“Andrew Barr’s government has engaged in an almost ceaseless and politically motivated, campaign since the last election against the clubs that dared express the clearly treasonous view that perhaps it was time for a change of government,” writes JON STANHOPE.
I HAVE been a long-time advocate of the need to address discrimination and inequality in society. I abhor discrimination, and if asked what I am most proud of in my time as Chief Minister I answer, the passage of the Human Rights Act and my unremitting commitment to it and to equality.
This leads me to the latest chapter of how the Labor Party/Greens war on community clubs and their members and supporters is playing out.
As anyone in Canberra who follows local politics is aware, Andrew Barr’s government, since the last election, has engaged in an almost ceaseless and I believe politically motivated, campaign against the clubs. Well, at least, against some of the clubs, namely those that dared to express the clearly treasonous view that perhaps it was time for a change of government.
Clubs provide significant funding and other assistance to sporting groups for men and women, young and old. The latest attack by the government has been to direct that payments or support by community clubs towards men’s professional sport can no longer be counted as a community contribution. The relevant change to the ACT’s contribution scheme is obscure, complex and unique when compared with the approach taken by other states and territories to the contribution of clubs to sport.
The clubs most affected by this change are those established for the sole purpose of supporting sport, including in some cases semi-professional or professional sporting teams. Precluding the support these clubs provide to men’s sport from being counted as a community contribution has potentially serious consequences for the viability of some teams and undermines the reason for which the club was established.
The issue of viability is real, as evidenced by the actions of the government. The Minister for Gaming, Gordon Ramsay, has already needed to intervene in one case, providing an exemption to the new rules in the case of the Canberra Demons, who presumably would otherwise cease to be funded.
This decision is not without irony, because this is a team not reliant on the government or the taxpayer for funding but happens to play against the Greater Western Sydney team in the NEAFL.
GWS, as many in our community would be aware, receives $2.3 million annually, compliments of the ACT taxpayer. What the ACT government thinks is good use of taxpayers’ money – ie, funding professional men’s sport at the highest level – it rather bizarrely, and hypocritically won’t accept as being a good use of money by clubs.
Clubs notably affected by this new ban include the Raiders, Vikings, Eastlake and Ainslie, clubs that between them are the mainstay in the ACT for all levels of Rugby League, Rugby Union and Australian rules and a large range of other sports.
While refusing to accept that payments to professional male sporting groups are a community benefit (unless it is funded by the ACT government) payments in support for women’s professional sporting teams are exempted from the ban. Clubs may still count as a community contribution, funding for professional women’s sport. On first blush, in light of the historic discrimination endured by women’s sport, one might think, fair enough.
In creating the distinction between men’s and women’s sport the government has unsurprisingly but cynically attempted to take the high moral ground and insists that it is driven only by a determination to better support women’s sport. This is clearly not only drivel but it ignores and trivialises the stunning levels of support which the clubs already provide to sporting groups across Canberra.
Take a look for example at the record of the Vikings Group. It supports roughly 50 affiliate sporting groups, which have more than 50 per cent female participation, and incidentally most of the payments made to the affiliates have not been claimed through the contribution scheme.
This participation rate mirrors official data available from Sports Australia, which demonstrates that the ACT has the highest participation of women in the country in sport and recreation. More women are participating in sport than men, and no small part of this is because of the generous contribution of our community clubs. This is something the government should be celebrating. In fact the Vikings Group probably deserve to be Canberra Citizen of the Year.
The new arrangements in relation to community contributions also clearly discriminate on the basis of sex. Sex discrimination is generally understood to occur when you are treated differently because of your sex and in a range of now generally accepted situations it is unlawful to be so treated.
There are of course, quite reasonably, some circumstances when being treated differently due to sex is lawful but I do not think this is one of them. The government would be very hard pressed to convince an objective observer that this new scheme was designed only to enhance opportunities for the participation of women in sport, and that the same outcomes could not have been achieved without actively discriminating against men.
I have always believed that any attempt to address discrimination faced by any group in society, for example women in sport, will never succeed if it involves blatant and gratuitous discrimination against another group in society, in this case, men in sport.
The decision by Andrew Barr and his Labor and Greens colleagues to discriminate against Canberra men playing Rugby League, Rugby Union and Australian Rules or indeed any other sport only does not pass the sex discrimination test it also, perhaps more importantly, does not pass the pub test.Jon Stanhope was chief minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only chief minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.