For a supposedly sports loving Prime Minister, John Howard has a curious approach to the importance of sport in his ministry and government.

The outgoing minister, Rod Kemp, was utterly irrelevant in the post. Just two of the last ten statements posted on his website deal with sport, the rest with arts and heritage. One is a farewell to Shane Warne (big deal!) and another concerns drug riddled weightlifters (what’s new?).

Of all the available “talent” in the coalition, I venture to suggest that the new Minister for Sport and the Arts, George Brandis SC, would not have been considered by any of his colleagues, or the press gallery, as the likely new Sports Minister.

Perhaps John Howard wants a Sports Minister who knows nothing about sport, and won’t intrude into his own favourite area as a result?

But Jim Killen often told me to be “charitable”, so let’s give Senator Brandis a chance. He might even surprise by being an advocate for Australian sport in a government that quite frankly has been a profound disappointment in what ought to be a key policy area for federal and state governments alike.

Here are a couple of issues the otherwise eloquent, ambitious, and, I have to concede, competent, Senator Brandis might like to get his teeth into:

Anti-siphoning. The anti-siphoning laws remain a joke. Nowhere are they more a joke than in Queensland where, thanks to daylight saving, cricket fans gave way to Humphrey B Bear during the first half hour or so of the last two Ashes Tests, and where the Australian Open has not been shown “live” on Seven one night since it started ten days ago. To think that Queensland will be a key state in the elections later this year!

The law should be simple – show it live or lose it. The provision allowing free to air channels to regard a delayed coverage of up to one hour as “live” is outrageous. It is being shamefully abused and Senator Brandis needs to tell Communications Minister Helen Coonan to get serious about this issue.

Drugs. We need the Federal Government to require that every sporting body follows a consistent, transparent, and firm line on sanctions against players found to have taken illegal drugs. And a transparent policy does not mean a media ban on first and second offences. If a jockey is nabbed for drug use, he or she is named and fined or suspended. AFL players can now hide behind a dodgy rule – and Senator Brandis needs to put an end to that.

Fairness in ASC funding. The Australian Sports Commission allocates about $500,000 to rugby league; a bit less to Australian football, but $5.9 million to soccer, $5.1 million to rowing and $3.1 million to sailing! Senator Brandis has a forensic mind – he needs to have a good look at the lopsided allocations to sport.

There are more issues requiring attention, but if he can make an impact on these, I will be the first to congratulate him.

He starts of with one advantage – the “benchmark” left by his predecessor is about as low as the morale of the English cricket team!

Peter Fray

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