The likely election of a candidate from the Australian Sports Party to the Federal Senate has surprised the nation, but it could potentially open huge opportunities for the community sports sector.
At the time of writing, the previously unknown Grid Iron player Wayne Dropulich is on track to win the sixth Senate spot from Western Australia ? despite winning a miserly 0.22% of the vote.? If successful, it seems Mr Dropulich will join an expanded Senate crossbench populated by representatives of Clive Palmer?s Palmer United Party, the mysterious Liberal Democrats, the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, Family First and possibly the Sex Party.
Criticism of Micro-Parties
These so-called micro-parties have attracted widespread criticism in the mainstream media for both their policy platforms (or lack of them), and for using tight preference-swapping techniques to maximise their vote power.
Mr Dropulich hasn?t been immune from this criticism.? Speaking on ACB1?s Q and A program, for example, The Guardian Australia?s Political Editor Lenore Taylor said:
It seems like we?re going to get a Senator whose main and possibly only policy is that he?s in favour of sport.
The public ridicule has been unfair and uninformed.? The use of exchange of preferences between parties is commonplace among all political parties, and you can hardly blame the candidates if voters choose to vote ?above the line? in the Senate.
Furthermore, Australian Sports Party?s platform is not about being in ?favour of sport?, it?s about promoting healthy active lifestyles and using sport to build social capital in local communities.
A Voice for Community Sport
Millions of Australians have an involvement in grassroots sport ? either as participants, volunteers or supporters.? For many, community sport is not just a passion ? it is the backbone of their social networks, and forms an important part of their personal identity.
And as Brad McCarroll has argued, all is not rosy in the world of grassroots sport. ?Declining rates of participation, declining rates of volunteerism, and increasing costs (such as insurance) are putting many community-level clubs out of business ? while the elite end of the industry takes an ever larger slice of the pie.
Through my own experiences as a participant and board member of grassroots sporting clubs, I understand the potential political power of this constituency.? ?If only there was a political party for people involved in sport, we?d be unstoppable? ? is a comment that I?ve heard many times.
But while the Australian Sports Party comes to Parliament with a clear mission, the critics do have a point.? The Party has not made it clear how it intends to achieve its goals, or how it intends to deal with the breadth of complicated policy issues that it will be confronted with in the Senate.
The Party?s web site offers us few clues, other than a list of sound but broad objectives ? such as:
- Promote a healthy well-balanced lifestyle;
- Educate and motivate Australians to live healthy lifestyle [sic];
- Increase sporting participation; and
- Support Australia?s sporting culture.
So in the absence of any detail about the Australian Sport?s Party?s policies or plans, here are some suggestions as to how the Party could go about achieving its objectives in the Australian Parliament, and how it could play a positive role in the Senate.
Implement the Crawford Recommendations
The first thing the Mr Dropulich should do, if hasn?t already, is carefully read the Crawford Report into The Future of Sport in Australia.? This report is, in essence, a comprehensive manual for achieving the basic objectives of the Australian Sports Party.? It should give him the perfect launching pad for developing sensible, effective and achievable policies.
As discussed previously in Sports Business Insider, the Crawford Report was quietly shelved by the previous Labor Government.? But with a new Federal Government, now is the time to dust off the report?s more worthy recommendations, such as:
- Taking action to allow greater access to school sporting facilities outside of school hours;
- Developing a national volunteer program for sporting and physical activity organisations;
- Encouraging past AIS scholarship-holders to volunteer within community organisations as coaches, administrators and mentors; and
- Establishing a National Sports Facilities Fund with an initial allocation of $250 million each year for four years.
Most importantly, the Australian Sports Party should be pushing for the new Government to apply a new set of key performance indicators in the sport portfolio.? Success should not just be about the number of gold medals won at the Olympics ? the new Minister for Sport should be reporting to Parliament in his performance in lifting participation rates, and in improving access to active recreation.
Sports issues are also highly topical at the moment.? The use of drugs in sport, match-fixing and alcohol sponsorship are dominating the front and back pages of our daily newspapers.? The Australian Sports Party is in the box seat to work with the sports sector and lead the discussion on these issues inside Parliament, and to help develop effective policy responses.
In the past, the sports portfolio has been about junkets to major events and photo opportunities for politicians, who love standing alongside a winner clad in green and gold.? If the Australian Sports Party can change this, and turn the sports portfolio into something more meaningful, then it will have made a worthwhile contribution to the country.
A Values-Based Policy Framework
If Mr Dropulich?s policies have been vague, then he has given even less away about his party?s approach to non-sport related issues.
In an interview with WA Today, Mr Dropulich said ?at this stage we are just going to see if we get in, then we can address all those issues.?
Nevertheless, the Party does profess to have a set of core values.? These values (identified on its web site) of integrity, responsibility, compassion, teamwork and enjoyment should provide a framework for the analysis of policy issues.? For example, it could be argued that a responsible and compassionate approach on the issue of asylum seekers would be to find more humane alternatives to the Coalition?s harsh treatment of refugees.
A teamwork-based approach to politics (at least for a party with only one Federal representative) would be to actively involve party-members and the wider community in the decision-making processes.? It would also involve using the system of Parliamentary Committees for resolving disputes between the major parties. And a party that values integrity should be advocating for stronger whistleblower protections, protection of freedom of speech, and robust Freedom of Information laws.
Fundamentally, however, the Senate is the State?s House, and the Australian Sports Party will be representing the State of Western Australia.? So the first rule that the Party should adopt is to ask whether or nor a piece of legislation or a government decision is in the best interest of Western Australia.? In that way, the Party would not only be acting in a way consistent with the intentions of the Constitution, it would be following in the footsteps of previous successful independent Senators such as Tasmania?s Brian Harradine.
A Window of Opportunity
The new Federal Government has given early signals that it wants to take sport seriously.? ?While the Minister for Sport gets a seat inside Cabinet, other portfolios such as Tourism, Resources, Aged Care, Disabilities, Resources and Science have all been abolished as stand-alone Ministries.? To many, even inside the Liberal Party, this is evidence that the Federal Government has a warped sense of priorities.? As Federal Liberal Party MP Dennis Jenson said: ?I mean we?ve got a Minister for Sport for God?s sake, but we don?t have a Minister for Science.?
For the sporting community, however, this situation should be viewed as a remarkable window of opportunity.? Now is the time to put community sport issues front and centre in our national political debate.? The sector has been left out for too long ? partly because it has never got itself organised. ?The sports sector must band together, and must quickly develop a constructive relationship with Mr Dropulich and his party.
One thing is for sure, if Mr Dropulich does get his seat in the Senate, he will be in for one hell of a ride over the next six years.