ADJOURNMENT;Essendon Football Club – 25 Aug 2011

Tonight I rise to speak about the Essendon Football Club’s community development program. Essendon is a proud club not only because of the on-field success it has had over the years but because it is a club that believes in having a strong involvement with the community.

My young godson, Daniel, who lives in Melbourne, is a mad Essendon fan. My husband, Robert, and I took him to see Essendon versus Hawthorne at the MCG on 24 June. Unfortunately it probably was not the belated birthday present that he was hoping for because the result was not that good for him and he was a little bit disappointed. But of course we all had a good night there and it was nice to do. As I said, while the result was not what we would have liked, it was still a fantastic experience to be at the game.

Aside from the game, though, I had the opportunity to learn about the club’s community development work, which encompasses a number of different programs. Essendon has the vision:

… to be recognised and respected as a club that appeals to the local and wider-based community through its continued and consistent actions for those communities.

This vision will be attained by effectively using the club’s brand, facilities and personnel to ‘strengthen communities through sport’. Essendon’s key objective is to:

Become the benchmark by making a real difference – We aim to be the best sporting organisation from a community perspective in Australia. This will be achieved through our community programs and activities, strong and lasting partnerships and living our own values. We must be genuine in our desire to make a real and significant difference in the community.

Essendon works closely with the Bill Hutchinson Foundation, or BHF. The BHF is named in honour of former Essendon player Bill Hutchinson. ‘Hutchy’, as he was known, played 290 games for Essendon between 1942 and 1957. He played in four premiership sides and 10 grand finals and captained Essendon 122 times. He won seven club best and fairest awards in that time and two Brownlow medals. He was admired by many not just for his on-field play but for his leadership and commitment. Former Collingwood player Lou Richards stated:

Hutchy was one of the best rovers I’ve seen in the game. He was scrupulously fair and I never knew of him doing anything mean on or off the field.

The BHF is a public fund listed on the Register of Harm Prevention Charities. The foundation’s mission is:

… to have a positive impact on the lives of children and young people, by implementing or supporting harm prevention actions, with an emphasis on rural and regional Victoria.

The BHF provides financial support for organisations or programs that actively work towards harm prevention, and designs and runs programs in partnership with other organisations.

While I was at the game, I met four young lads who were taking part in the Essendon Football Club’s western cultural development program, which is based in Bright in Victoria. Through this program, young Indigenous participants receive education, health and fitness training, employment and workplace skills training. In return, they share their culture with other youth of the region. They participate in mentoring programs as well as having the opportunity to play football in the local football league. Most of these participants have never been outside their own remote area, so going to Bright to live for a while is quite an adventure. The community of Bright provides a nurturing environment and is very supportive of the program. I just wish to thank them for their support of this program.

The next initiative I would like to mention is the film, Falling for Sahara. The film featured Essendon player Andrew Welsh, was directed by Khoa Do and premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival, held in July this year. Falling for Sahara tells the story of three young African refugees living in Melbourne’s inner-west who are passionate about Aussie rules football. It focuses on the challenges faced by young migrants as they adapt to life in Australia. It is a romantic drama and the film cast includes African-Australian actors and newly arrived refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia. The film shows the importance of sport in promoting a socially inclusive society. Khoa, Welsh, Essendon and the BHF felt that it was important to tell the story of the African-Australian refugee community living in Melbourne. The Scanlon Foundation, the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund and the Sidney Myer Fund supported the film.

Another program the club has is ‘On the Ball’, which was developed with the Bill Hutchinson Foundation, with input from psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and the Australian Drug Foundation. ‘On the Ball’ is about informing students about positive lifestyle choices and covers topics such as drugs, alcohol, bullying and active participation in sport. This program is run in partnership with the Australian Paralympic Committee and the netball team the Melbourne Vixens. Bendigo Bank has assisted the program such that it has expanded to become a three-stage process with a school visit, school projects based on issues at a local level and solutions, as well as a presentation of best models at Essendon’s Windy Hill base. Funding is also awarded to schools to assist with the implementation of the suggested program.

Essendon and BHF also work together with AFL Northern Territory to run the Tiwi Islands AFL Partnership Program. This program is a three-year initiative to build the capacity of the Tiwi Islanders by encouraging them to reach their full potential. The Tiwi Bombers will be supported to develop leadership skills and play a mentoring role in the community.

The Tiwi people face a range of social challenges and disadvantage such as high unemployment, poor health, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and youth suicide. Life expectancy in the islands is around 48 years. The program aims to use sport as a tool for development, harnessing the Tiwi community’s love of football and support of the Tiwi Bombers to encourage them to address the challenges they face. This is done through capacity development, participation in physical activity, involving all sectors of the community in recreation activities and events, focusing on promotion of health and wellbeing, and nurturing school attendance and performance.

The GLoBALL program is designed for international students and newly arrived migrants and is delivered in partnership with Cricket Victoria. GLoBALL enables international students and new migrants to interact with the broader Victorian community through football and cricket related activities and aims to promote a sense of belonging and social inclusion and to celebrate diversity. Participants in the program have the time to interact with Essendon members, staff and players. Through the GLoBALL program in 2010, more than 4,500 people attended football and cricket games as well other activities. Founding supporters of GLoBALL are RMIT, the City of Melbourne and the Australian Federation of International Students, and the list of supporting organisations keeps growing. More than 60 organisations are involved in this program and it has 250 registered ambassadors.

I would also like to take the time remaining to me to mention that today Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, or PACAN, as it is well known in this place, of which I am co-convenor, held a briefing today with speakers from the AFL Coaches Association. The speakers were chief executive officer and former St Kilda player and Richmond coach, Danny Frawley, and the AFL’s director of coaching and former Hawthorn player and coach, Peter Schwab. The topic was ‘Positive role-modelling for children: building skills for life’. The briefing covered the role of AFL coaches and players as positive role models for children. It covered a wide range of topics, including encouraging children to participate in sport, making sure that parents and coaches conduct themselves in a way that is appropriate and the importance of a socially inclusive society.

I commend the Essendon Football Club for their hard work and dedication to community development, and I commend the AFL in general for their hard work and dedication to community development. Sports stars are in a high-profile position and their actions both on and off the field are open to public scrutiny. That is one reason why it is so important that they play an active role in the community and set a good example for others, especially our children and teenagers.