Punting Ace’s Nick Tedeschi writes:
One positive to emerge from the upcoming election being determined by Western Sydney and Queensland is that the rugby league vote is now being courted. Long forgotten, rugby league is starting to become more of a draw card for politicians on the hard chase for votes.
On a superficial level, there is no support for rugby league among the party leadership of either the Labor or Liberal parties. Julia Gillard is a Welsh born Adelaide girl living in Melbourne who claims the Western Bulldogs as her own. She calls herself a Storm fan but that is nothing more than lip service and rings as true as Kevin Rudd being a Broncos man.
Tony Abbott, conversely, may be from Sydney but he is a union man (as in rugby, not trades) to the core though he is well known as a Manly fan. Rugby league diehards such as John Howard and Doc Evatt are no longer calling the shots while the likes of Fed Daly, John Fahey, Graham Richardson and Kerry Sibraa are all long gone. At least Wayne Swan, a Broncos man, is riding high up the Labor power pole.
The Australian Labor Party and rugby league have been intertwined for over a century and have long been entrenched in working class life in Sydney and Brisbane. Labor’s shift away from the trade union movement along with the power shift to Victoria within the party, however, has seen those bonds weakened in recent times. Labor can no longer be considered the obvious natural party of the rugby league fan.
There is no doubt Labor are spending up on trying to win votes through rugby league. Dishing out the bacon in the Western Sydney marginal of Macquarie, the ALP have focussed on the suburb of Windsor where Labor has committed $2.5 million to building a grandstand at the home-ground of NSW Cup team the Windsor Wolves. In the seat of Leichardt in northern Queensland, Labor has committed $3.5 million to the Cairns District Junior Rugby League. Labor has also provided a significant amount of money to upgrading the Leichardt Oval surface and amenities to allow the ground to host more NRL matches with local member Anthony Albanese
Pork barrelling does not tell the whole tale though.
When Labor won office in 2007, new Sports Minister Kate Ellis withdrew the Coalition Government’s $10 million promise to build a rugby league hall of fame in Sydney. It was arguable at the time that Ellis did not know the difference between rugby league and rugby union though, in fairness, she treated both just as shoddily.
The Keneally Labor Government has committed $45 million to the AFL to assist with the development of a boutique ground in Western Sydney while rugby league grounds like Brookvale Oval are falling apart at the seems and as the code of choice in New South Wales fights to maintain its standing.
Labor powerbroker Anthony Albanese torpedoed moves to install John Howard as the chairman of the new Independent Commission with the veiled threat being the NRL would receive no financial support if Howard was appointed despite the fact Howard, a master politician regardless of political allegiance, was the perfect candidate to help the NRL battle the crippling politics prevalent in rugby league.
Labor has been working against rugby league despite the money they are now prepared to throw at it.
While the Liberal Party have done very little to support the code either, they have not actively worked against rugby league and therefore must be the party of choice if the top election issue is, indeed, rugby league.