2019 Federal election – a sport perspective

With the Federal election campaign now over and the Coalition retaining office, you may be interested in my reflections on how sport was utilised by the Coalition and Labor during the campaign. In the lead up to and during the campaign I closely monitored election commitments, attendance of politicians at community sports facilities and events and opportunities of being surrounded by high profile athletes.


Coalition’s significant use of sport can be traced back to 2018-19 Federal budget where it announced its Community Sport Infrastructure Grant program that offered  up to $500,000 funding for small to medium scale sporting infrastructure projects that encouraged greater community participation in sport and physical activity. Federal budget originally provided $28.3m but an additional $32.3 was committed in December 2018. By the time the election was called 456 sport facility projects had been funded. Coalition has now indicated this program was valued at $100m. It’s a worthy program with the aim of increasing or at least maintaining sport participation particularly for girls and women. But the program came under scrutiny in the campaign with several Coalition candidates accused of publicity events using fake cheques. As a result, there is now a National Audit Office inquiry into the program.  This program provided the Coalition the welcome imagery of looking after the needs of local communities where sport plays an important role in health and cohesion outcomes.


Prime Minister Morrison and to a lesser extent his Treasurer were captured ‘playing’ sport at many community sport facilities during the election. Morrison kicked off his ‘sport’ campaign by attending Winx’s last race at Randwick. I wondered how many times Morrison had been to the races before. Most likely he wanted seen at a significant Australian sporting event. Just as well Winx completed the fairy-tale. During the campaign I captured Morrison trying table tennis, tennis, pool, football, rugby league, AFL, cricket and bowls. Do a google image search – Morrison sport – and you will see images his sporting prowess. I thought about Morrison becoming our next ‘Snowy’ Baker who is often regarded as Australia’s greatest all around sportsman. Sadly at 51 he will probably be too old to takeover this mantle.


At the end of the campaign, Morrison made last minute visits to marginal electorates. In the presence of Hockeyroos players he made a $600,000 women’s facility upgrade and the next day he was seen kicking a Sherrin after committing $250,000 facility upgrade commitment to Bridgenorth AFL Football Club in the marginal electorate of Bass. I could not find many images of Bill Shorten in the sporting context during this election – there were many more images in the 2016 campaign. The one event that Shorten received some coverage was when he attended the AFL’s Anzac Day match wearing a Collingwood tie – maybe a red rag to a bull to the supporters of other AFL clubs.


My analysis of community sport facility election commitments suggested that marginal electorates received the greater share of these commitments. The electorates of Bass, Braddon, Corangamite, Dunkley, Forde, Hasluck, LaTrobe and Pearce were the primary beneficiaries. My concern about these community sport facility commitments during an election campaign is that it may compromise the fair distribution of the Coalition’s Community Sport Infrastructure Grant program. Many community sports organisations may feel disenfranchised by the election commitment process – their lobbying power is less if the live in a safe electorate.


Both Coalition and Labor made similar commitments to community sport facilities, but in my view the Coalition during this election campaign was more effective possibly because as Morrison was front and centre at many of them. I assume this was a deliberate strategy.


Shorten’s sporting profile was generally through his daily morning running. In fact, he was captured running with the great Jonathon Thurston in Townsville. But Morrison on ABC Australia All Over told the audience that he swims 1 km per day but politicians should exercise out of the public eye. He forgot the John Howard was regularly captured doing his daily power walks wearing Australian and AIS tracksuits. Maybe Morrison didn’t want images of him on budgy smugglers. Personally, I like to see politicians exercising in public as it promotes the importance of exercise for everyone.


Early in the campaign I wrote the article Should Governments fund AFL and NRL high performance centres?  which listed Coalition and Labor commitments to professional sports high performance training centres. Most of the commitments stated there was a women’s high performance and community component of the funding. Summarised below are the final commitments in this area:

Coalition –Carlton Blues ($15m), Brisbane Lions ($15m), Adelaide Crows ($15m), Richmond Tigers ($15m), North Queensland Cowboys ($15m), NSW Cricket ($5m), WA Football Centre ($16.25)

Labor – Hawthorn ($20m), Victorian Basketball Centre ($14.5m), State Football Centre ($7.4m)

Shared – Wests Tigers ($7m), National Cricket Centre ($7 m), Collingwood/Monash Uni ($10m), Matildas ($15m), Queensland Reds ($15m), Parramatta Eels ($15m)


Labor was the only party to make funding commitments to major stadia – $20m for Kardinia Park, $17.8m Queensland Tennis Centre and $30m to WACA. Netball Australia was a big winner – it received a $30m commitment from the Coalition and $20m from Labor. Late in the campaign the Coalition announced $11.5m to Olympic/Paralympic training facilities and Labor $10 for the establishment of Kurt Fearnley Athletics Training Centre.


Questions over the funding to professional sports clubs was raised in several articles during the election. My take is that maybe these sports and their clubs are better lobbyists than Olympic sports due to many of them employing government relations officers and led by people with significant political clout. The question I raise is whether this funding should have gone to Community Sport Infrastructure Grant Program that has an unmet demand – it received 2,050 applications submitted totalling more than $396 million in the first grand round.


Interestingly late in the campaign two high netballers – Liz Ellis and Sharni Layton used social media to support Shorten. The basis of this supports goes back to him strongly supporting netballers pay and conditions. I didn’t find evidence of other high- profile athletes coming out in support of either major party.


Talking about athletes, Olympic alpine skiing bronze medallist Zali Stegall defeated former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to win Warringah. She becomes the fourth Olympian to enter Federal Parliament after Kent Hughes, Rick Charlesworth and Nova Peris.


An issue that bubbled away during the election was Rugby Australia’s decision to cancel Israel Folau’s $4m contract after his social media post proclaiming hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”. Both Morrison and Shorten were asked to state their positions on Folau’s post.


An issue raised by several professional groups was that the Federal government should have a better policies for ‘exercise as medicine’ – making exercise prescription more affordable particularly for low income earners or disadvantaged groups. Related to this point, is the rising cost of sport participation that means sport may become unaffordable to many families in a period of law wage growth. These issues were not addressed by either Coalition or Labor.


The campaign was fought during the winter sport season where there were many weekend opportunities to be filmed or photographed at community sports competitions such as netball, hockey, football, rugby codes and AFL. I wonder whether the summer sporting season would be as effective for politicians.

Coalition went into the election with its national Sport 2030 plan and made $70m in additional sport commitments. I was disappointed that Labor did not release a more detailed policy other than support for women’s sport.


Summary of my takeout’s from the election from a sport perspective:


  • The big sports and their clubs in Australia appear to be very effective in lobbying both major parties possibly due to them employing government relations staff and having high profile leaders.
  • Political leaders that truly embrace sport can increase their public appeal – Bob Hawke and John Howard are excellent recent examples.
  • Funding to community sport facilities is a positive and tangible way of Federal Government impacting on local communities and possibly enhances their election prospects.
  • Did the Coalition’s strong support of women’s sport – community facilities, Netball Australia, Matildas etc – allow it to overcome or diminish it’s perceived issues with the role of women in society.
  • The Coalition now is in the position of implementing its Sport 2030 plan but will Senator Bridgette McKenzie remain as Sport Minister to ensure its full implementation. Sport policy in Australia since the mid 2000’s has suffered from the revolving door of Sports Ministers.


Sport was a winner out of the election. The funding to community sport facilities should be applauded and expanded but questions need to be raised about funding professional sports high performance facilities particularly for AFL, rugby league, rugby union and cricket. It could be argued that if these sports and their clubs are truly committed to professional women’s sport then they should their ensure their vast revenue resources are equitably distributed to ensure that this worthy objective occurs without government support.


To read Greg’s previous piece on public funding of high performance centres, CLICK HERE:


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About Greg Blood

Sport librarian for over 30 years. Interest in Australian sport history and policy. Member of the Australian Society for Sports History.


  1. A fair summary, Greg.

    In recent years, I have been a little surprised that – for such a big part of the Australian way of life – the federal Sport ministry has been so significantly downgraded.

  2. As it turned out, it would appear Mr Shorten was caught swimming well out of his depth. Perhaps he’ll concentrate on marbles or perhaps tiddly winks now Thank heavens its all over now.

  3. george smith says

    It was like the royal wedding. The AFL put on a footy match, Swans v Carlton, to alleviate the suffering of us republicans. No luck there, Showponies easily.

    This time the AFL put on Swans v North in Hobart of all places (Clark, independent) to alleviate the suffering of us lefties. After Antony Green’s house of horrors, I switched over to Hobart, where the Swans were charging ahead, no joy there.

    Eventually switched over to a movie on Netflix where, unlike the election, the bad guys got their just desserts…

  4. How many times has Morrison been to the races? About the same number of times that Shorten has attended church, which he was keen to be seen doing.

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