Power of understanding political processes and lobbying in Australian sport – insights from Greg Hartung’s career in sport administration

By Greg Blood

Greg Hartung’s career in journalism and then in sport administration highlights the need for senior Australian sport leaders to understand political processes to obtain the desired outcomes for their organisation and sport. This is important for both big and small national sports organisations (NSO) as they rely heavily on Australian Government funding for high performance, participation and development of sporting facilities.  

I spent 2020 assisting Hartung prepare his personal, journalism and sport administration correspondence, newspaper clippings and papers covering the period 1972 to 2013 for the National Library of Australia’s manuscripts collection. This collection will become an important information resource for those interested in the development of Australian sport particularly as it transitioned from amateur to professional organisation and management and greater Australian Government involvement in sport.

It was through assisting and talking with Hartung during this year long process that I gained a greater understanding of the importance of political influencing and lobbying in Australian sport.

The main positions held by Hartung for the period 1970 to 2013 included:

  • Sport and political journalist with News Limited – Courier-Mail, The Australian and Daily Telegraph (1973-1983), including political journalist based in Canberra (1975-1983).
  • Member of the Interim Committee and then inaugural CEO/General Manager of the Australian Sports Commission (1983-1988).
  • President of the Confederation of Australian Sport (1989-1995).
  • Volunteer strategist for the Australian Paralympic Federation’s 2000 Sydney Paralympics Bid and President of the Australian Paralympic Committee (1997-2013).
  • Australian Sports Commission Commissioner (1991-1996, 2006-2010), including Chair (2008-2010).
  • International Paralympic Committee Board Member (2002-2013), including Vice-President (2009-2013) and several IOC Commissions.

I will document some of the ways that Hartung’s understanding of Australian political processes and lobbying assisted him achieving outcomes for several leading sport organisations and Australian sport.

Journalism Career

Hartung maintained extensive records including newspaper cuttings of his News Limited articles and by perusing them I was struck by his interest and articles on sport and politics most likely derived by his early career as a sports journalist and rugby player. During the 1970’s, Hartung wrote frequently on the Australian Government’s role in sport. The Whitlam Government (1972-1975) through sport minister Frank Stewart demonstrated a more active role and increased funding to NSO’s. When the Fraser Government (1975-1983) came to power in 1975, it immediately cut funding as part of its austerity measures and appeared to be ambivalent about the Australian Government’s role.  The “poor” performances of Australian teams at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games eventually reignited the Fraser Government interest in sport and this led to its increased its involvement led by sport minister Bob Ellicott particularly through the establishment of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in 1981.

During the 1970’s, Hartung established relationships with government sport ministers Kevin Newman, Ray Groom, Tom McVeigh and shadow sport ministers Barry Cohen and John Brown.

Hartung’s time at the old Parliament House in Canberra also provided him with insights in the lobbying process and this led him to completing a Master of Arts at the University of Sydney with the thesis “A Study of the Lobbying Campaigns of AVIS, Budget and Hertz in Influencing the Commonwealth Governments’ Decision to End AVIS’s Exclusive Rent-A-Car Concession at Commonwealth Airports”.   In 1979, Hartung linked lobbying to sport and presented “Sport and the Canberra Lobby” at an Australian Sports History Conference in Melbourne.

Australian Sports Commission (ASC)

In the lead up to the 1983 Federal Election, Hartung was invited by the ALP’s shadow sport minister John Brown to assist in developing its sport policy. The ALP needed to expand and refine the work it had started under the Whitlam Government (1972-1975). One of the main recommendations of the ALP’s 1983 Sport Policy was for the establishment of a sports commission to provide a more co-ordinated approach to sport. With the election of the Hawke Government in March 1983, sport minister Brown appointed Hartung to assist with the management of an Interim Committee to report to government on the establishment of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC). This process gave Hartung a greater understanding of the government bureaucracy in relation to sport, role of government boards including influential chairs, in this case Ted Harris and their interaction with ministers.

After the Hawke Government agreed to establish the ASC in 1984, Hartung was appointed as CEO/General Manager and among his early tasks was to help determine the transfer of functions previously managed by the Dept of Sport, Recreation and Tourism. Through Hartung’s collection, it was apparent that this was met with great resistance from the Dept. A major outcome of the division of functions was that the ASC became responsible for funding to national sports organisations and overseeing their management.

Besides the ASC moving NSOs from the kitchen table to a more professional approach, it implemented the AUSSIE Sports program. This modified sports program has had a significant impact on Australian sport, but it required the Hartung and the ASC to work cooperatively with NSOs, State Depts of Sport and Education Depts to achieve its widespread acceptance and implementation.

Hartung’s ASC term concluded in 1988 and it coincided with minister’s Brown decision to rationalise government sport agencies and to make the AIS a division of the ASC. Brown was frustrated at having to deal with the competing demands of two Australian Government sports boards.

Hartung returned to the ASC as Commissioner from 1991-1996 and 2006-2010 and was the ASC Chair 2008-2010. It was during these periods, the Hawke/Keating (1983-1996) and Rudd (2007-2010), the Australian Government significantly increased funding to sport. From Hartung’s collected papers, it was apparent that his knowledge and experience played a role with others like John Coates in lobbying the Australian Government for increased financial support for sport.

Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS)

In 1989, Hartung was elected President of the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS), a position he held until his departure in 1995. I was working at the ASC during this period and what struck me was the wide range of issues CAS publicly advocated for NSOs and its excellent magazine Sport Report being an important vehicle to examine issues in sport such as the level and distribution of Australian Government funding, the rise of pay television, tobacco and alcohol advertising in sport and the proposed GST in 1993.  CAS was an influential advocacy and important lobby group for all NSOs as many still had limited staffing resources to devote to political influencing and preparation of detailed submissions.

Hartung’s background resulted in CAS organising election debates on sport and regular lunches involving politicians from major parties, government bureaucrats and national and state sport leaders that scrutinised sport policies of the Australian Government and opposition parties. During Hartung’s CAS Presidency, the Hawke/Keating Government’s greatly increased funding to sport through the 1992 Maintain the Momentum and 1994 Olympic Athlete Programs. This increased funding started in 1989 with the Hawke Government’s The Next Step sport policy – $230 million package over 4 years.

After Hartung’s and CEO Dene Moore (a former senior ASC manager) departure, CAS slowly declined as a lobby group. This is most likely may be due to the loss of their expertise but also with most NSOs being more comfortable with their level of government funding. In many ways, the Australian Government and the ASC had brought their public voice through increased funding. It is rare these days, to see an NSO to publicly complain about the level of their government funding or policy directions.  

In addition, these days you rarely see rigorous scrutiny of government sport policies that was undertaken by CAS. Today Tracey Holmes ABC Radio’s The Ticket provides the best analysis of policies. When was the last time that the sport minister and their shadow minister debated their policies relating to the future of sport in Australia?

I think one of the weaknesses of the current Australian sport system is the lack of a lobby group for small to middle level NSO’s. The big seven sports are well served by The Coalition of Major Professional & Participation Sports (COMPPS) but many of their issues are not the bread-and-butter issues of the middle to smaller NSOs.

 Australian Paralympic Committee (APC)

In 1993, Ron Finneran and Adrienne Smith, the Australian Paralympic Federation’s (APF) President and Secretary-General respectively, co-opted Hartung due to his government experience and CAS President’s role, to assist them with APF bid to host 2000 Sydney Paralympics. At the time, the New South Wales State Government was not overly interested in hosting the Paralympics. Hartung was able to provide advice and strategy in dealing with the NSW Government and for the APF presentation to the IPC 2000 Paralympics Selection Meeting in Berlin. As we know now, the NSW Government was in many ways forced to support the APF Bid. Sydney went on to host an extraordinarily successful Paralympics in 2000 and it significantly increased the profile of the Paralympic movement and its athletes.

Hartung was elected APF President in 1997 and his 16 year-term as President led it to a more professional organisation, broader range of programs and services, national and international profile and significantly increased Australian Government funding for Paralympic athletes.

In the lead up to the Sydney Paralympics, Hartung was Vice President of the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (SPOC) and whilst on SPOC fought against the decision to charge national Paralympic committees entry fees – a charge not imposed on national Olympic federations.

It was my observation from Hartung’s papers that he used his contacts in the government and opposition parties to strongly advocate on behalf of Australian Paralympians to receive greater funding, have equitable opportunities as Olympians and be fully accepted by NSOs. This included the introduction of a “mainstreaming” agenda. In 2002, this was achieved through the APC working with NSOs in developing programs for the preparation of their Paralympics athletes. In 2009, in response to the Crawford Inquiry into Sport, the APC joined with the Australian Olympic Committee in developing a National High Performance Plan for Olympic and Paralympic Sports in Australia.

It is worthwhile looking at the change in ASC funding to the APC during Hartung’s time as President. It went from $995,000 in 1997-1998 to $13.7 m in 2011-2012. Besides working with the ASC regarding funding, Hartung was also willing to advocate the value of Paralympic sport with sport and other government ministers and shadow ministers.


In working with Hartung to bring together more than 90 boxes of his papers for the National Library of Australia, it was abundantly apparent that understanding Australian political processes is an essential requirement for a national sports leader. 

Hartung’s work as a political journalist and inaugural ASC CEO gave him insights into political processes and decision making. This proved to be extremely beneficial in his subsequent leadership roles with ASC, CAS, and APC as well as his roles with IPC and IOC.

Hartung understood the need to work with both sides of politics and this was ably demonstrated by working with the Pollie’s Pedal in 2000 to raise funds to send the Australian Paralympic cycling team to the Games. In addition, Hartung helped to establish the Parliamentary Friends of Paralympic Sport prior to 2000 Paralympics. It was one of the first parliamentary friendship groups. 

Hartung’s time as APC President led it from a small and little known NSO to an influential NSO and with substantially increased financial resources to Paralympic athletes.

In recent years, I have observed that major professional sports have government relations staffing resources as these organisations understand the need to influence both sides of politics at national and state levels. Sadly, middle to small national sports organisations do not have the resources to fund government relations functions and it is left to voluntary Presidents and time poor CEOs to undertake this lobbying.

I have reviewed the frequent changes in NSO Presidents and CEOs, I worry that this turnover may hamper these organisations in developing strong relationships with major political parties.

Hartung’s contribution to Australian sport was recognised in 2002 with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) and in 2013 with the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to sport and people with a disability. 

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