Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Hurley Surfing Australia High Performance Centre, Mercer, Mr Dean Paul, OAM, Morphett, Mr Andrew Kenneth 'Drew', OAM

7:21 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia has always produced very good surfers. We have grown up with names like Mark Richards, Midget Farrelly, Nat Young, Tom Carroll, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Steph Gilmore, Pam Burridge and Layne Beachley. These people were household names who travelled the world taking on the big surfing contests against the top surfers from countries like Brazil and the USA. In the early days we would hear of their exploits on the radio news or read about it in the papers. But as television evolved we saw more footage on the news, and today we can sit in our lounge rooms and watch these daredevils take on the monster waves—crazy, but very brave.

Unless you are in the surfing world, you might not know that in the Tweed area of the north coast of New South Wales there is the Hurley Surfing Australia High Performance Centre. A block of land at Casuarina was kindly donated by Don O'Rorke, and that is where the existing centre stands. Stage 1 was completed in 2012, stage 2 was completed in 2013 and stage 3 was completed in 2015. The first three stages cost $4.73 million in total, with financial contributions from the Australian government, Surfing Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport.

Last Tuesday I was honoured to be the Australian government representative at the official sod-turning for stage 4 of the Hurley Surfing Australia High Performance Centre. Earlier in August, the Minister for Regional Development, Senator Nash, had announced the centre was one of three projects in the Richmond electorate that received funding in round one of the $500 million Building Better Regions Fund—a great program, Senator Nash! The surfing centre received $2.53 million from the Australian government towards the project cost of $5.6 million, with the New South Wales government contributing $3 million and Surfing Australia $100,000. I was in elite company at the event at Casuarina. The ceremony was hosted by 1978 world surfing champion Wayne 'Rabbit' Bartholomew, and it was an honour to meet and chat with Layne Beachley AO, who has won the women's world championship a staggering seven times. Layne is now chair of Surfing Australia. Stage 4 will be constructed on an adjoining block. It will include amongst other things a gymnasium, an 80-seat auditorium, an indoor skate ramp, additional accommodation and an 18-car basement car park. It will more than triple the size of the existing centre, which has been built in various stages in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

When we think of surfing, we think of carefree days out on the board just having fun. But at a professional level there is so much more that goes into it, including fitness, aerobics and diet. Surfing will make its debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and this centre at Casuarina will be an official Australian Olympic Committee training centre. The Surfing Australia team, headed by Layne Beachley and CEO Andrew Stark, will identify and work with the best talent in the hope of securing gold in Tokyo. But the centre will also cater for the recreational surfer market and visiting domestic and international teams.

One of the real strengths of the Building Better Regions Fund is the benefit to the economy. During the construction of stage 4, which started last Wednesday, 120 jobs will be created, and there will be 55 ongoing jobs. I look forward to seeing the latest stage completed by July next year, and we will be cheering on our elite surfers in Tokyo.

There was a tinge of sadness when we gathered at Casuarina, because just the day before we had learnt of the death of ironman legend Dean Mercer on the Gold Coast. Dean was a two-time Australian champion and World Oceanman series winner. He was only 47 years of age and was still actively involved in coaching.

Just a couple of days before that, we heard the shock news of the passing of legendary sports commentator Drew Morphett OAM. I wonder how many people knew his real name was Andrew Kenneth Morphett. Drew's voice became familiar to millions of Australian sports fans through his three decades of commentary on ABC radio and television and, later, commercial television. His sports-calling career covered AFL, test cricket, golf, basketball, horseracing and a variety of sports over four Olympic Games. If you listened to Drew's commentary, or watched the 1980s show he hosted called The Winners, on ABC TV, as I did, you would think he was born to the game of Aussie Rules. But in fact he grew up in Sydney and only learnt about Australian football when he moved to Perth. He brought enthusiasm to the commentary box and he was much loved across the sporting landscape, as evidenced by the many tributes to him.

In Dean Mercer and Drew Morphett, Australia lost a champion sportsman and a champion broadcaster. In their own ways, they gave millions of people great enjoyment.