Speech by The Hon Bill Shorten MP

AFL Dreamtime Game Lunch, Melbourne

Location: Melbourne

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

Firstly I acknowledge the Kulin nation, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present

  • Indigenous representatives
  • Government colleagues
  • Corporate sponsors
  • Australian Football League representatives
  • And in particular, the Indigenous players from the Richmond and Essendon Football Clubs.

Australian Rules Football is unique.

In Victoria we swaddle our newborn babies in club colours and name them after our AFL heroes. Dane, Travis, Leon, Lukeā€¦.

We idolise our sporting champions of this code in a way which other countries reserve for their artists, musicians and conquering generals.

No other sport combines the same physical requirements of speed, agility and strength.

No other sport is as egalitarian.

Think about it: Everyone is an equal on a football field.

There is no quarterback. There is no goalkeeper. There is no protection.

There is an oval. There is a ball. And there is always a contest.

It’s the perfect game.

It’s no accident, either, that this most egalitarian – this most truly indigenous – of sports has been a leader in Reconciliation.

The AFL can take credit for this.

As can leaders like Nicky Winmar and Michael Long.

Through the leadership of players like Nicky and Michael – and the backing of the Commission – this sport of equals has succeeded in creating a workplace of equals.

A level playing field, if you like, where Indigenous footballers are welcome.

That’s why more than 10 per cent of all AFL players are Indigenous – because here is one place where a young man can fulfil his full potential, regardless of their background.

On behalf of Minister Mark Arbib, who could not be here today, I want to recognise the AFL for supporting the work of past champions like David Wirrpanda and Michael Long to increase the lifespan of Aboriginal people.

And I want to reiterate what Adam Goodes said today.

Too often the success of indigenous players is described by phrases like ‘silky skills’ or ‘natural ability’.

I think it is time we recognised that these phrases do not capture the professionalism, the determination and hard work, the hours of practice from childhood, the focus on excellence, and the fierce pride aboriginal commnunities have had in their football through the decades.

It does not recognise the amount of blood, sweat and tears that indigenous athletes have shed, week after week, year after year, to take their rightful place at the centre of Australian Rules football.

The game where they kick ten goals is not an overnight sensation, but the result of years of work.

Champions like David Wirrpanda and Michael Long and Nicky Winmar are not born.

They are made.

They are made through hard work and opportunity.

The same applies in all walks of life.

There are young Indigenous men and women with heaps of potential to be leaders in business, media, politics, the arts and sports – but what are we doing to ensure they get the opportunities they deserve?

I’d glad to say the AFL is doing a great deal.

And I think that people in the future will look at this football generation, and the actors and participants from the clubs and the commission today, as the generation that made things better.

The AFL Indigenous Employment Strategy-which Andrew Demetriou launched last year-aims to raise the level of off-field Indigenous employment in AFL clubs and state affiliates.

And if the AFL does achieve a 4 per cent Indigenous workforce in three years-and I have every confidence they will-then the AFL will have shown real leadership, real strength of purpose.

I think they will have recognised that the potential of Indigenous Australians is not just an act of social justice or of charity, it is smart business, shrewd competitive practice, to hire from as big a pool as possible.

Indeed I think that is something we can do more about in the future for Australians with disability.

If there is any downside to AFL’s success in harnessing the unique contribution Indigenous players can make,

It is that it shows up the failures in other areas.

There is a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study found that out of Australia’s 40,000 doctors only 80 were indigenous – about the same as the number of current AFL players.

The 17-year life expectancy gap still exists.

Indigenous Australians are still more likely to be unemployed, broke, homeless, chronically ill, diabetic, alcoholic or in jail, for no other reason than their skin colour.

This Government is trying to change that, through working in remote communities, through better preventive health in cities.

That DVD we just saw has those three simple words – LEARN. EARN. LEGEND!

Those words are the Government’s campaign to encourage Indigenous Australians, in a still imperfect world, to realise their full potential.

To help them believe, through their role models such as those here today, that an education and a job are achievable, and also desirable.

That to attend school every day and complete Year 12 will give them some power to shape their own lives, and the future of their communities

Michael O’Loughlin and Chris Johnson are getting this message out will be more effective than a million speeches by politicians.

We use sports stars to do this because these are the role models of young people.

It was Nelson Mandela who said:

‘Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.’

I actually think that, in its own modest and measured way, the AFL has proven the wisdom of Mandela’s words in recent decades.

Enjoy the game this week-end, but keep your eye on the scoreboard, and engage everyone else in the same things we are seeing today.