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14 May 2024

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown—Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (18:52): "You've got to have your mate's back, on and off the field" is the message that came through when I spent some time with the Southern Beaches Rugby Club women's side on Saturday 13 April. We all know the importance of sport to our local communities. We know the benefits: the obvious health benefits, including exercise and fresh air, and the less immediate but no less important social benefits. That is what I found really inspiring when I went along to the Southern Beaches game at the Ernie Calland fields in Gateshead. I got a chance to chat with the players and supporters, and to hear directly from them what the club has meant for them.

It was a really fantastic afternoon and I immediately felt the friendship, the community and the camaraderie of the women in the team, and the warmth and affection of their supporters. I heard about friendships forged on the field—sometimes sealed with blood, as a bloody nose one player copped that afternoon could attest. Those friendships have lasted a lifetime. One player told me about her university days when she played rugby with a group of women with whom she has stayed friends for nearly two decades, and whom she has supported and been supported by through good times and through bad.

I heard from Kirsty Hatchwell, the club's secretary, about the challenges that the club has faced—and overcome—in building its reach and encouraging its players in a sport that is still very male dominated. I heard about how it struggled during the pandemic, as we all did, and how it has built back stronger. I heard about the increase in women interested in the sport over the past year, in particular. Before 2023, the club could not field a full 15-player side, sometimes struggling to get the minimum 12 players and often playing without a single sub. The exploding interest in women's sport—as Deputy Speaker Ms Sonia Hornery would know—has certainly benefited Southern Beaches. According to Kirsty, membership has doubled. The club has 15 players on the field, a full bench of subs—and then some. Unfortunately, Beaches did not win on that Saturday afternoon. Actually, it is fair to say that they got hammered. But that did not put a damper on the spirit in Gateshead that day—far from it. As we caught up after the game, all I heard were positive words and all I felt were good vibes.

As I have said, there has been an explosion of interest in women's sport over the past few years. Women like Sam Kerr and Ash Barty have become household names, as have women like Emily Van Egmond and Clare Wheeler, two Matildas with histories in the local Charlestown region. Across Australia this has been driven by events like the performance of the Matildas at the FIFA Women's World Cup and the victory of the Diamonds at the Netball World Cup in South Africa. In my electorate we have seen the Newcastle Knights claim back‑to‑back victories in the NRLW finals. Internationally, the Women's National Basketball Association saw record television ratings and enormous crowds in the United States, reflecting truly fantastic growth in the women's branch of the most valuable sports franchise in the world.

The importance of all this and what the end goal might look like was brought home to me again in the lead‑up to International Women's Day when I attended the Lake Macquarie Women in Sport Festival and heard from the legendary Liz Ellis. Liz said that she looks forward to the day when we do not need to say "women's football", "women's rugby", "women's basketball"—when it is not "women's sport" but just "sport". That is a worthy goal and, although we are not quite there yet, as Liz told us all, "If it's meant to be, it's up to me."

Ms Liesl Tesch: Go Liz!

Ms JODIE HARRISON: Absolutely. She is a force to be reckoned with and deserves congratulations on her appointment to the board of Netball Australia. I will continue to support women in sport at all levels, from the mighty Matildas to the Newcastle Knights and the Southern Beaches women's side. I thank Kirsty and the rest of the fantastic women in the club for making me feel so welcome that day. Let's go, Beaches!