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GRIEVANCE DEBATE: Health: Sport and Recreation, Media

18 November 2013

 

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (17:56): Prior to entering public life, I was in the business of developing multi-activity sport and recreation clubs—some were very successful and some were very public failures. My first meeting to discuss a future in politics was with Dr Brendan Nelson. We talked of my interest in preventative medicine through participation in sport, exercise and active recreation. Dr Nelson, a fit and healthy former medical practitioner, and I found ourselves in violent agreement. I learned that he had also started life wanting to be a great tennis player; we lamented our respective shortcomings. We also lamented the loss of tennis courts due to real estate development in the North Sydney region, where around 90 per cent of the courts had been built on. The proportionate reduction in participation in sport is equal to the reduction in the production of world-class Australian players.

Illness resulting from lifestyle represents 60 per cent of our total health cost when the underlying condition is taken into account. Type 2 diabetes is our biggest killer and our children are now world leaders in obesity rankings, where once we led the world in sporting participation and performance. Australian culture once revolved around participation in sport. The celebration of our sporting heroes held second place only to the celebration of our real heroes. Various assaults on this lifestyle have combined to diminish the distinction that provided us with the physical, mental and social benefits of an active lifestyle.

The business of malling sport that I pioneered in Australia sought to make preventative medicine affordable and accessible for the user through the provision of a mix of recreational facilities under one roof and also economically viable for developers and operators. Whilst it is important to allow this industry to fulfil its potential, such opportunities must be provided for those in the community who want access to recreational activities at no or little cost and that is convenient to their homes for the benefit of the whole family. To this end, I have been eager to visit and to learn of local initiatives and also to share my experiences of the efficiencies gained in the construction and operation of facilities where a mix and size of activities and amenities are combined.

This collection of knowledge and experience has built the concept for active parks that I am now pursuing. It has the potential to provide an abundance of recreational and sporting opportunities for the people of Bennelong through empowering our local councils with the concept that we are open for business in this preventative medicine space. Parks, where our traditional sports have been played, are without exception under utilised and usually subject to demands of peak usage by individual sports associations lobbying constantly for priority and funding. These parks can be converted into active parks by providing a greater mix of activities and improved amenities that allow greater access and opportunities for commercial viability while enhancing the amenities for traditional sports and the opportunity to upgrade fields to artificial surfaces in order to generate greater participation.

In my previous role, as Managing Director of Next Generation Clubs Australia, I developed three major clubs: Royal Kings Park in Perth, Memorial Drive in Adelaide and Ryde Aquatic Centre in Sydney. For the past 13 years, the Ryde Aquatic Centre has provided Bennelong constituents with a standard of access to recreational services that is unique to the region. This includes a very large gym, two 25-metre swimming pools, tennis courts, squash courts and leisure facilities—all under the one roof. As the member for Bennelong, I have been witness to the positive impact that this improved access to sporting facilities has on the local community. As a representative I am a strong advocate for policies that will allow Australians to enjoy this level of access to healthy outcomes.

As a member of federal parliament I find it hard to think of anything more related to electorate business than the promotion of good health for all Australians. In July last year I was invited to travel to Perth to deliver the keynote speech at a Curtin University forum relating to sporting-club development. During my short stay in Perth I had the opportunity to visit the club at Royal Kings Park and also to meet with the CEO of Perth Airport to discuss our shared issue of aircraft noise, another electorate matter.

While on the west coast I accepted an invitation from my committee colleague, the member for Forrest, to visit her region to meet with business leaders to discuss my work as chair of the coalition’s Sustainable Cities Taskforce. This work was born from the No. 1 issue facing Bennelong residents—a lack of urban planning, leading to our streets becoming the funnel for one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. Bennelong now boasts five of the top 10 most congested roads in NSW.

The answer to this conundrum will not be solved in a vacuum. In my maiden speech I spoke of my experiences in Atlanta, Georgia, as decentralisation took the pressure off the major cities. I questioned: ‘Where is our Atlanta? Our country’s south-western corner has had its own unique infrastructure experience, and these communities represent the benefits of growth from effective policies of decentralisation, the type of which would save the sanity of Bennelong’s residents. Yet it was an unrelated feature of the Forrest electorate that garnered a journalist’s interest in this trip more than a year later: the Margaret River community’s successful wine-production industry.

In order to ensure the public perception matched the integrity with which I approached the trip, I scheduled meetings over three days and was keen to ensure that all activities during that period related only to work matters. Whilst in the region, I also took three days of personal time, solely at my own expense. As a result of the success of my earlier meetings, more work related meetings took place on my personal days. I made no claim for that.

Early last month I was contacted by a Fairfax journalist wishing to have details about this trip. The questions were answered with a clear conscience, but preferring to avoid a story the information was given off the record, as background only.

The journalist in question affirmed his understanding of the status of this information, by reply email. Shortly after sending this email, the journalist transmitted a barrage of tweets that repeatedly quoted from the off-the-record information I had provided. I have great respect for the fourth estate, but this faith was certainly tested by this clear breach of the code that exists in the provision of information to journalists.

By contrast, Michelle Grattan—from two experiences I have had working with her—has been flawless in her reporting and requirement to have all comments approved before going to print. That is why she maintains the respect of everyone in this place after such a lengthy and distinguished career.

Interestingly, the final tweets from the Fairfax journalist read: ‘Mr Alexander’s trips fit within entitlements.’ So no story. Ten days later he printed a story that demeaned the good work that was being done into a farcical claim—that I had visited Margaret River to study traffic congestion. This absolute lack of accuracy in reporting directly undermines the important relationship between constituents and their elected representatives. These actions are performed in an overt attempt to injure us, to damage our reputations. Madam Deputy Speaker, please excuse my little vent of frustration here, but I have taken the grievance part of this debate quite literally on this occasion.

The point I wish to make particularly for the many new members is that there are many obstacles to the completion of good work in this place. We all have passions and interests. Some of mine relate to the great opportunity available to our country to be proactive in the administration of our health policy to encourage wellness so as to limit rather than just to treat illness. Despite the obstacles, I will continue to work hard and to fight for real solutions on these issues, to promote access to healthy activities for all Australians.

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