Wednesday 3 June 2020
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Consideration and Noting 
Select Committee on AFL in Tasmania
Final Report


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I encourage people who are watching or who have friends comment about the acquisition of a team for Tasmania to read this report.  The other report, for the AFL Licence Taskforce, is very lengthy.  It is more a very detailed submission to the AFL rather than a short, easy-to-read inquiry report that gives many of the facts of the matter.  People are quick to have an opinion.  If you talk to people about football and the state of football in Tasmania, they are quick to say that we cannot afford it.  That is the first comment -'We cannot afford it, don't be ridiculous.'. 

However, if you read the report - and if you then refer to the task force report for a more detailed explanation, particularly by Russell Hanson - I have never seen the figures drilled into and proven to our satisfaction.  That is why we took notice of what he was doing, and then the task force as well, because of the comprehensive detail of what is in there.  In future, before people make the hasty comment that we cannot afford it, read the report and you will see, if you exercise your mind, that it is affordable.  We can do it.  Particularly if you look at the recent history, as our chairman would understand - the money that has been poured into GWS to get it going, and also the money that is still being poured into the Suns.

I recognise that with COVID-19, it is a changed playing field.  There is no doubt about that.  Somewhere in my speech I mention Jack Riewoldt saying that now could be the time to restructure the AFL on many levels, which could factor in Tasmania in a better way.  I wanted to make that point.  Please, read the report.  It is easy to read, and has only about 57 pages.

I wanted to point out  something else.  With all the reports I have been involved in, I have never seen a report where right up-front, on page 3, is the page to go to if you want to refer to any of the terms of references; points (1) to (7), you simply go to the next page, and it has where the evidence connected to those terms of reference can be found.  Let us say, term (6),  if Tasmania were to establish an AFL team, when would it be the optimal time for it commence?  You look at point (6) and the evidence for that is on page 22.  I have not seen that before in a report.  If it is a regular thing, I have missed it.  Congratulations to our secretariat for providing that easy guide for cutting to the chase if you are looking for particular evidence on a particular term of reference.

You did not mention, Chair, that when we established our committee of inquiry, up came the task force and then up came the board, chaired by Jim Wilkinson.  We then wrote to the Premier to ask, 'Is this necessary?', because you do not want to be wasting legislature money if the Government feels you are going over old ground.  The Premier said, 'Please continue, because stuff will come to an inquiry such as yours that might not surface in a task force report, or would go to AFL Tasmania's new board that Jim Wilkinson is the chair of.'.  He explicitly said that we should continue with it, and this gave us added strength to continue with the report, and that it would not be, as some might perceive, a waste of time.  It was a good indication.

I am just going over some of the things that were mentioned earlier, before I get into my report.  There was talk of the expansion and the growth of soccer - I think it was a figure of 10 000.

Ms Rattray - I read it in the report.

Mr FINCH - I should have done that.

Ms Rattray - Page 20.

Mr FINCH - We discussed that aspect of the door opening while the AFL dillydallies and mucks around with this situation.  Tasmania is open slather for the introduction or the expansion of soccer - and what about basketball?

Here we are going into the Derwent Entertainment Centre with a Tasmanian team.  What is that going to mean?  Every kid is going to want to play basketball.  Every kid is going to want to follow a Tasmanian team.  I do not know if it will be the Devils again, or some other name, but there are opportunities. 

If we do not get a team in the near future, we will see the decline in AFL participation continue.  Get the signal to the AFL  that we will go to other sports while we muck around waiting for the AFL to get its act together.  To me, that is the logical approach to developing the interest in football while we wait.  I do not want to get too frustrated by the history even that I have been involved in.  We are from a Sandy Bay family as players, then subsequently as administrators, with me at the Launceston Football Club, and boys playing and being supporters.

What we have been through is tear-your-hair-out stuff as we watch the demise of football in Tasmania.  We started from here - and I will not point out the years, because then you will be able to put names to the positions I am talking about - but we started from here with a project: failure down to here; go down to the next level; try that - failure; go down to the next level - failure; down to the next level - failure.  A litany of failures by administration from the AFL in this state. 

I am getting frustrated - pull back. 

As I say, I do not want to go over that history because it is too annoying, but we have all seen it.  People who love their footy have seen the demise of footy in Tassie.  Here we have started going on about a VFL team.  We go to rebuild or build the growth by introducing a VFL team - we have been there and belly up it went.  Let us not revisit old wounds.  Let us not go to the VFL.  That did not improve us much at all.  It is all about creaming off the elite players - finding and creaming off the elite players to feed into the national draft, and that is what Tasmania has become part of.

All these other kids who play footy - they are just 'life support' systems for a handful of elites who might get drafted.  It has been a very frustrating journey watching this, but I think it is a way forward for football.  If we do not go that way forward, we will just see a diminution of support for grassroots football.  I wish Jim Wilkinson well with his attempts to get the football back into schools, because that is where it starts, but, by crikey, it is a challenge to get it back into the schools.

Members would remember when it was in school - that was the team to get into.  That was the team to play for.  Everybody wanted to kick a football around at recess and at lunchtime, and then to get to pull the jumper on for the school.

Mr Dean - And that is where all the scouts were.  Many scouts went around school football grounds as well - the AFL and VFL scouts and the senior leagues in Tasmania.

Mr FINCH - That is where to get them.  Spare a thought for Mandy, who has been with the North Hobart Football Club for many years, and the sadness in that club with the loss of the great JL, John Leedham.  That is interesting.  He never played footy at school …

Mr Dean - John Leedham?

Mr FINCH - No.  He was at Campbell Town.  They didn't have footy, but when he joined -

Ms Rattray - Say no more - Campbell Town.

Mr Gaffney - I thought you said school football was important.

Mr FINCH - JL was 16 before he played footy.  I am trying to think whether it was the Army or something that meant a lot of footy was going on.  He moved into town, was picked up by North Launceston.  He played in five premierships for North Launceston as a teenager.  He came to North Hobart in 1957 and was just so good as a player.  They won a premiership in 1957 and then he was captain and coach of the Tasmanian team in 1958 but playing in first division, and they beat Western Australia and South Australia.

Mr Valentine - Do not use too much of my special interest speech, will you?

Mr FINCH - Rob Valentine wants to pay tribute to the great JL, and he said he had seen him play.  The Finch family played for Sandy Bay and we used to watch Dennis play, so we watched JL play - a very gifted left-footer.

Like so many, he went to the VFL, but never played in the VFL because he went there and got a knee injury in a practice game.  I have a mate watching football, Bob Gormly, who went to Victoria as a very young bloke and played in the reserves, going great guns.  Played one game for Melbourne and then unfortunately, in a practice game, did a knee and that was the end of his VFL career.

Mr Dean - They do not come back to it.

Mr FINCH - Came back to Launceston and had a terrific career with Launceston.  I point out, football has been going for 100 years - Launceston Football Club was established in 1875.  North Hobart disputes that situation, but it is around then that the clubs were established.  We claim Launceston as being the first, certainly in Tasmania, probably second in Australia to Melbourne.

Tasmania is a mighty AFL state.  We have produced some of the AFL's and the VFL's finest footballers.  You only have to look in my office and you will see the team of the century with the great names that have been superstars in VFL and AFL football.

Mr Armstrong - Some players missed out then.

Mr FINCH - We have talked before about Murray Steele, my favourite footballer.  He went to St Kilda, but he was a country boy at heart and got homesick and came home.  Roger and John Steele - the Steele family were great footballers.  Murray would have been a star in VFL had he been able to stay.

In your forward to this report, it states -

Tasmania is regarded as a heartland for AFL football in Australia.  It is a founding state of Australian Rules Football, but it is the only state in Australia not to have an AFL team. 

It defies comprehension that this is where our state finds itself, still fighting to convince the AFL that we should have our own AFL team after decades of producing some of the game's greatest champions.  One of Tasmania's greatest success stories at the moment is Jack Riewoldt, who you mentioned.  He said in The Advocate that the COVID-19 pandemic could speed up Tasmania's efforts to join the league.  I agree with that. 

While they are starting to look at regrouping to get the AFL going again, bring it to the front of your mind, AFL, that Tasmania should be included. 

The AFL focus has been largely growing AFL in the rugby league states of Queensland and New South Wales, through the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney, respectively.  That is quite okay.  It has ensured, unfortunately, that Tasmania was never really going to get a serious look-in over the past decade because the focus went to those two rugby league states. 

In giving evidence to our committee's hearing on 3 March, the AFL's former CEO Andrew Demetriou was asked about whether a Tasmanian AFL licence was discussed with him during his time as CEO.  I quote him -

But there weren't any very serious discussions with government, other than the desire for one day for there to be a team.  We weren't opposed to that.  It just wasn't in the sequence of events in my duration of the AFL that a Tasmanian team was going to get priority over New South Wales and Queensland at that time.

It is interesting going back over some old newspaper reports.  On Sunday 1 September, Rob Inglis wrote a report in The Examiner, and I will quote one of the sections here -

Premier Paul Lennon's government-led push for a Tasmanian team was launched in 2008, as well, leading to a highly publicised meeting between Lennon, state Sport Minister Paula Wriedt and then AFL boss, Andrew Dimitriou, at AFL House in Melbourne.  With a media scrum following them to the doors, Lennon and Wriedt got inside, only to be made to wait for 15 minutes before being summoned for the meeting.  Wriedt told The Age four years later that she had never seen anyone speak to a premier like he [Demetriou] spoke to Paul Lennon.  It was to the point of actual bad manners.

Mr Demetriou might have had a bad memory on that particular one.  The AFL needs to understand that a deep belief across our state is that a Tasmanian team in the AFL is good - not only for the state, but also for the AFL.  Russell Hanson proved time and again with his figures how it is going to financially benefit the AFL to have those extra games Tasmania will bring to the table.  When Andrew Demetriou's successor, Gill McLachlan, held his first press conference as CEO in 2014, not that long ago, he made the following comment to the media -

I have a clear vision of where I feel the game needs to go and how we are going to get there.  For me, that vision is about having an unassailable hold on the Australian community in women, in children as much as men, in the North to the South in all communities, and success in delivering on this vision will mean ultimately three things - that we are truly national, that we are truly representative and we are truly connected to the community.

He went on to say -

I believe we have the right amount of teams for the foreseeable future, whether that is five or ten years. 

The following needs to be acknowledged - an AFL competition without Tasmania is not truly national.  You mentioned before about Tom Harley saying that without the Suns we are not national.  He thinks we were effluent that came out of Geelong when he was playing there. 

This committee's key findings show not only enormous benefits from Tasmania having an AFL team, but the findings include an estimated economic benefit of $110 million annually, and the creation of more than 300 jobs.  It found the team would cost approximately $45 million - $7 million to $8 million annually from the Tasmanian Government, $15 million to $17 million annually from an AFL dividend, and the balance from sponsorship.  The figures are there.

The AFL has previously questioned Tasmania's capacity to fund its own AFL team, but the AFL task force report found that a Tasmanian AFL licence bid is economically viable.  The task force made this comment on page 10 of its report - 

Broadcast revenue modelling and advising experts confirm a local Tasmanian team will add value to the AFL overall.  There is a case to suggest that a Tasmanian team could in fact be self-funding as a 19th team.

Western Bulldogs President, Peter Gordon, said to the committee on 3 March 2020 that he also agreed that it could be AFL cost‑neutral.  In regard to flow-on benefits, Tourism Industry Council Tasmania said -

TICT is very confident a Tasmanian AFL Team will have significant benefits to the Tasmanian visitor economy.  This is based on our experience with the current structure of AFL content in Tasmania, and examples interstate.  

The Tasmanian Government said -

An AFL team for Tasmania could have the potential to attract thousands more visitors to our State, injecting millions of dollars into our northern and southern communities, while at the same time propelling the Tasmanian brand into one of the broadest reaching national sporting platforms.  

In the same report, point 7 of the findings stated -

A Tasmanian AFL team has the potential to attract high-value local, national and international sponsors.  Potential exists for synergies with the Tasmanian Brand. 

It has been said that the AFL wants a Tasmanian team to have 50 000 members.  Well, the AFL Licence Taskforce did a survey and found that membership could be in excess of 64 000 people.  I remember when I posted something on Twitter, I received a bit of a retort to say this is approximate, pooh-poohing it.  I went back over the figures and 64 232 people had ticked that they would support a Tasmanian team before they shut off the survey.  They called an end to it.  That was the indication from the community as to their feelings about an AFL team.

The member mentioned Tim Lane.  In his submission, Tim referred to an article in The Age showing that 91 000 Tasmanians are members of AFL clubs.  He said that if the figure of 91 000 were to be translated to a Tasmanian team - and why could it not be? - such a team would be better placed than many of the 18 current AFL clubs.  They say that people are not going to have dual memberships.  Of course they are going to have dual memberships.  You are going to stick with your North Melbournes, you are going to stick your Melbournes and you are going to take on Tassie.  You are going to take one out for Tassie.  You are going to get a second membership to support a Tasmanian team if you believe in footy and its growth.  I reckon there will be thousands and thousands of people who will take on dual memberships.  In time, they will only take the one and it will be for a Tassie team.
Games are to be shared between the north and south.  Russell Hanson said during his appearance before our committee, 'The beautiful thing is that we accept the fact that games are going to be shared, nobody is arguing about that, so that is brilliant.'.  There was no argument, whatsoever.  He went on to say, 'The state is going to have a boom time and everyone is going to get a benefit in the flow-on effect.'.

The AFL task force report makes this important observation -

The Business Case produced is viable and sustainable but (subject to negotiation) requires both the AFL and Government to ‘co-invest’ in an AFL 19th Tasmanian-based team for the long term.

Going back to my earlier point about an AFL licence for Tasmania being good for both our state and the AFL, the task force report finds in points 4 and 5 -

Broadcast revenue modelling and advising experts confirm a local Tasmanian team will add value to the AFL overall. There is a case to suggest that a Tasmanian team could in fact be self-funding as a 19th team.

Branding experts have advised that the existing corporate sponsors of the AFL and all 18 clubs will benefit from a Tasmanian-based and branded team.

During a visit to Tasmania in 2018, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, described Tasmanian football as fractured and fragmented - 2018.  To use those sorts of words was very helpful to his side of the argument.  But page 10 of the task force report notes that 20 years ago our state had the highest rate of participation in the country and makes the link between the absence of our own TFL team and declining participation by males over the past decade.  The AFL is responsible for this demise in participation. 

Tim Lane's submission to our inquiry provided many invaluable insights into what has caused this decline.

This is quoting from Tim Lane's submission -

First, the VFL - which had been growing too rapidly for its own good and needed to rein in the economic excesses of its clubs - instituted a regulated player-recruitment system. This took the form of a ‘national draft’. Each year, aspiring players from around the nation nominated themselves for a ballot and the VFL clubs took turns at choosing from the pool of players so created.

This meant Tasmania’s best young footballers were now part of an institutionalised system which took them, and continues to take them, away from their domestic competitions without meaningful recompense.

I will digress there because you might remember too, member for Windermere, our friend 'Dreams' Wilkinson with his passionate push for years and years, talking about how the clubs used to be compensated.  You would get a recruit and you would pick up $5000 or $6000, fabulous, into the club's coffers.  Gave them something to work for and then they stopped even giving you that and it went into administration over here and took that money out of the communities that needed that money to help support the footy clubs.

To continue the quote from Tim -

An understanding of this reality is critical to any assessment of where Tasmania belongs within the national scheme of things. This aspect alone should compel any reasonable administration to seek to redress the unfairness. 

The next relevant step in the steady demise of Tasmanian football was the establishment of the so-called national league. This brought regular live television coverage and for the AFL, live TV was the economic game-changer. The value of rights began to climb exponentially, particularly as Pay-TV arrived in the second half of the 1990s. Good for football though it may have been, this was further bad news for Tasmania. Satellite dishes meant it would no longer be possible for live coverage to pubs, clubs and even private homes to be prevented by a sporting administration. The now-national AFL gave up on its previous, well-intentioned attempts to protect local games in Tasmania from live coverage of its product. 

This meant Tasmanian football now had the most direct and potent of competitors for the hearts and minds of supporters: AFL games from around Australia would be screened in opposition to the local product.

I think it was worth putting that quote on record in Hansard for those who may not get around to reading the report.

This inquiry has highlighted a lot of positives happening for Tasmanian football.  They include the formation of the Tasmanian Football Board chaired by the former president of the Legislative Council, Jim Wilkinson.  The board is tasked with growing football in our state.

There is broad and strong political and community support for a homegrown Tasmanian AFL team, and this continues to grow.  AFL Tasmania figures show Auskick participation in the north and south has improved on last year but the work to engage young people must continue.

It follows logically that the granting of an AFL licence for Tasmania would strengthen engagement and participation in grassroots football and this point is made in the AFL Licence Taskforce report. 

In summary, the AFL Licence Taskforce has recommended that the Tasmanian Government should present the state's case for inclusion in the AFL and AFLW to the AFL Commission, and that the Government retain the task force as consulting advisers with a view to engaging with the AFL Commission, AFL club presidents and senior AFL executives in order to submit Tasmania's bid for a provisional AFL licence. 

We support these recommendations.  I know I am probably confusing our inquiry report with the task force report but that is because they are in tandem;  people may now have an understanding that two separate notions came from those investigations.

In conclusion, Russell Hanson summarised extremely well in his submission the opportunity which is before the AFL, and I quote -

Ignoring a heartland state; a state second only to Victoria to play the game and then spend on buying new supporter bases before including Tasmania is plainly wrong but too late – its there now. 

But accepting Tasmania will put the competition where it should be – truly national, it will legitimise the AFL self-assessment of its tax-exempt status as it will finally be acting for the betterment of the game, across the nation not just mainland Australia as it currently does.