Budget Review 2010-11

Budget Review 2010-11 Index

Budget 2010–11: Health


Dr Rhonda Jolly

In August 2008, the Government commissioned an Independent Sport Panel (ISP) to investigate what reforms may be required to ensure the Australian sporting system was prepared for future challenges. The ISP made a number of recommendations for actions it believed were necessary if Australia was to continue to be successful at the elite sports level. Importantly, it also considered that all Australians should be able to compete in sport and recommended corresponding actions which it believed would improve the health and well-being of the population.[1]

There was some controversy surrounding some of the ISP’s recommendations. This was particularly the case with regard to its suggestion that more attention should be paid to grassroots sports which were part of the ‘national ethos’, rather than the quest to gain top-five status in Olympic sports. The ISP also recommended that the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) should be relieved of its oversight of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and the AIS amalgamated with state and territory institutes.[2]

The Government released its response to the ISP report in conjunction with this Budget. With two exceptions, the Government has signalled its support for the ISP’s recommendations. These exceptions relate to alternative funding options, most notably to consideration of a system whereby the cost of sports participation could be reduced. It could be argued, however, that in its response to the ISP report the Government does not appear to have engaged with the ideological underpinning of some of the ISP’s recommendations, especially those relating to the balance between funding for elite and grassroots sports. This may possibly be largely a result of their controversial nature. On the other hand, budget measures indicate that the Government has made some attempt to take the recommendations into account. It is likely to become clearer to what extent this has been successful once further details of the strategy are revealed.

Investment of $1.2 billion is to be made in sporting programs at the elite and community levels as part of the Government’s ‘new strategic direction’ and ‘integrated whole-of-sport approach to the Australian sport system’.[3] The new approach will target three areas: increasing grassroots participation, strengthening pathways linking grassroots participation and ensuring Australia continues to excel in international competition.[4]

The new sports strategy will also involve close cooperation between the states and territories, the ASC and other government agencies. At the grassroots level, funding will be allocated for a national volunteer program, participation plans, providing coaches with access to training and support to encourage participation by people experiencing disadvantage. Elite level sport will benefit from an extra $324.8 million for the ASC ‘to create a secure platform to plan beyond Budget cycles’.[5] Funding to the ASC will sustain various high performance, coaching and talent identification programs. Sports science and medicine will also receive support.[6] 

One particularly innovative initiative to be implemented under the Government’s new sport plan will require elite athletes to contribute at the grass roots level as volunteer coaches, sports officials or administrators. There was some suggestion during the ISP’s deliberations that elite athletes should make some contribution, either financial or in kind, to their training, but this was firmly rejected for a number of reasons; principally, the belief that these athletes contribute to social cohesion, national pride and the nation’s standing in the world.[7] This view is not without its critics and some continue to argue that HECS-like arrangements should apply to elite athletes.[8] Depending on how strictly the requirements are enforced, it could be argued that this initiative goes some way towards ensuring athletes repay some of the investment the nation has made in developing their skills.

Little comment has been made on the sport measures in the Budget. John Coates, President of the Australian Olympic Committee, was satisfied with the budget outcomes. He had been critical of the ISP report, and had lobbied against the idea that too much was spent on gaining Olympic success to the detriment of general sport participation. Coates considered everyone involved in sport, and those who believe sport should have a role to play in society in creating a healthier nation and in enhancing Australia’s international reputation, would also be delighted.[9]

One sports journalist has wryly commented that the sports budget measures amount in essence to ensuring there are fewer fat people and more Olympic gold medal glory in the future.[10] From this perspective the Government has appeared to have got the aim right. Whether the balance between elite and grassroots funding is equally balanced will be more obvious as further details of programs funded emerge.

[1].    Independent Sport Panel, The future of sport in Australia, (the Crawford Report), Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2009, viewed 14 May 2010,    http://www.sportpanel.org.au/internet/sportpanel/publishing.nsf/Content/758D8954C2A74E11CA257672000140A7/$File/Crawford_Report.pdf      

[2].    Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), ‘Big codes welcome Crawford report’, ABC Grandstand Sport website, 17 November 2009, viewed 14 May 2010, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/11/17/2745289.htm; and the Crawford Report, op. cit.

[3].    Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2010–11: budget related paper no.1.11: Health and Ageing Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 377.

[4].    Ibid.

[5].    K Ellis (Minster for Sport), $325 million boost to sport and getting more Australians active, media release, 11 May 2010, viewed 14 May 2010,         http://www.health.gov.au/internet/ministers/publishing.nsf/Content/mr-yr10-ke-ke029.htm?OpenDocument         

[6].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no.2: 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p. 208.

[7].    Australian Commonwealth Games Association, submission to Independent Sports Panel Inquiry,  n.d., viewed 14 May 2010,            http://www.sportpanel.org.au/internet/sportpanel/publishing.nsf/Content/Australian+Commonwealth+Games+Association/$FILE/Australian%20Commonwealth%20Games%20Association_08-10-2008.pdf 

[8].    For instance, R Denniss, Funding sport fairly, an income contingent loans scheme for elite sports training, Australia Institute, 10 February 2003.

[9].    J Browning, ‘AOC says budget 'ticks all the boxes' ABC Grandstand Sport website, 11 May 2010, viewed 14 May 2010, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/05/11/2896712.htm?section=justin

[10]. D Lewis, ‘$1.2bn to trim and support athletes’, The Age, 12 May 2010, p. 7. 

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