Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2006


Australian Institute of Sport

6:50 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday I asked a question of the Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Rod Kemp, about the immense contribution the Australian Institute of Sport has made at all levels of sport in Australia, specifically in light of its recent 25th birthday celebrations. I would like to elaborate briefly on my involvement with the AIS and my shared joy in the celebrations of the 25 years of success it has undoubtedly developed over the period of its existence.

Like Minister Kemp, I was at the celebrations last week. It was quite amazing to see the level of success the Australian Institute of Sport has achieved over the period of time. I was there in my capacity as a former recipient of an AIS scholarship and, more recently, as a board member of the Australian Sports Commission. Therefore, this is an issue of close personal significance to me. I remember that, when I was first invited to apply for a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport, I felt it was a great honour. I was a 17-year-old, fresh out of school and doing my first year at university. I went into a very gruelling regime and, fortunately for me, passed the test and was offered a scholarship that enabled me to go on and represent not only the Australian Institute of Sport but also the people of Australia and of my home state, South Australia, in a number of international and local competitions.

If I am truthful about it, I think my first job outside of my family business was with the Australian Sports Commission. I was a part-time worker. Part of the culture at the Australian Institute of Sport is to deliver well-rounded individuals, not just sports focused individuals. Accordingly, you have to study or do some work in that environment as well as train in your particular sporting discipline.

Discipline is a key point about the AIS and its success. The athletes there are extremely committed. They do train very hard and they maintain regimes that I think most people would find difficult to maintain. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and they know that it will deliver the results that they so earnestly desire. It is about commitment and dedication to a cause.

As a member of the board of the Australian Sports Commission, one sees an extension of that commitment to a cause. The cause for the board members, of course, is to deliver a better, more robust and stronger Australian sporting system. The board members are all committed; they are knowledgeable. Under the tutelage and chairmanship of Peter Bartels, who has been a longstanding chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, and certainly with the deputy chairman Alan Jones, we have two of the most knowledgeable people in sport in this country and two people who are extremely passionate about ensuring not only that there are great opportunities for us at the elite end but that our health, wellbeing and participation rates in sports in this country are maximised.

The Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Institute of Sport have undoubtedly assisted Australia to become one of the best, most powerful sporting nations on the international stage. I have to say it is a great honour to have participated in it and made a humble contribution but it is also inspiring to know that governments on both sides of the political argument have continued to support the Australian Institute of Sport and have worked very hard together to maintain levels of funding. In recent times, the funding has been quite significantly increased to cope with an ever-increasingly competitive world in the area of sport and to ensure that Australia is at the forefront of technological as well as raw sporting advantage.

Our record in large international sporting events such as the Olympic and Commonwealth Games are testimony to what has been created there over the last 25 years. Athletes who have been through the Australian Institute of Sport program won 65 per cent of Australia’s tally of 49 medals at the 2004 Olympic Games. This figure was also reflected in our athletic success in our home games in Sydney in 2000, where 32 of the total 58 medals were won by existing or former AIS scholarship holders. It does not stop there. Our Paralympic team successes have also reflected the contribution of the Australian Institute of Sport: 63 medals were won by AIS athletes at the 2004 Athens Paralympics and AIS athletes won almost half of the total medals at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics.

Let me stress that the Australian Institute of Sport is about elite sport. It is about achieving success for Australia, but we cannot undersell the benefits of sporting success. In a country such as Australia, where sport is very much a part of our culture, we take an inordinate amount of pride when we see our sporting heroes succeed on the world stage and we are very proud of our teams and individuals who do that. But, more importantly, it gives our children the opportunity to have good, positive role models in their lives. It encourages children. For every sporting success we have, every gold medal we achieve, every world champion that is created through the Australian sporting system, we have a number of children who participate more fully in the sporting process. Not all of them, of course, will achieve great levels of success but the emphasis on health and wellbeing, getting children active and ensuring that they participate will not only make a healthier and brighter future for Australia but also maintain the pool of athletes who will enable us to continue our sporting success.

The minister in his answer yesterday touched on why the Australian Institute of Sport was set up. We were one of the first Western nations to actually centralise our sporting system in this regard. The reason is, quite simply, failure. It was failure at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. At those games, Australia came in 32nd place on the medal tally with one silver and four bronze medals. New Zealand won more medals at that Olympics than we did.

The Australian government and senior sporting officials at that time realised that something had to be done to tap into the sporting potential of Australia. In 1981 the Australian Institute of Sport was opened, followed by the Australian Sports Commission a couple of years later. This marked the turning point for Australian sport and our talented athletes. The AIS originally offered scholarships in eight sports. Currently we have 35 separate programs covering 26 individual sports, and over 700 athletes are participating in the Australian Institute of Sport program.

It is not only Olympic and Commonwealth Games athletes who benefit from the expertise and training of the AIS. Many AIS athletes have gone on to have champion sporting careers in netball, basketball, cricket, soccer and tennis, to name a few. We also have a more expansive program across Australia. It is not only the 65-hectare site in Canberra where our athletes receive the best possible attention, we have training programs in Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and on the Gold Coast. We have also established a European training site which will allow our athletes to achieve excellent results during their tours of the European sporting season.

Back in the late 1970s, when this was first conceived, there was no single integrated and interconnected support system for our elite athletes. It was sorely missed and it showed in our results. When we first came up with the AIS proposal, we did not have sports psychologists, nutritionists, biomechanists or sports medicine experts—all of the people who have since come on board and who help to put the Australian sporting system at the very forefront technologically and also physiologically for our athletes.

Our athletes previously did not have carbon fibre bikes or ‘go fast’ swimsuits. These things are now taken for granted. They are things that have been pioneered in Australia and exported across the world. These sorts of technological advances can make the difference between simply qualifying or actually winning a medal.

The AIS would not be where it is today without its committed and enthusiastic support staff who, more often than not, could achieve much higher salaries overseas in supplying their trade to competing nations, but they are committed to the development of sport in this country and they are committed to seeing Australia achieve the best it possibly can. For that, I extend my gratitude.

It would not be possible to have this level of success without the commitment of government. As the biggest sponsor of Australian sport in this country, I would like to recognise the contribution of not only this government but also previous governments and encourage them to continue to support the Australian sporting system for our health and for our future, and also because we all enjoy the benefits that accrue from winning medals.