Tuesday 20 November 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Select Committee
Establishing Tasmanian AFL Team


[4.12 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I am going to be pretty much all over the show with this.

I am a bit like-minded about the questions, about the history, about what is happening in football at the moment; the questions that have been raised by the members who have already spoken and my own personal experience of course - an old Sandy Bay family - and my own involvement with junior coaching and administration over many years and the highs and lows that you get with that involvement.  It is sometimes good and sometimes it is absolutely shocking - the way we have seen football develop and opportunities come and go, sometimes riding high and sometimes down very low. 

It is a bit of a moveable feast in respect of the state of football in Tasmania, but generally from what I have seen - and you might care to comment on this later, member for Windermere - is that our trajectory in respect of football is going down as far as the future of Aussie Rules in Tasmania is concerned. 

Mr Valentine - What about women's?  It is going the other way.

Mr FINCH - That is a different point altogether.  I can come to that if you like.  I will just make a note of it here while I go all over the show. 

You must remember I was on the board of the Launceston Football Club.  We had an approach from a group that wanted to bring a women's team to the Launceston Football Club.  Mark Thurlow and I said -

Yeah, fantastic, great.  What night do you want to train?  How do we go about getting facilities?  How are you going to play?  Where are you going to play?  What are you going to do about uniforms?  Do we need to help you there?  There will be a lot of social interaction at the club.

They were gobsmacked.  They nearly fell off their seats and we said, 'What's the problem?'  They said, 'We have been to North Launceston and we have been to South Launceston and they were not in the slightest bit interested.'  Yet we saw the golden opportunity to help. They were burgeoning.  It was growing.  Then I think there were only two, three or four teams playing around Tasmania.  It was all being cobbled together.

So, I am a supporter of that progression in our football.  But as I said, my trajectory for football in Tasmania, having been part of the administration that watched for the last 12 years, is on a downward spiral.  We have gone from one plateau; that is mucked up so we go to that plateau.  That is mucked up; we go to that plateau.  Always doubling back.  That one; we will try this.  That is mucked up; we will go here.  That is mucked up.  That is what I have seen.  That is my frustration showing in football.  I want to try to be the glass half-full sort of person and say, 'Maybe there is a way to halt this'.  When Gillon McLachlan came to Tassie recently, I thought, 'He is here to muster the troops and to provide good ideas.'  It was not all that positive.  Some of the feedback was pretty ordinary - a mixed response from the most influential people at local level, state league club presidents.  With one official stunned, our own AFL team was left off the grand plan.  Craig Martin from North Hobart said it should have included an AFL team as the end goal.  He did not suggest a time line.  He said -

I am disappointed there is no road map for Tasmania getting its own AFL team.  I think most Tasmanians are disappointed about that.  These were not a set of conditions that other parts of Australia had to go through to get their own team, so I don't understand why we are expected to go through these sort of conditions to get our team.  I find that a bit hard to get my head around. 

That was his response.

The Launceston president, Sandra Boland, was surprised the AFL previously said there was no more money, so TSL clubs should not bother asking.  Only for Mr McLachlan on that trip to then produce an extra $1.4 million for other projects.  That leaves administrators shaking their heads and saying, 'What the heck is going on here?'  One minute no money, do not put your hand out or your begging bowl even though you are scratching around trying to make things pay.  Then, all of a sudden, 'I am here to make you feel better, here is $1.4 million.'  Why was that not there initially to help us through the rough patches, or to help us work our way into the future, before we end up with a situation where it is crisis time?

North Launceston's Thane Brady said -

I'm disappointed that we had the opportunity right in front of us.  This looks like when Gill McLachlan arrived in Tasmania all he had in his pocket was some crumbs off the table, $1.4 million for programs that should have already been in place.  There is no growth for the TSL, or plan to bring a North West team in, so I am not sure how we can show we are VFL-ready in 2021 when the AFL won't invest in the North West, in terms of the TSL.  That is totally inconsistent.

On that subject, what a disaster, what a debacle to have no team from Devonport, no team from Burnie.  The north-west coast - kids …

Ms Rattray - It used to be the powerhouse.

Mr FINCH - The powerhouse.  The great players that have come from the north-west coast and the great competitions that have been run there -

Mr Gaffney - If they are good enough, they still go to the AFL and play.  The competition is going to strengthen because Devonport and Burnie are back into the local competition.  Statewide they may suffer, but the north-west coast will get stronger, they will be prepared.

Mr FINCH - Yes.  But if you are running a state competition, a state league, you cannot have a competition without the north-west coast being represented.  My frustration is starting to show because I remember when we were establishing the statewide league - was it this one or the last one?  At Launceston, we were great advocates for Ulverstone to be included because of tradition - it was the heartland of the north-west coast.  Straight through the schools they developed their players.  Have a look at the premierships that were won at all levels and how it was part of that north-west culture.  I do not deny Burnie the opportunity in the way it cobbled its team together to make a future out of north-west coast football.  If we were looking for a North Hobart in other parts of Tasmania, well you would go to Ulverstone, where we were not able to pull them across the line or help them in their thrust to be part of the statewide league.  We could talk all day about opportunities lost and things that might have been done that might have made a difference.  I can see from the points I have made that not everybody was impressed with the visit by Gillon McLachlan, who probably felt he was going to make some inroads and get a warm fuzzy feeling with what he was suggesting for Tasmania.

I will just look through my notes here because there was some mention of Max Brown.  No.  To come back - inquiry members do not dictate the terms.  The point you were making, member for Mersey, was that you felt the inquiry members do not have the expertise.  When is that ever part of an inquiry - that the members should be the be-all and end-all of the decisions that come out of the inquiry?  That is not the case.  You call on the experts to give you the advice.

Mr Gaffney - I think you misinterpreted what I was trying to say.  The member said the AFL wanted Tasmania to get its house in order.  If you think this inquiry will get our house in order, it is not going to be even close, because we do not have the people to make those decisions.

Mr FINCH - But inquiry members do not dictate those terms.  We see what evidence comes in.  That might not get any traction because people say that it is impossible to judge or contribute.  No, that should not have been in the terms of reference.  I made a note when you said inquiry members cannot dictate the terms on these things.  That was the note I made.

Mr Valentine - Some of them can inform debate.

Mr FINCH - Yes, it is up to the people who come forward.  This is the point.  This is why I have always been interested in the discussion taking place because I see this as an opportunity to give people a chance to speak about their feelings, about their thoughts, and put that on record.  We have it dealt through the media and all that sort of thing, but this is a way to focus on what people are feeling, those who have the knowledge, history and opinions to put forward.  This is a way to do it - through to state Government.  It might fall on deaf ears with the AFL.  It might just put the blinkers on and say, 'We are not going to listen to this talk coming out of Tasmania'.  But at least our Tasmanian people, who have put us here, will have the opportunity to express themselves and say what they are feeling at this time.  That is what I think it is.  This inquiry resonates with me.  It is giving our people the chance to say what they think.

Go to 99 per cent of Tasmanian and say, 'What do you think about this?'  They all have an opinion.  They can all talk of yore and what had happened and the people they went to see when North Hobart played Sandy Bay.  They will always talk about that history.  They all bemoan the fact that we are not where they would like Tasmania to be.

This is a chance for people who are strong on opinion to come to the inquiry and express those opinions.  In that sense it is a good idea to have the inquiry.  The other thing, of course, is that if you talk to other people in the know, the grand plan is for North Melbourne to be the team in Tasmania, and as for Hawthorn - the AFL wants them to scoot back to Melbourne.  Hawthorn has come right financially; from some discussions I have had, North Melbourne has come to Tassie, and they are right financially now.

That is what we are representing in Tasmania - it is bring down your basket case.  St Kilda, bring down your basket case, we will sort you out.  As soon as St Kilda were back on their feet, away they went.  That is the way we have been used in the recent decade.  Is that what we want?  My thought always was that North Melbourne, had they been encouraged enough, would go to the Gold Coast.  They had that beautiful facility to play in, supported by the AFL.  They were still thrown - it would have been a cash splash to North Melbourne and there would have been the vacancy for an eighteenth team that could have been from Tassie.

But, oh no, it was about this Gold Coast Suns - and every sport that has tried to establish on the Gold Coast has eventually been shown not to succeed.  Gold Coast people are a different breed altogether.  You do not get the support you get from other areas of the state and they are not an AFL location, not like Tassie.  For Tassie, it was our culture, heart and soul.

Ms Rattray - It is league up there, isn't it?

Mr FINCH - Rugby League, yes.

You talked about employment opportunities, member for Windermere.  I remember once having a discussion with the director of sport at a school, talking about that conundrum for private schools between promoting academia and promoting sport within the school and trying to give it some sort of balance so that the young people are involved in sport as a recreational and physical activity but also have a focus on academia.  My argument was that some are not going to be academic and that sport could represent their future.

I was pooh-poohed over that:  'No great future in sport.'  I said, 'Hold on, Collingwood, one football club in Australia, has 90 people on its staff.'

Mr Dean - Collingwood has 119.

Mr FINCH - One hundred and nineteen now.  Try to tell me that there are not opportunities in sport - well, you people would know that sport is a great focus for people's futures:  physiotherapists, masseurs, administrators, coaches, trainee coaches, all of those sorts of people.  It is a great employment opportunity that could be part of this future with an AFL team in Tassie.

I want to go to Martin Flanagan - 'Oh yes, you pull out the obvious one' - but Martin Flanagan is from the north-west coast of Tasmania, he has played football here, he developed City-South and he is a great observer of AFL football per se; he has written some terrific stuff about football and made some great observations.

I want to quote from a speech here, though I am not sure where it was given.  I think it was given in Melbourne but I will have to track that down for Hansard.  He talks about his football journey but then he says -

I knew Tasmanian football in Tasmania was in serious trouble four years ago when I went to Hobart and the sports report on the evening news led with soccer - not EPL or A League but local soccer.  Tasmanian soccer had replaced Tasmanian football as the dominant sporting story.  This is not unrelated, I believe, to the fact that Tasmania has had only one single draft pick in the past two years.  The power of Tasmanian football as a dreaming is much diminished.  Four years ago, when I started asking around, I found to my disbelief that the Tasmanian Statewide League had been unable to secure a financial sponsor.  Clubs were struggling to get sponsors for individual players.  This was at a time when, back here in Melbourne, the AFL was congratulating itself on the fact that it had secured a record sum for broadcasting rights to the game.  How, I asked, could this be happening at one time, such extremes of poverty and wealth within the one game, the one culture? 

The answer is that the game has evolved into two very different cultures.  Those at the top talk in terms of branding and product and market share, the language of corporate culture.  The culture at the bottom was best described by Glenorchy Football Club president John McCann when he said two years ago that the ecosystem of Tasmanian football was sick.  He was right on two counts - he was right that it was sick, and he was right that the grassroots game, that growth of more than 150 years, is best understood as an eco-system.  The AFL and those around them talk about 'the industry'.  If football is an industry, it is at the most basic level a primary industry, but everywhere I go in Australia, I hear the same - that industry is struggling. 

Anyway, he moved a toast - 'Ignore grassroots football at your peril' was his closing line.  That is what we are dealing with in Tasmania.  It is about our grassroots football and the fact that it has not been treated very well over the years in the way it has been developed.

Max Brown lived and breathed Tasmanian football and he is now close to being too embarrassed to even talk about the health of the sport, such is its current state.  He said that he had been alarmed at the health and growth of soccer on the coast, while football, a sport that has fought more with itself, has suffered.  'If we are going to fight, we should be fighting against rugby and soccer, but we've fought with ourselves', Brown said.  That is just another observation that came my way through looking at what people are thinking and feeling about this situation.

As I say, most of my feedback has been that people would love to see an AFL Tasmanian team.  Is it a pipedream?  I think it is still worth testing.  It is Chinese water torture.  I think it is still worth persisting with it, but letting the AFL know that once we go lame - once we say, 'Yes, righto, let's go into a second-rate competition in the VFL.  We will pump the Mariners back out to a full team.  It should never have gone to a part-time team.  It should not have gone to six or eight games a year, that just threw the kids all over the show.  It threw the clubs all over the show.  It was a shocking decision to do that. 

Mrs Hiscutt - Is that not the path that AFL Tasmania indicated it wants us on? This VFL -

Mr FINCH - Yes, but why did they muck around with it before?

Now we are reinventing the wheel and going back to a representative team in a VFL-type competition.  We left that before.  It was a debacle; it did not work.  I would probably sheet a little of the blame back to administration of that whole process so that it did not end up the success it might have otherwise been.  That is what I am saying about the trajectory.  This plateau, down to that plateau, down to that plateau we go.  And here is our next iteration.

Mr Valentine - Isn't there a danger if this does not receive a lot of input from people that it might actually cruel. 

Mr FINCH - Honourable member for Hobart, when we were here everyone supported it.  When we came down to here, everybody supported it; when it came down to here, everybody got on board.  Then, all of a sudden, all of the volunteers, administrators and grassrooters for football are all down here and saying, 'What the hell are we doing?  I am fed up with this.  I am being kicked from pillar to post.  We are getting nowhere'.  Away they go; they have gone.  The heart and soul of football are out the back door.  Think of the Esk Association, think of all the associations - district league, amateur league, West Tamar Association, East Tamar Association, Deloraine Association.  The list could go on and on.  Where have they gone?  Where have their administrators and volunteers gone?  They got fed up. 

Sure, there are other reasons:  the lack of young men in rural areas and bigger opportunities in the city for jobs and that sort of thing. There are a lot of different factors.

Ms Rattray - Fly-in, fly-out.

Mr FINCH - Yes, a lot of different factors. 

I did not want to call on that as a strong part of my argument but that is what has happened: volunteers, the women's auxiliary, presidents and boards were all fed up with the way they had been treated.  That is very frustrating.  It was very frustrating to watch and also to be a part of.  As administrator, you did not know if you were Arthur or Martha.  What was going to happen next?  What is the next iteration?  The time we put in at Launceston to develop the state league was horrendous.  We formed a subcommittee with some of the best football brains in Tasmania.  There were six or seven of them, plus me.

We gave our heart and soul to come out with the best state league we possibly could achieve in that reiteration of a state league.  Where has it gone?  Bzzzzzzzz.  Down it has gone again!

Ms Forrest - How is a committee going to fix all this?  With a coin? What's the point?

Mr FINCH - I am going to make it, if you would listen.

The history is that people are sick of all of these ideas and new iterations.  They have all failed all the way along the line.  What we need is a grand plan.  There is no grand plan in what Gillon McLachlan brought to Tasmania.  It is a game of bandaids and temporary measures.

Ms Forrest - If you have an inquiry that says, 'Yes, we want a Tasmanian team' and he says, 'Go away' -

Mr FINCH - No. Were you listening to me earlier when I said that it is about Chinese water torture?  We have to keep going at this.  Once we fold and say that it is unachievable, we are going nowhere, our kids are going to play basketball, our kids are going to play soccer, the other sports are coming to take over our territory, which was once our culture - well, of course, bang!

Mr Gaffney - As long as the kids are playing sport, it does not matter whether it is football, soccer or basketball.

Mr FINCH - I think you are dealing with a different subject.

Mr Gaffney - You brought it up.

Mr FINCH - What I am saying is that the kids will go there rather than to where we think there is an opportunity for Tasmania.  The opportunity is to have a team in the AFL, developing our history that goes way back, developing that culture in Tasmania - hello, being part of Australia.

Mr Gaffney - There is no national Tasmanian basketball or soccer team.  Yet kids are going there so you cannot just use the national league to solve the problem.

Mr FINCH - Wait a moment.  If the AFL reneges on it and says, 'It is all too hard in Tasmania; they are all divided.  They have no money in Tasmania' -

Ms Forrest - An inquiry could confirm that.  Then what happens?

Mr FINCH - Then you have confirmed it.  Everybody could stop bellyaching if you could confirm it.  That is the role we play here on behalf of our constituents, on behalf of the Tasmanian taxpayers.  Let us work that situation and see what we come up with, what is suggested, then we can stop the bellyaching.

Mr Valentine - Would it not be the role of government to test that rather than the House of Review which reviews what government does?  We are doing the Government's work in a sense, are we not?

Ms Forrest - The Government has already said it supported that.

Mr FINCH - The Government supports the inquiry.  They want the answers, they want to have the information in their kitbag when they go to argue.

Mr Valentine - Why aren't they doing the work to get that information?  Why are we doing that work for them? It is a fundamental question

Mrs Hiscutt - I think the Government has done a lot of work.

Mr PRESIDENT - The member for Rosevears has the podium at the moment.

Mr FINCH - It is interesting to hear the different comments and where this might go. 

I am a little more frustrated about the process we have been through over the years and where we have got to at this stage.  I have got to the stage where I am venting my spleen a fair bit and not remaining as constructive as I would like to be.  I still feel that there is an opportunity on a lot of fronts for Tasmania to come into the federation, to come in to what we should have in Tasmania with our history.  It has been neglected, mismanaged and maladministered. That is why we find ourselves in the position we are in.

Let us look at the history of the players we developed and the quantum of those players who went from here to the mainland.

Mr Dean - And what they do for Tasmania.

Mr FINCH - Absolutely. 

We have only to look at the money that the AFL has put into the Gold Coast Suns.  We are green with envy. And the money put into GWS.  Where have they gone?  GWS might be a little more successful, but Gold Coast Suns is costing more and more money in an area that does not have the culture Tasmania has.  If the AFL were to support this, there is a situation coming up with the television rights and whether that is going to be of the quantum it is now or be lesser.  I hear varying reports on where it is going to be.

Mr PRESIDENT - It is $2.8 billion at the moment.

Mr FINCH - How does that compare with what is on the table now?

Mr PRESIDENT - It was $1.25 billion and is now $2.8 billion.

Mr FINCH - In case the person who made an offer to me to chair the committee is wondering where the money is coming from, I think the answer is there.  There are new broadcasting rights, new landscapes that can unfold for AFL.  Will it benefit us in Tasmania?  Have a look at what bringing St Kilda, Hawthorn and North Melbourne here has done for our economy.  It has been fantastic during the winter, boosting the economy at those bad tourism times of the year, giving us a good focus and publicity from having the magnificent grounds, particularly Aurora Stadium.  It was a revelation for the mainlanders to see we could have facilities of the standard of an Australian competition.

Mick Malthouse, a triple premiership coach and yet another high profile AFL personality, threw his support behind the plight of Tasmanian football.  He suggested Tasmania is abundant in football talent and is crying out for an AFL team.  If we neglect grassroots football, abandon the plight of Tasmanian football, if we ignore the struggles of country football, we effectively strangle our game of the most important ingredient - the players.  Those comments are coming all the time from commentators.

Mr Valentine - With those eight parts to the inquiry, do you see they are all valid things?

Mr FINCH - Number (5) would cause a few concerns for me - the impact on the aspirations of Tasmanian youth in the knowledge they can only be drafted into mainland teams.  If you have a chance of being drafted anywhere, you are not going to bemoan the fact we do not have a Tasmanian team for you to play in.  You are going to want to play at AFL standard, but how good would it be to have the opportunity to aspire to play for your team?  Remember, over the years the pride people have in the map of Tassie with the big T in it and the colours of Tasmania.  It would be fantastic if they were able to aspire to that.   I think that one is nebulous.

The others I went through - the benefits to economy and community - absolutely.  Whether Tasmanian taxpayers or the AFL should subsidise Melbourne-based AFL clubs playing in Tasmania is a moot point, and opinions need to come in on that.  You can then have the AFL's and the Government's opinions.  The ongoing support required to sustain the Tasmanian AFL team - who in the football community is not going to want to support and go and buy a membership?  As we said before, you would have your membership for your historical team and then you would have your membership for Tasmania to help support Tasmania.

I can see it being a really strong membership.  They are talking about these 100 000 membership clubs, and you do not have to buy full membership now.   To be a member you can actually buy a membership for three games, for $50.  In other words, you can be a member for $50, it will get you to three games and a lot of people only want to go to about three games in a season, but the point is they are counted as members.  When we look and say, ' Richmond has 100 000 members, Tassie is not going to pull 100 000 members', no, but we are going to be able to get on the same playing field in respect of the types of memberships.  Every Tasmanian is going to pay $50 for a membership and then that resonates with your sponsors and with your people who financially support, that we have the numbers.  We have 10 000 Hawthorn supporters - where do they come from?  Nearly out of thin air!  There were not that many Hawthorn supporters before Hawthorn came to Tassie.  It is probably more up there, about 12 000 supporters.

What is the possible solution to the AFL's perception of Tasmania being geographically and politically divided?  Let us talk about it, let people give us their opinions - 'No, that is a furphy, bull!'  That is okay, let us get that opinion - the AFL can look at that, but this is not going to be the solution.  Others might say, 'Yes, there is the opportunity for the people up at Oonah or Winnaleah and people down the Huon, people over on the east coast and the west coast to be linked in a common bond'.  That might be what the social demographers would say.

This is going to be a good thing for Tassie.  It has never happened before.  The impact on the future participation rates in AFL in Tasmania of not having a Tasmanian team in the AFL - what I am saying about that is that we are going down, down, down.  If we keep going down without any positivity, the kids are going to go elsewhere.  Kids are not going to play football.  It is not going to be in schools.  There is going to be no glory in playing Aussie Rules Football or being involved in Aussie Rules Football, so I think it will just to keep going down.

As for the optimal time for Tasmanians to field an AFL team, I mentioned about the new contract for television rights and that could be an opportune time.  It might be that Tasmania bites the bullet, grows a spine and says, 'Okay, we are not going to fund AFL teams playing in Tassie, it is penny-ante; it is not doing the right thing by Tasmania; let us not have football.'  We might have to bite the bullet for three or four years until that new contract is signed and money becomes available for Tasmania to have a team.

The Gold Coast Suns - what if they folded tomorrow?  They are down the gurgler as it is and struggle, struggle, struggle to keep the players and the people there connected; they are pouring millions and millions of dollars into it - why not just give it a miss?  Put a team in Tassie where the culture is and rebuild Tassie's football on the back of holding to an 18-game competition.  It does not need to be an 18-team competition; it could quite easily be 19 teams.

You can see that as I go down the list, I am comfortable with those there.  I did not have a hand in drafting those terms of reference.  The one about Tasmanian youth is the only one that concerns me.  Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to vent my spleen.  I will support the motion.