I am not sure how many other senators saw it, but the AFL women's All-Stars game on 3 September was a fantastic showcase of Australian Rules Football. More than 6,000 people showed up to the Whitten Oval, with a TV audience of over one million Australians tuning in to watch the start of a new and exciting chapter in the history of our native code of football in this country. Their skills, their commitment and the general standard were outstanding. It was a genuine, top-quality showcase of what makes Australian Rules Football the best team sport in the world.
But the genuine excitement around the new league, beginning next year, has been tempered somewhat by the embarrassingly low pay deal offered to players. Base payments for the seven-game plus finals season will be just $5,000, and the league will not cover private health insurance for the players. That situation, where women players have to fund their own health insurance costs, is unacceptable and should change now. It is worth pointing out that there are plenty of men playing bush footy, or in suburban leagues, who are getting way more than $5,000 a season to play football. If this situation is not changed, it will risk compromising the considerable goodwill and public interest that the competition has already garnered.
Unfortunately, the creation of the new competition has also given the AFL the opportunity, once again, to show utter contempt for my home state of Tasmania. Tassie is a footy state. We are part of footy heartland in Australia, along with Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, and we deserve the same level of respect that those states get from the AFL. But, as the AFL have done for the past two decades, rather than treat Tassie as a footy asset they have brushed Tasmania aside and taken its footy people for granted.
For many years, many Tasmanians have worked to see our state have its own men's team. This still remains the ambition of many Tasmanians, including me, and it will happen one day, mark my words. But for Tasmania to have not yet been given an opportunity to have its own women's team is an even harder slap in the face for Tasmanian footy people. There have been many excuses delivered by the AFL, over many years, to deny Tasmania a men's AFL team, and I personally do not accept any of them. None of them, particularly the one used most often—that Tasmania cannot afford it—can possibly be applied to a Tasmanian women's team. We can afford our own women's team, we deserve one and we should be developing one right now for inclusion next year in the inaugural league of the AFL women's competition. Given Tasmania's passion for the game and the widespread social benefits of having elite sporting teams based in Tasmania, we believe Tasmania would be the perfect place for a women's team—a team based in Tassie, with Tasmania in its name.
Shamefully, neither the AFL nor the Tasmanian state government were prepared to seriously entertain the idea. Short-sightedness and a lack of leadership and interest from Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman meant that there was not enough political pressure on the AFL to allow Tasmania to make a bid. As Fairfax footy writer Caroline Wilson so aptly put it, 'Tasmania shafted again'.
So why does the AFL continue to shaft Tasmania? The AFL is obsessed with increasing the revenue it receives from television rights. That is why it puts so much of its effort and cash into establishing new franchise clubs in Western Sydney and the Gold Coast—because it will help grow the national viewing audience and, therefore, the value of the broadcast rights. The AFL knows that Tasmanians will keep watching and supporting AFL even if we do not have our own Tasmanian team, so it treats us with contempt and takes us for granted.
It seems that the only equality on show is that the push for a Tassie women's team is equally as ignored by the AFL as the push for a Tasmanian men's side. Instead of being able to ply their skills in an elite competition in front of their home crowds, Tasmania's top players will have to wait an unknown period of time for the league to get its act together and give Tasmania what it deserves. Next year, while women in other parts of Australia can play at the top level, Tasmania's top female footballers have been told to 'bide their time' in the state league. The AFL's claim that a North Melbourne women's team—which, I have to point out, does not even exist yet—will be a 'Tasmanian team' is utter rubbish. Tasmania will not have its own team until the team is based in Tasmania, has Tasmania in its name, and plays every single one of its home games in Tasmania.
Football is a rare unifying force in our state. It bridges divides of class, geography, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation and gender. It also plays an important unifying factor in our largely decentralised community. Footy clubs can influence positive health, social and employment outcomes, particularly in regional areas. They provide opportunities for mentoring and growth that may not otherwise be available, and they encourage volunteering and community building.
A Tasmanian team would help make the Australian women's league a truly national competition. It would deliver massive benefits for Tasmania, particularly for sporting participation, and it would acknowledge the massive contribution women already make to footy in Tasmania at all levels of the game. It would provide a pathway for young Tasmanian women to aspire to play their chosen sport for their home state at the highest level without having to leave their home state. It is a necessary first step in a journey that will inevitably end with Tasmania having its own AFL men's team. What a great day for Tassie and what a great day for footy in Australia that will be.