and women who are looking forward to their next match next week.
Equality is more than words on paper, although often it starts as statements and words and laws. True equality fuses in the hearts, the souls and the minds. As we know, sport has the capacity to mirror the soul. It can draw out truths and shine a path in ways that other parts of life can't. Sport brings us together. The stories of sport are the stories of Australia: Cathy Freeman lighting the cauldron and running the 400 metres of her life; Ash Barty and Evonne Goolagong-Cawley holding up Wimbledon trophies; my constituent and friend Ellie Cole and her 17 amazing Paralympics medals; Michelle Payne in the Melbourne Cup; Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, the gold medallist who went on to be governor; Jane Saville and her grit; Betty Cuthbert and her strength on and off the track; and, of course, 'our Dawn', whose achievements and larrikin spirit embody so much about this country.
Last month we witnessed a new claim on our national heart with the performance of the Matildas at the FIFA World Cup. It's an event that broke TV-viewing records and captured the country. The Matildas are our team: more than equality in words but in heart, soul and enthusiasm as well—a complete embodiment of our country and its hopes. The Matildas aren't alone, of course, in demonstrating sporting success. The Australian Diamonds recently achieved their 12th Netball World Cup title, cementing their position as one of the world's most exceptional netball teams, and the Australian women's cricket team have recently produced incredible performances, retaining the Ashes in 2023 and claiming victory in the 2022 World Cup and the T20 World Cup.
Australia is a proud sporting nation, and I acknowledge the member for Werriwa who has put forward this important motion. In less than a decade, Australia will host its third Olympic Games. It's an extraordinary achievement and a vote of confidence in our country. Melbourne in 1956 and Sydney in 2000 in different eras transformed the way we saw ourselves as a country and created a generation of sporting heroes. Success always starts with investing in the grassroots, and it filters up. That's why I'm pleased to support Peter Dutton's commitment to allocate $250 million over four years for female sports infrastructure. It means having changing rooms for women as good as the blokes have. Women shouldn't have to feel that they need to get changed in car parks or open fields or only feel safe showering at home.
I know that in my electorate such facilities matter. In 2018 I secured $2.7 million in federal funding for Greenway Park in my electorate. Greenway Park Sportshouse opened in 2021, and, importantly, those facilities provide important spaces for women's participation in sport. The evidence from the previous Olympics is clear: we need to invest in the grassroots now if we are to squeeze everything we can out of the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. That includes investing heavily in sporting infrastructure that's more accessible for women.
As we acknowledge the champions of sport today, I want to acknowledge one from my own electorate, the late great Robin Timmins. Robin passed away last month. She was a pioneer in women's sport in this country. Robin loved our community. She was a passionate member of the Beecroft garden club, served as president of the Beecroft Probus club and was a lifelong Liberal. But perhaps most of all Robin loved rugby. Robin became involved in the Eastwood District Rugby Referees Association in 1963, 60 years ago. There was no Eastwood rugby fan who was more devoted or passionate than Robin. In 1968 she joined Sydney Rugby Union as a secretary. She soon expressed an interest in sitting the referees exam, but was told women weren't allowed to participate. So Robin, in typical style, read the organisation's constitution and, after finding no mention of gender, convinced the chairman to let her sit the exam. She passed and became the first female rugby union referee in the country.
Becoming Australia's first female rugby referee wasn't the only feat that Robin achieved. In 2002 she was the first woman to be awarded life membership by the New South Wales Rugby Union Referees Association, for her outstanding contribution to refereeing. In 2013 she received the OAM and became the first woman in NSW rugby union's 139-year history to be awarded honorary life membership. In the same year, she received the International Rugby Board Development Award for her service to the game. Robin blazed a trail for generations of Australian women in rugby to come. Not only did she break through barriers for women in the game; through her committed service to the game she opened many doors for more women to become involved.
Just like the superstars we see on TV today, Robin helped other women to see what was possible as a woman in her chosen sport. Robin's sport was rugby, and I have little doubt, knowing what a sport tragic she was, that she would have cheered the roof off for the Matildas as well.
This motion rightly acknowledges not only how far women's sport has come in this country but also how much more potential and opportunity for achievement there still is into our future.