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Mallard: The politics of leisure and recreation

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for Sport and Recreation

15 November 2005 Speech Notes

Embargoed until: 8am

The politics of leisure, recreation and physical activity

Speech to the New Zealand Recreation Association Conference, Wellington Convention Centre

Good morning everyone. It’s great to be here with you today.

This is my first address since the recent reshuffle, and I have to say I am very pleased to have retained the sport and recreation portfolio under this new government because I believe this sector demonstrates and epitomises the qualities that make New Zealand great.

Since I took on the role as Sport and Recreation Minister in 1999 there have been many changes made and much ground covered. I think it is fair to say that the sector has never been as strong as it is now, and much of that is due to the hard work we have all put in over the years.

When I look back to those early days, it is evident just how far we have come.

As the then Minister for Sport, Fitness and Leisure, I commissioned a Ministerial Taskforce to look at the existing sports systems, identify the issues, and clearly define a vision for the sector for the next 25 years.

The report highlighted, among other issues, a need for fragmented parts of the sector, both government and non-government, to work more closely together.

It also highlighted that we need to work with certain population groups, such as children, to increase their physical activity levels.

It noted that we value winning performances in sport and recreation, and that it’s important to keep physically active day to day.

The recommendations were wide-ranging, with a key proposal being the establishment of a new entity.
As you know, Sport and Recreation new Zealand (SPARC) was formed in response to these recommendations.

SPARC's programmes and initiatives began to be developed and implemented, with the aim of improving sport and recreation in New Zealand and we haven't looked back since.

The gains that have been made in the sport and recreation sector since the taskforce made its recommendations have been real and notable.

I have advocated for growth and change, and SPARC has worked with me to help implement that.

One significant change has been to the allocation of funding. This has shifted from an ‘entitlement’ approach to an approach that allows organisations to plan more strategically.

Funding levels have also changed dramatically. Government investment in recreation has increased from $773,000 in 1999 to $1,034,000 in 2005.

Government funding for the sport and recreation sector as a whole has increased significantly from $2.5 million in 1998/99 to $49 million in 2005/06.

Strategic investment has enabled SPARC to work more in partnership with organisations such as the New Zealand Recreation Association (NZRA), to improve community collaboration and planning.

An example of this collaborative approach is a SPARC initiative called Active Communities. This initiative helps to promote recreation within the community by working on projects such as the development of cycle and walk ways.

As a keen cyclist myself, I was thrilled to see that after opening the Pukerua Bay cycle bridge last year, foot and cycle activity around the area increased by 400 percent. This is the kind of real gain that makes all the hard work worth it.

My focus on getting people active has leaked into other areas as well over the years – most notably it was easily applied to my responsibility as Minister of Education.

I really wanted to ensure that physical activity was given a much higher priority within schools, because teaching kids healthy and active lifestyles early on is the best way to encourage them to be active later in life.

Unfortunately, we are currently faced with a situation where young New Zealanders are choosing playstation over play time.

This is a daunting prospect, not only for our future in international recreational events, but also for the future health of our nation.

The government is addressing this issue through a SPARC initiative called Active Schools.

Around 17 active school facilitators will be appointed in the regional sports trusts around the country to work with schools and their communities.

They will increase education, awareness and skills to ensure our children have the competence and confidence to enjoy being active.

This initiative emphasises that it is essential for the different arms of government to work together to focus investment and resources where we can do the most good.

Another equally important example is the importance of aligning our needs with the objectives of the Department of Conservation or the Ministry of Transport.

Ideally we want to encourage win-win situations where DOC increases the number of huts and tracks, and we increase the number of young people and adults with the will and skills to use them.

And work is well on the way towards meeting this particular goal.

The Labour-led government has provided the largest-ever funding increase - $349 million over ten years - for outdoor recreation on public conservation land. This has effectively doubled the Department of Conservation (DOC) budget for upgrading huts, tracks and other outdoor facilities over the 10-year period.

Similarly, the recreation sector is also coming to the party - tramping is now one of the top ten activities for New Zealanders, with walking as the number one. Over 40,000 people enjoy our tracks each year.

And it is not only tramping where general interest levels are growing. Now is the optimum time to be realising our goals for the recreation in New Zealand.

Only two weeks ago the Kiwis proved that they are more active than our Australian counter-parts in international research, and the government's Push Play campaign has also had a boost – with more people than ever pushing play these days.

Within the sector the feeling is also dynamic – we can see this in the changes from organised club-based activities to individual and multi-sport events.

A recent review of the multi-sport sector shows there is an increase in the number of participants wanting to become involved in a range of outdoor events.

This increased interest is good news and we need to capitalise on it to help more New Zealanders to experience physical recreation and sport.

I didn’t begin to mountain bike until I was nearly 40 years old. Now I am biking most weekends, and have successfully competed in the "big three" last year – The Colville Connection, Rainbow Rage, and the Karapoti Classic. After all it is no good me preaching about the benefits of an active lifestyle if I am not willing to put it into practice!

I hope the next generation will be out there doing it long before I was - and if we make sure there is access and availability, they will.

The government, through SPARC, wants to do what it can to foster the growth of multi-sport within New Zealand, as it fits into our kiwi lifestyle of getting outdoors and keeping active.

This week New Zealand is hosting the Adventure Racing World Championships. Next year, Rotorua will host the World Mountain Biking Championships.

Organising events like this are challenging, especially when it comes to risk management and legal liability. There are other issues large scale events pose, and other demands on your resources.

But, with our spectacular scenery, high performing athletes and organisers who are passionate, there is no doubt that multi-sport has the potential to be an iconic kiwi sport.

Collaboration between organisations such as Triathlon NZ, NZRA, SPARC and event organisers can make this happen.

The road this sector has travelled hasn’t been easy.

The New Zealand Recreation Association and the recreation sector play a crucial role in the future of sport and recreation in New Zealand.

The success we have had so far with the Physical Activity Planning Service, where SPARC, NZRA and councils have worked together, is an example of how collaboration across organisations produces results.

And I believe this is the only way forward. We are making excellent progress; the sector is stronger now than it ever has been.

Recreation has had many high achievers and many major successes.

I think of Lydia Bradey who was the first women to climb Mt Everest without oxygen in 1988, Graham Charles who sea kayaked Antarctica, and Pat Deavoll who is perhaps most well known for being the first woman to paddle the Huka Falls.

Celebrating these achievements, increasing the capacity of the sector to meet modern challenges and focusing resources through collaboration however is something that both SPARC, and the recreation sector, could do more of.

We all know the recreation sector can be quite parochial. One of the government's aims, in accordance with SPARC, is to ensure that good practice is shared among all bodies to help continue to raise the level of performance across the sector.

This is an admirable goal, but it can't be done in isolation. We need the collaboration from the sector and a willingness to share in order to be able to bring this to fruition. It is about looking at the bigger picture and realising your part in it and the importance of information sharing.

It is also important that we focus on improving the effectiveness across the sector at a governance level – if we can do this, the good work we are doing will filter down to the grass roots level.

Sport and recreation may not be the highest priority in government – but it’s one that I strongly believe in, and will continue to work on. My job is to make sure sport and recreation is represented in government and developed in an environment where there are many conflicting demands.

I believe that the recreation sector has a similar role as me within the public arena – you need to ensure that you are represented in the sport and recreation sector and that your own identity is promoted.

I’m behind you to raise your profile even further, and I believe we can do it, if we all get behind the cause and continue to work at it.

The recreation sector is a fantastic sector to be involved in, and what better country to promote it in, than New Zealand. Let's get out there and do it!

Thank you


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