The signing of the memorandum of understanding between the Australian Government and AFL

Transcript, E&OE

22 August 2011

GARTH TAYLOR: My name’s Garth Taylor, I represent Austrade here, and I think we don't need to go to much formality. I would like to introduce the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Richard Marles, to say a few words, and then we'll ask Tony Woods to say a few words too, and then we can talk to each other.

RICHARD MARLES: Well, can I say what a great pleasure it is to be here at this long-awaited signing of the MOU between the Australian Government and the AFL, this is an initiative that came from the dialogue of the Australian Government.

We were hopeful that Simon Crean might possibly drop in, because I know this is something which is very dear to his heart, but it’s also very dear to the heart of the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the current Trade Minister, Craig Emerson. I know they were very eager and keen to see this signed. In fact I think the Foreign Minister, who despite being a child of Queensland, is very much a fan of the AFL, and a very keen follower of Brisbane. You're with Brisbane?

BRENDAN BENO: Yes.

RICHARD MARLES: Well, Kevin will be very pleased about that. He has other matters close to his heart at the moment and would have loved to have been here himself because this is something that he’s very passionate about as well.

But really behind this is an agreement to work together cooperatively, and to use all the benefits that a home-grown game has to promote Brand Australia to the world.

We are known around the world, it’s very much the heart of the Australian brand around the world that we are lovers of sport, and Australian Rules football is Australia’s most unique and most important contribution to world sport. So it makes sense that we work with the AFL, to see ways in which we can use AFL, and the forum that comes from that is a platform of promoting our country in every sense. That means in a diplomatic sense, but it also means in an economic and business sense.

So part of the MOU will be a commitment to hold international fixtures and really use them as a way of promoting not just AFL, but Australia overseas, and to acknowledge the great work that the AFL does in working with us, particularly when we have dignitaries for example who come to Australia, who are always very keen to see a game of AFL, and how our home-grown game works, and the AFL are fantastic partners with us in that.

Through the International Cup, which is underway at the moment, and through the Youth Cup that was held in Tonga last year, the work that’s being done in PNG, work that’s being done in South Africa, the AFL is taking great steps in internationalising the game.

That’s fantastic for the game. It is fantastic for our country in terms of promoting Brand Australia. The final thing I really wanted to add to this is that I think the AFL are really at best practice standards in terms of key development in our region.

It’s a fantastic game in terms of the health that it provides those who participate. It’s a really wonderful participation sport. But beyond promoting the game, we've seen the wonderful work the AFL has done, particularly in indigenous communities in Australia, the community development they've done there. That means that we could have a great deal of confidence when working with the AFL, we're working with leaders in how you can use sport to promote community development, not just here, but around the world.

And so for that reason as well, it’s a real pleasure for us to be partnering in this. We're partnering at a time when there is a great conflict going on within the AFL. We know that it is of enormous concern that the face of AFL would be seen to be Collingwood as the main predators. Having talked about putting our best foot forward, we all know that is not the way in which Australia should put our best foot forward, which is why it’s so important that Geelong wins the grand final this year, to give this the proper dignity that it requires.

So with those few words, can I say it’s a real pleasure for me to be participating in this signing.

TONY WOODS: Thank you, Richard. And it’s – on behalf of the AFL, it’s a real pleasure to be here and thank you for your attendance. If you read the fine print in the MOU, it’s – there’s a little clause there that says that Collingwood won't be allowed to win this year’s premiership, so…

RICHARD MARLES: Very good. I'm glad about that.

TONY WOODS: It’s – we'll work that out. But certainly from our perspective, this is a significant step forward in our relationship with the Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Austrade. You know, it’s a culmination of a lot of people’s efforts over time which have got us to this point.

It’s an exciting time for our game and our brand, because we are ambitious and we're seeking to internationalise our game and we were ultimately unable to do that without really strong partnerships and for us to partner with the Australian Government is really key for us, you know.

When you look at the already – some of the key highlights, particularly over the last couple of years, if you look back to the Shanghai Showdown in China between Brisbane and Melbourne, that was a significant event and would not have been the success that it was without the involvement of the Australian Government.

So on record, you know, our commission have stated that, you know, that was one of the key highlights in AF… well, it was an historic game in AFL history.

We also know that, Richard, you have a very strong interest in the Pacific region – just stating the obvious and that is the Pacific region is a key area for us that we're really focusing on as signified today by the two young Papua New Guinea superstars representing the PNG Mosquitoes, who are a part of the International Cup that’s being played at the moment. And these guys really represent what we see as the face of the future, you know; they're an indication that the obvious talent pathways that we're looking to open up out of the Pacific – not just with PNG, but with the Pacific more broadly.

And that extends beyond the Pacific region; we have been investing in South Africa for a number of years now, and there’s over 15,000 young South Africans that are playing our game. Now, who would have thought of that only a few years ago.

So – but it’s not just about footy, you know, I mean, at the centre of it all there is a piece of leather filled with air and we're really proud of it. But we see the benefits that our football programs bring to the wider community, particularly in these developing nations. You know, and again, Gideon and Brendon would vouch for that. We don't just go in there and run footy clinics; we like to come in behind and deliver really strong education health messages and, you know, strong community messages.

And that’s really been modelled off the back of the success of our Indigenous program in Australia. We're really proud of our track record there and, you know, we are proud of the fact that some 11 per cent of our AFL senior list are actually Indigenous players, which is a, you know, a wonderful reflection – not just them as athletes, but the work we do in the communities.

So on that note, Richard, I'd just like to say I've been – it’s been bestowed on me on behalf of Andrew Dimetriou in our AFL Commission to say thank you, we acknowledge the significance of this event and we're really looking forward to working alongside the Australian Government as we take our game outside of Australia.

RICHARD MARLES: Beautiful.

TONY WOODS: Thank you.

ENDS

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