Launch of the Pacific Rugby League Championships
Well thank you Kate.
It’s terrific to be here with you, with Minister Pat Conroy, with the representatives of the Pacific who are here to launch these Pacific Rugby League Championships.
I do want to also acknowledge the work of all of those who’ve made this happen, including the coaches, Mal Meninga and Ben Jeffries.
It is an honour to be here to launch these championships.
And I’m proud to announce that Australia is committing over $7 million dollars over the next two years to support these championships in partnership with the National Rugby League.
People form bonds based on shared experiences. And Australia and our Pacific Island neighbours have long had a passion for rugby league and for sport in general.
I was at my first meeting of the Pacific Island Forum in Fiji and it happened to be State of Origin night.
The leaders of the different nations lined up for whether they would wear a Blues or Maroons jersey.
I can report, Mal, that most of them were wearing Maroon that night, and I say that here in Queensland.
So many NRL stars have Pacific heritage.
Indeed of the Penrith Panthers starting 13 in the grand final last year, nine of the 13 had Pacific heritage.
At the international level, Pacific nations are making their mark too, with Samoa making the World Cup final last year, and PNG making it to the women’s semi final in the tournament last year.
We want more Pacific players, both men and women, to come through the ranks of the National Rugby League.
And the Pacific Championships will bring together teams from Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Cook Islands to compete in an elite level tournament, inspiring a new generation of stars, girls and boys, from throughout the Pacific, all the while contributing to Australia’s bond with the Pacific family.
I’m so pleased that PNG will co-host the tournament this year, along with Australia and New Zealand, with Fiji co=hosting in 2024.
In January, I was in Papua New Guinea.
And you can’t help but notice whenever you’re in PNG, that it’s like being in Brisbane during Magic Round.
You walk around and whether it’s in Port Moresby, or we were in Wewak in the North of PNG, you see young kids and adults all wearing the jerseys of their favourite team, be it State of Origin, of course, there are lots of cardinal and myrtle you see wherever you go.
There’s always a random Souths guy or woman wherever you go, including in PNG.
But this will be a really important tournament to inspire.
I’ve made no secret, Andrew, of my desire to see a PNG and Pacifika playing in the National Rugby League and sometime in the future.
But what this will be important, as well, is for showcasing Women’s Rugby League.
We’ve seen a further expansion in the competition this year and that will continue in the future.
And I think we’ve seen with the Matildas and their success – and take the opportunity to wish him all the best for tonight in the semi final versus England – we see an entire generation of Australians being inspired.
We saw on Saturday night, at what I still call Lang Park, being completely overwhelmed.
It is the one time that I can recall being with 50,000 people who stopped breathing on ten occasions on Saturday night.
And the idea 30 years ago, frankly, or 20 years ago, that you would have had full stadiums watching women’s team sport was something that would have been seen as being exceptionally ambitious.
Well that’s long gone.
Now, we have women and girls playing at the elite level soccer, AFL as well as rugby league. And that is a great thing.
The tournament will be launched at Suncorp.
And that, of course, is an appropriate place because it has a long history as a meeting place.
For more than 100 years it’s brought people together and help develop relationships, which is one of the things that sport is about.
And that’s why the Australian Government will be working with our Pacific Island family to support this tournament.
And I thank and congratulate the National Rugby League on their vision for what they want to do to create economic activity, but also to create those relationships within the Pacific family.
This tournament will be a major contribution to that.
Thanks very much.