The Confederation of Australian Sport Licks Its Wounds After Its Disastrous Brawl with the Australian Sports Commission in 1987 …. It Was To Be a Long Road Back for CAS

History of Australian sport series:  Part 16

By Greg Hartung AO

CAS attempts recovery

In the pursuit of benefits for sport, the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS) was never afraid of a fight — even though it sometimes lacked subtlety. However, the failed campaign to join with the Federal Liberal/National Opposition in Canberra to crush the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) would pose a serious challenge to its comeback. Surprisingly, given the intensity of the campaign, CAS still had a great deal of fight left in it.

Political history had not favoured CAS. It can only be speculated upon, but had the Liberal/National Party won the 1987 federal election, and carried through with its promises, CAS would be elevated to a higher pedestal in the sport hierarchy…and the ASC would cease to exist. It was a scenario that CAS could now only dream about.   

In 1987, after the return of the Hawke Labor government, a bruised and bewildered CAS membership hoping for a fresh start, elected a new President, Jim Barry, the respected head of the Australian Gymnastics Federation, to replace Les Martyn. Keenly aware of the growing disenchantment among national sporting organisations, the new team set about to repair internal relationships and to renew their lobbying efforts to the Federal Government on behalf of its membership. 

Given the parlous state of its finances, CAS sought to boost its own administrative subsidy from the ASC, as well as to be seen publicly to support an increase in funds for national sporting bodies.  In a statement issued on 15 March 1988, Barry highlighted CAS’s assessment that 88 sports were receiving less than they were four years earlier. He called on the government to increase the level of funding under the essential Sports Development Program to $8 million, up from the then current $5.45 million.(Ref 1)

Barry said the sporting community was becoming frustrated at being treated as “the poor relation” by government with a low funding priority. 

“The Government has an obligation to its largest identifiable group, the more than six million active sportspeople as well as the passive sport followers to ensure the tangible and intangible benefits derived from sport are maintained and encouraged,” Barry said. (Ref 1). If it was tough before the election to get the attention of government, CAS would find it much harder in the aftermath.  

The reset button is pushed

While the ASC was having its own continuing challenges in marking out its territory with both the Federal Department responsible for sport, and with CAS, it was CAS which was in a fight for its very existence by 1988.  Many of the original architects of CAS had retired but they had left a legacy which was one of considerable division within the world of national sporting organisations. 

Despite its flaws, CAS had achieved a prominent reputation as an organisation prepared to publicly argue for its agenda. While it tested the patience of its membership, CAS never walked away from an argument, or a challenging project, which it thought was in the interests of Australian sport.  It had produced a flagship publication “Sport Report” as an influential vehicle for promoting debate and exposing its concerns.  It also created the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and the Sport Australia Awards which were well received by sport, government and sponsors.  Even the successful Hall of Fame project became a drain on the CAS budget with a legal challenge to the proprietorial rights to the name “Sport Australia”.  The proceedings were finally settled out of Court in September 1986 with CAS successful in retaining all business and trademark rights to the Sport Australia Awards and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. (Ref 2)

The appeal of CAS projects was not enough to allay the concerns of a significant number of sports about the CAS approach to political representation. It was how their struggle was carried forward politically which had failed to impress the leadership of many of its member organisations. The concern about style and effectiveness was seriously challenged again in the 12 months after 1987 and came to a head in advance of the CAS Annual General Meeting held on 14 December 1988.

Change in direction

A group of prominent sports administrations stood as a group of five as a “ticket” for election to the CAS Board on a clear agenda of reform in a bid to reverse the downward spiral in the CAS membership and hence its effectiveness as a representative group. (Ref 3,4)

The five comprised  the Executive Director of the Australian Soccer Federation, Brian Emery, a person who in 1986 had been honoured as the CAS administrator of the year; Gus Staunton who had a 36 year career in Surf Life-Saving and was the Executive Director of the Surf Life Saving Society of Australia and a former member of the Federal Government’s Sports Advisory Council; John Ostermeyer who had occupied senior positions in a number of sporting organisations including that of Executive Director and was a successful business operator; Dene Moore, one of Australia’s most senior government sports administrators well known and respected by national sporting bodies as Manager of the funding programs of the Australian Sports Commission; Greg Hartung who had recently retired as the inaugural Chief Executive of the ASC and who was formerly on the Interim Australian Sports Commission with a background in the media and politics.

This team of sports administrators wrote to all national sporting organisations offering themselves as a “reform group” with a five-point plan to revive the Confederation.  The letter stated:

“It is no secret to anyone involved in sport at the national level that the Confederation of Australian Sport has, for some time, had significant difficulties in delivering many of its promises.  Developments in recent years – including the emergence of the Australian Sports Commission – have raised serious questions about the future of the Confederation.

“It is also no secret that a number of national sporting organisations and umbrella groups, including the Australian Olympic Federation, have either left or have considered leaving the Confederation.  It is probable that a number of factors underline the decisions of these organisations – but it is fair to say that a common feature has been a frustration with the performance, priorities and approach of the Confederation.” (Ref 5)

Colloquially dubbed the ‘gang of five”, the group, if elected, promised a new order and reform “from within” and committed themselves to rejuvenate the Confederation and point it in a new direction “for the betterment of CAS and Australian sport.”

“We firmly believe that Australian sport is at a critical stage of development; the challenge before us is to build upon past successes and to develop a vision for the future of sport…We understand only too well that unless sport presents itself professionally to Government, we cannot expect to be given our rightful place on the political agenda.

“It is also a watershed period for the Confederation…(it) has suffered a credibility crisis.

“…most people with an appreciation of the needs of Australian sport and the realities of the Australian political culture would not question the need for a responsible, respected and professional representative organisation or lobby group.  The Confederation of Australian Sport is in a position to become such an organisation under the guidance of its Board of Directors.” (Ref 5)

Reform manifesto  

The Group’s five-point manifesto secured overwhelming support from the CAS membership with all five members of the reform group elected.  The plan promised to:

  1. Establish a clear agenda of issues to be tackled and the strategies to be used in the forthcoming year.  Foremost among these would be the question of funding;
  2. Re-establish links with disenchanted sections of the sporting community, such as those groups who have resigned from the Confederation, including the Australian Olympic Federation;
  3. Re-locate the secretariat of the Confederation to Canberra where it would be most strategically placed to deal with relevant Federal issues;
  4. Identify all commercial products and activities of the Confederation and to offer those activities to a commercial operator for an agreed fee. These commercial activities would be used as a way of earning income to allow the Confederation to undertake its mainstream lobbying activities;
  5. Recommend to Confederation members that the organisation as a lobbying group be disbanded if “tangible progress” is not achieved before the next AGM in 1989.

The group declared they wanted to be elected as a group “or not at all”.  All five were subsequently voted in.

The CAS roadmap

The “coup” took effect in December 1988 and CAS was set on a new and revitalised course.  Within months, the new CAS leadership had moved its headquarters from its terrace house in Jolimont, Melbourne to new temporary premises in the Canberra suburb of Deakin, where the majority of industry organisations were traditionally based in the National Capital. The CAS was later to sell its Melbourne property and reinvest the funds in a new building in Deakin to be physically close to its main political interests.

The new agenda was articulated by CAS Vice President, Greg Hartung, in an address to the CAS membership in Canberra on 11 May 1989.  Hartung — who was to be elected President at the AGM that year – asked the CAS membership to confirm its support for the new team and its new approach to Canberra political advocacy. 

More than 100 national sporting organisations were represented at the Canberra meeting. As guests and observers were several MP’s, including Federal Minister for Sport, Senator Grahame Richardson, the Shadow Minister, John Sharp, and influential Labor MP and former Rugby League referee, Stephen Martin, who was to become Shadow Minister for Sport in the 1990’s. By their presence, the politicians demonstrated a keenness for CAS to re-position itself and become a unifying voice for sport.

In his opening remarks, Hartung observed: “It probably marks a public relations coup for the Confederation of Australian Sport: Our first success as a re-vamped lobby group. We hope there are more such occasions in the future – occasions which will bring together our political decision-makers and sports administrators to discuss, formally and informally, the place of sport in Australia and the proper role and responsibility of political parties in addressing the needs of sport for the benefit of Australia,” (Ref 6)

For the moment at least, the CAS was enthusiastically embracing its fundamental advocacy role and re-defining its priorities.

Hartung argued that CAS could claim a legitimate place as an industry body representing the broad interests of sport, in much the same way as other industry groups established their presence in Canberra to advocate for their specific interests.  He said: “Lobbying, or pressure group activity, is an accepted part of the process of government…there are more than 200 pressure groups operating in Canberra and more are moving here each year.  It is estimated that the lobby industry in Canberra is growing at a rate of 11 percent a year, representing possibly the capital’s fastest growing business.”

Hartung explained the motives behind the reform group: “The decision to endorse the platform of shifting our headquarters to Canberra and mending ‘internal fences’ with disenchanted sections of sport, was an important prerequisite for the CAS on the road to establishing itself as a respected lobby group.”  Lobbying was the primary reason for CAS to exist. 

“We must understand and appreciate this responsibility.  We must be in tune with the political, media and bureaucratic environment of this city in order to perform this function to its maximum. In short, we must know how the “Canberra game” is played.  We must understand how decisions are made; where they are made and how best to influence them.  The Sports Commission is but only one area where decisions are taken affecting sport.”

He said the CAS had to convince politicians of the importance of assisting sport: “They must be convinced that sport is not an extension of social welfare.  Rather, it is an important industry in its own right making an important contribution to the prosperity of Australia.

“An investment in sport is a sound economic decision which returns handsome dividends to taxpayers.  We know that sport contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to our Gross Domestic Product. 

“The Federal Sports Department estimates that sport and recreation accounts for between 8.6 percent and 10.1 percent of GDP and accounts for between 19.2 percent and 22.6 percent of total private consumption.

“Furthermore, it is estimated that household participation in sport and recreation activities contributed between $22 billion and $26 billion to the Australian economy and that this sector employs about 600,000 people. But we must keep reminding the Parliament, and the public, of these commercial and economic realities.”  (Ref 6)

Sport and representation

The establishment of the Australian Sports Commission had permanently changed the sporting landscape which would have a profound influence on how CAS managed its approach to government. Further, national sporting organisations themselves needed to be better coordinated and united to maximise the benefits and avert the potential perils of a centralised government agency.

In 1989, CAS had begun to regain the trust of its nervous membership and continued to assemble considerable numerical strengths: In excess of 100 national federations which, in turn, have a network of State and Local affiliates comprising an estimated six million Australian sports people in addition to the extensive and widespread sports infrastructure.

“But size by itself is not enough,” Hartung said.  “If we do not clearly understand the issues; if we do not clearly understand how to influence decisions and if we fail to act as a united organisation, then our size will be irrelevant.”  (Ref 6))  

The re-building of CAS was centred on the development and promotion of comprehensive sport policy — and communication of that policy to both membership and across the political spectrum.  With CAS now re-located to Canberra it meant regular contact with MPs in Parliament House and with key staff with the ASC and the Federal Department.  CAS brought together MPs and sport representatives to debate election sport policy. CAS developed a comprehensive program of seminars across all States and Territories to connect with the wider sports membership and to define and refine sport policy initiatives to take to Government.

Reality check

CAS was more of a friend to Oppositions than Governments.  It is always easier for Oppositions to agree with interest groups; it is much harder for Governments which have the real-world challenges of balancing priorities and budgets. The campaigns in the 1980s were evidence to the fact that the best sentiments of support from Opposition come mean little if they fail to win government.   

Election result forecasting has always been a dangerous business. Going into the 1993 Federal election campaign, CAS had worked long and hard to win the support for its agenda from the Liberal-National Coalition Parties which were now widely tipped by the media to win the election that year. 

A significant role for CAS in sport policy and influence was envisaged by both Government and Opposition although, unlike the ill-fated 1987 campaign, the Opposition had become somewhat more cautious in its approach.  

Contrary to media speculation, the Prime Minister, Paul Keating led the Labor Government to an unexpected fifth consecutive term, largely on the back of a successful campaign against the Goods and Services Tax proposed by the then Opposition Leader, John Hewson.  For Keating it was the “sweetest victory of all”.  For CAS, the most significant outcome would be the appointment of the influential John Faulkner to Cabinet as Minister for Environment, Sport and Territories replacing Graham Richardson but continuing the strong position of sport in the Ministerial hierarchy.

Ronaldson revives interest for Liberal Party

Despite its failure again at the polls by the Liberal/National coalition, the 1993 election did have a positive outcome for sport with a review to be undertaken by the Shadow Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation, Michael Ronaldson.  Since its rancorous opposition to the emergence of the ASC, the Coalition had done surprisingly little in the intervening years to re-capture the confidence of the wider sports community, outside the CAS coterie.  That was to changes under the energetic overview of Ronaldson.    

In an interview for the CAS publication “Sport Report” after the 1993 election, Ronaldson promised to turn things around. He was critical of his predecessor, Michael Baume, for not producing a formal election policy although, oddly, Baume did release a policy after the election.  (Ref 7)

Policy push

Ronaldson gave an assurance that he would be taking a new policy to the next election and he started that project with a written invitation to 1000 sporting organisations across the country inviting their views on what policy initiatives they expected from government.

“I want sport to drive the bureaucracy as opposed to the bureaucracy driving sport,” Ronaldson declared. 

He also hinted at the need for a review of the Australian Sports Commission and its priorities: “… I will be having a very close look at the programs that are being run by the Sports Commission to see whether they are still appropriate…the Sports Commission has done a marvellous job and it will have my very strong support, but I think that at some stage we will need to review all the processes and programs”.

He said the Confederation would have direct input into the policy debate.  “As the peak representative body, the Confederation has done a lot of policy work and I am mindful of the recent Budget Priority Paper and Target 2000 …. that white paper gives some very specific and excellent directions for sport policy for the remainder of this decade.” (Ref 8)

It was a more considered and balanced approach to sport policy which will be drawn out further in the next Paper in this series.


  1. Jim Barry, President of CAS – Statement Members, 15 March 1988 (Greg Hartung Collection at National Library)
  2. Confederation of Australian Sport, Annual Report 1987
  3. Gary Scholes, Reform aimed at confederation. The Canberra Times, 13 December 1988, p. 22.
  4. Gary Scholes, Lobby group on CAS board The Canberra Times, 16 December 1988,  p. 16.
  5.  Letter to CAS Members by Group of Five (Greg Hartung Collection at National Library)
  6. Greg Hartung Address to CAS Meeting, 11 May 1989, Canberra Park Royal (Greg Hartung Collection at National Library)
  7. Michael Ronaldson Interview, Sport Report 1993
  8. . Confederation of Australian Sport, Target 2000: a white paper on the direction of Australian sport, September 1992, Canberra, CAS, 1992.

Author’s Background

Greg Hartung AO brings great knowledge and experience to the development of sport in Australia. He was a sport & political journalist, Member of the Interim Committee of the Australian Sports Commission (1983-1984), inaugural CEO Australian Sports Commission (1983-1988), Commissioner of the Australian Sports Commission (1991-1996), 2006-2010), Chair of the Australian Sports Commission (2008-2010), President of the Confederation of Australian Sport (1989-1995) and Australian Paralympic Committee (1997-2013) and Vice President of the International Paralympic Committee (2009-2013) and Adjunct Professor, University of Canberra (2014-)

Part 17 – The New Broom At CAS Wins Support – CAS Again Becomes A Key Influencer in National Sport Sports Policy At A Critical Time in Sport

Listing of articles in History of Australian Sport Policy Series

2 responses to “The Confederation of Australian Sport Licks Its Wounds After Its Disastrous Brawl with the Australian Sports Commission in 1987 …. It Was To Be a Long Road Back for CAS”

Leave a ReplyCancel reply

Exit mobile version