Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games
Mr CARR (Maroubra—Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Citizenship) [10.45 a.m.]: I move:
I do not think anyone could have held this Parliament in the palm of their hand better than Julianne and Hamish did this morning. I congratulate you because you can now add to the list of your other qualifications, determination and the high athletic prowess that has made you what you are today the fact that you are great communicators. You are great communicators because you told this Parliament the story of your lives and gave us some feeling of the commitment that lay behind your sporting successes. Over morning tea before we came to the Chamber I discussed with Julianne and Hamish their experiences of Atlanta, and in the case of Hamish of Barcelona also.
That this House:
(1) thanks Paralympians Julianne Adams and Hamish MacDonald; and
(2) wishes the Australian team every success at the Sydney Paralympics.
I believe we can be fairly confident as a community and nation that we have laid the base for a Paralympic Games that will get the world's vote of confidence the same way our Olympic Games did. What pride it will be for us Australians if the world says that Sydney set the benchmark for the Paralympics as it did for the Olympics. That is our goal. Agreeing to come here and address the Parliament I suppose might have been a formidable ask for people who are not used to walking in and commanding Parliament, but I tell you what, you have set a bit of a benchmark today as professional communicators in this place!
You have helped to focus the attention of New South Wales on the Paralympics. This morning I was at Moss Vale, where it was my honour to greet the Paralympic torch with the honourable member for Southern Highlands—who probably did not have the advantage of a helicopter to get back here; this unanimity that embraces the House is okay, but I am not going to give any breaks! There was a tremendous turnout in Moss Vale as the Paralympic torch entered New South Wales. Tony Lockett ran with the torch into the sportsground. Every school was represented and there was a great community turnout. It was interesting that after the success we had with volunteers for the Olympics that volunteers were there this morning bursting with pride as they are going to be working on the Paralympics. If the reception at Moss Vale is any indication of the response across New South Wales, these Games will enjoy terrific community support. But, of course, that is already indicated by ticket sales.
As the Minister for the Olympics reported yesterday to the Parliament, to have the opening ceremony sold out, many events sold out, and tickets to the closing ceremony to be sold out soon, certainly points to the gathering momentum for the Games. We are all aware that in Atlanta our Paralympians gained second place overall. We remember also the achievements at Barcelona when our Australian competitors astonished Australian public opinion by the way they shot to prominence. Your visit to the Parliament today reminds us of how ready our athletes are. The State is ready. Those great facilities have been tried and tested.
Just last night, I am told, 2,700 athletes from 69 countries slept at the Paralympics Village, and you two are heading there after your address to this Chamber. Next week the village will house 4,000 athletes from 126 countries. All that remains now is the lighting of the cauldron for the commencement of the Games. The Paralympics are grabbing the attention of the people of New South Wales. We will be excited by the Games. We will be inspired by them. More importantly, we will be there, all the more dedicated, to see these great Games after the splendid addresses to this Parliament by Julianne and Hamish. New South Wales is with them and every Paralympian. I commend this motion to the House.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI (Lane Cove—Leader of the Opposition) [10.50 a.m.]: I join the Premier in thanking Julianne and Hamish for joining us in this House. I must say that they have achieved something which does not often occur in this House. They were heard in silence and with great respect—a very rare commodity in this House, they may be assured—because they spoke passionately and from their hearts. As someone who has had the great joy of being involved in disability sport for 10 years, I know their level of dedication and commitment to achieve success at an elite level. We are delighted that Sydney is hosting the eleventh Paralympic Games. We have a reasonable expectation that the success of the Paralympics in Atlanta may be exceeded in Sydney. We are not putting pressure on Paralympians to come first in the medal tally but if they do so it will be a nice way to finish the Games.
I know that their Sydney experience will certainly be much better than that at Atlanta. Anybody who went to at Atlanta knows that the athletes themselves were not treated as well as they should have been. For example, I know that a number of people who were placed in various accommodation provided there were not given wheelchair accessible showers. It was very difficult because young women literally had to be lifted onto chairs into baths and people had to help them have showers because their wheelchairs could not fit in the showers. It was very disappointing for athletes when they were competing at the swimming venues to see holes in the walls where television cables had been ripped out because the Games were no longer going to be televised. I know the crowds were not as good at Atlanta as they will be in Sydney.
I also know that the Sydney crowds, just as they did in the recent Olympic Games, will cheer on our Paralympians, and athletes from around the world, with loud voices. We all know that Australians are prepared to acknowledge and admire success and successful people. Good luck with everything that will happen in the next 10 days. I am as delighted as the Premier and everybody else that tickets for the Sydney Paralympic Games are selling so well. It will be a truly magnificent operation if the Stadium can be filled not only for the opening and closing ceremonies but on a regular basis during the Games. People who have never been to a Paralympics or been involved in disability sports should go and see these elite athletes.
A lot is heard about Paralympians being inspiring but we need to remember that they are, to use the words of Julianne and Hamish, committed and dedicated. They are, in fact, elite athletes. They are competing against the best in the world and they deserve to be encouraged and supported in that competition. I was at the hugely exciting gold medal game for the men's basketball in Atlanta and that was just extraordinary. If one has never seen wheelchair basketball, consider the concept of people such as Julianne shooting baskets whilst moving around a regulation-size court in a wheelchair. The whole thing is quite extraordinary. If one really wants to see a truly unusual sport, one should watch people playing wheelchair rugby. Is it fair to say that those people are very aggressive?
Ms JULIANNE ADAMS: Yes.
Mrs CHIKAROVSKI: They are certainly very aggressive. It is a whole new concept and it is exciting to watch people tackling each other in wheelchairs. The participants in the Games deserve our encouragement, support and thanks for their level of commitment. I look forward to the Paralympic Games. As I said, during the past 10 years I have been involved with disability sport. I was actually at the Game to which the Minister for the Olympics referred earlier this week when we won the first ever bronze medal in boccia. I have been patron of the Cerebral Palsy Boccia Association now for 10 years. I have watched those young people develop from their very infancy in the game. Before Atlanta we staged the world championships here, so they qualified to go to Atlanta.
It is a game in which the players are truly competitive, in an environment that some people cannot understand, with ramp players, to which the Minister referred. These people are so disabled that they play with a ramp because they cannot control their arm movements enough to throw a ball. They have a helper who sits in front of them. The helper is not allowed, as one can imagine, to look at the game. The helper is only allowed to move the ramp up or down or either way in accordance with instructions given by the person playing the game.
When I first watched this game I was amazed that people whom I knew very well who were competing against one another during the national championships were friendly off the court but when they got onto the boccia court they had only one aim, and that was to win. They played very aggressively. They played very aggressively to win in Atlanta. I know that they have been further honing their skills over the past four years. We hope that they will do better than a bronze medal in boccia this year. To watch them play with a pointer on their heads to control the speed of the ball and use their skill level to control the direction of the ball and win using the last ball as they do in a game shows the level of training that these people go through. That is something we all need to remember. We all need to remember that people who are competing in the Paralympics are elite athletes, committed, dedicated, aggressive and competitive. All those words apply to them and I know that at the end of the day they will do this nation very proud. We are very proud of what happened in the city during the Olympics. I know we will be even prouder of what happens at the Paralympics.
Mr KNIGHT (Campbelltown—Minister for the Olympics) [10.57 a.m.]: I join with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and I am sure all honourable members of the House in thanking both Julianne Adams and Hamish MacDonald for their contributions addressing the House this morning, and in wishing the whole Australian team every success. On Tuesday I addressed the House on preparations for the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. Rather than simply repeat those comments today I want to briefly wish Australia’s Paralympic team all the best of luck for the Games and to say a few things about the team and about the athletes. Australia’s team at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games will be our largest ever with 278 athletes representing us. In fact, just like at the Sydney Olympic Games, the Australian team at the Paralympics will be the largest single team from anywhere in the world.
As I said the other day, the Australian team is hoping to improve on its successes from the Atlanta Games. In Atlanta, Australia led the medal tally right up until the last day of competition and finished with a staggering 106 medals—42 gold, 37 silver and 27 bronze. We won medals in 10 out of 13 sports contested by Australians, and it is no exaggeration to say that the 1996 Paralympic team is the most successful sporting team ever to have left Australian shores. Over the years I have had the pleasure to meet many of our great Paralympians and I have been lucky enough for them to have shared their stories with me. On Tuesday I mentioned some of these athletes and their stories and today I would like to mention a few more as examples of the fantastic spirit that exists amongst our Paralympians.
There is the equestrian Sue Ellen Lovett, who is vision impaired, who rode her horse Mudgee from Melbourne to Sydney and from Brisbane to Sydney to raise money for the Paralympic Games. What about our tandem cycling duo of Kieran and Kerry Modra? Kieran is vision impaired and sits on the back of the bike providing a lot of the power while Kerry his wife steers from the front. At the Atlanta Games, Kerry, who is able bodied, badly hurt her leg and was in doubt for the competition. However, she was determined that she would not let her husband down. She had the support crew carry her to the bike and place her on it. Despite the immense pain Kerry and Kieran tore around the track and won gold in the sprint event.
One story I will never forget is that of judo player Anthony Clarke, who is totally blind. Anthony usually competes against able-bodied athletes. Indeed, he has won medals in judo in South Australia against all comers. He has written a book about his life which I commend to anyone in the House as an inspiring and emotional read. I would like to read a brief story from Anthony's book on how he won gold in Atlanta. It illustrates his great character and sense of fun in the face of adversity. Anthony writes:
I can remember having a grip on my opponent similar to how you hold someone when doing a waltz … We were at one stage cheek to cheek when all of a sudden I burped right in his face. Then I started giggling. Then I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing burping and giggling in the Gold medal match at the Paralympics!"
Anthony’s unique style certainly worked. He threw his opponent off, and he won that bout and the gold medal in a total time of 35 seconds. I first met Anthony in person in Atlanta at the wheelchair rugby. While he obviously could not see the game, he was there. He had his coach describing the action for him, and he was wildly cheering on the Australian team. I have since seen Anthony at several functions. He is one of the real characters of Australian sport and one of the funniest after-dinner speakers in Australia.
Who else but Anthony Clarke could have an audience of business people in stitches explaining how his disability was a huge advantage in his younger days when he would go out drinking to excess with his sighted mates. "We’d all get blind drunk," said Anthony, "but I was the only one with a seeing-eye dog to get me home!" Our Paralympic team is full of real characters and heroes like Anthony Clarke in every sport. We have heard from two of them this morning. They are people to admire and enjoy. It is a privilege to know them.
Hamish and Julianne have already explained what motivates them to compete, and I am sure the whole House wishes them personally every success in the coming Games. Today they have both given sensational performances in addressing the House. I have seen both of them compete, and I have no doubt they will give sensational athletic performances at the Games. Indeed, I have been lucky enough to train on one occasion with Julianne and the Australian women's wheelchair basketball team. It was a very bruising time for me, both physically, because they were pretty tough and tipped me out of the chair—
Mr Hazzard: A few of us would like to do that!
Mr KNIGHT: —and emotionally, Brad, because their insults were far more cutting than yours. They refused to let me train any further unless I wore a Berlei sports bra in common with the other members of the team! Our Paralympians are a great inspiration for all Australians. I wish them enormous good luck in the competition ahead. I urge all Australians to be out there and give them the support they deserve and to have the fun that the crowd will surely have.
Mr HARTCHER (Gosford) [11.07 a.m.]: Hamish, Julianne and all Paralympians, Australia is very proud of you. The Australian people will be supporting you, just as they supported the Olympic athletes over the past couple of weeks. Often at immigration ceremonies we commemorate the fact that people have chosen Australia from all countries in the world. That is an added dimension to their citizenship over those who are born into Australia. The same can be said for Paralympians. Olympic athletes use their natural ability: Paralympians when competing use their natural ability and overcome their disability. They have an extra dimension to their athletic prowess.
Every Australian will be with you, and every Australian will be acknowledging not only the great achievements of past Paralympic teams but also the great achievements that we hope will be yours in these Paralympic Games. We do not necessarily expect you to win medals. What we do expect is that you will take part in and enjoy the Games. They are, after all, a demonstration of your zeal, your courage, your determination and the culmination of those hundreds of hours that have gone to make you the people that you are.
With you there will be the enthusiasm of the volunteers. As everybody who participated in the Olympics knows, the thousands of volunteers that we met were saying, "I'm coming back for the Paralympics." That zeal, that enthusiasm is there. The enthusiasm is in the schools. People from every New South Wales school that I have visited over past months have told me that they are coming down to see the Paralympics. Those children will be seeing you as their role models, their idols and their athletes for tomorrow. You will be doing not only yourselves proud, but also them, and along with you the entire Australian community. The anthem will ring out, the flag will fly, the crowd will chant, "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!". All of Australia is with you. All of Australia wishes you well.
[Mr Speaker left the chair at 11.11 a.m. The House resumed at 11.24 a.m.]
Ms MEGARRITY (Menai) [11.24 a.m.]: It is with great pleasure that I speak to the motion moved by the Premier relating to the staging of the Paralympic Games. I wholeheartedly support the Premiers' motion. When I spoke yesterday in debate on the motion relating to the Olympic Games I referred to the night I attended the Olympics and saw the two demonstration finals in the women's 800 metres and the men's 1,500 metres wheelchair events. All honourable members would know that Louise Sauvage won the gold. There was a lot of pressure on her to do that, just as there was a lot of pressure on Cathy Freeman a few nights before. Louise, a true champion, won that gold medal but, unfortunately, it will not count towards the full medal tally. We are hoping for great things when she participates in her Paralympic events.
Yesterday I also said that my heart sank when John MacLean, a family friend, came out of his chair during the 1,500 metre wheelchair race. John, a true athlete and a true champion, will come back. He was an able-bodied athlete prior to a tragic accident. He was training for a triathlon and was hit by a truck on the M4. John was not daunted by his level of disability. Since that time he has swum the English Channel and he also completed the Hawaiian iron man competition—running, swimming and cycling—under the time requirements. He is the first wheelchair athlete ever to have achieved that feat. Those two people are the athletes with whom most people would be familiar. The two demonstration events to which I have just referred gave wheelchair sport a high profile. However, the Paralympics will involve much more than wheelchair races.
My association with wheelchair sports goes back some 15 years. My husband has coached teams in the National Wheelchair Basketball League, also known as the NWBL. I have watched that sport from its infancy—a sport which is now getting the attention it deserves; attention that it should have had all the way through. Sponsors have not always been forthcoming because of that lack of attention and the fact that the crowds have not been big. People do not fully appreciate the fierce competition that goes with these sports. The West Sydney Razorbacks Wheelchair Basketball Team which my husband currently coaches, is associated with an NBL able-bodied team also known as the West Sydney Razorbacks. That has given members of the wheelchair basketball team an opportunity to play curtain-raiser games and to showcase their real talents. Two team members have now been recognised in their selection for the Australian Paralympic teams.
One of the players in my husband's team is a woman called Jane Webb, who is competing in the Australian women's wheelchair basketball team. These Paralympic Games will be Jane's second Paralympics. Jane, a tough competitor, will certainly do us proud. She is a valuable member of my husband's team. Jane is engaged to a young man by the name of Troy Sachs, who is also in my husband's wheelchair basketball team. Troy will be competing in the Australian men's wheelchair basketball team. Those who watched the 1996 Atlanta Games might remember that Troy, to the surprise of his family, friends and spectators, shaved his head for the event and played one of the hardest games that anyone has ever played in any sort of elite sport. In fact, he was responsible for 42 points in the final event. Just to demonstrate how significant that is, that is the best effort by any athlete in any Olympic final. So Troy's performance in the 1996 Atlanta Games to win gold was better than the achievements of somebody like Michael Jordan.
Honourable members have no better example of the intensity and the fierce competition of this sport than Troy's performance in 1996 at Atlanta. My family and I have known Troy since he was about 14. He is now 24. We have seen him grow and mature as a person as well as an athlete. As a result of a birth defect Troy, as a young boy, had to have an amputation. For as long as my family has known Troy's parents they have constantly had to buy new artificial limbs as Troy outgrew them. Troy is now at least six feet two inches tall. He says that his only regret would be that he was not born black as he suggests that would have made him an even better basketball player. As I said earlier, Troy is now engaged to Jane. We look forward to their wedding and to their dual success at the Sydney Paralympic Games.
Paul Croft, another gentleman who is a resident in my electorate, currently plays a different sort of disabled sport, that is, sitting volleyball. Today Paul is running with the Paralympic torch in the Illawarra, which is quite an honour for him. Paul, who has only one arm, is a TAFE teacher during the day but every other minute of his time is spent training and competing. These Paralympic Games will be the fifth Games that he will have attended. His first competition goes back to 1984, when he competed in the 1,500 metres event. In 1984 Paul participated in athletics, but this year he will participate in sitting volleyball. In the 1984 Paralympics Paul came seventh in the world. He also competed in the 5,000 metres event and came fourth. In 1988 he competed in the 10,000 metres event and came sixth and in 1992 he competed in the 10,000 metres event and came seventh. In 1996 he qualified for the marathon but, due to the size of the Australian team, he was not chosen to go to those Games.
Paul, who is now a youthful 49, was keen to participate before his home crowd at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games and tried to get into the standing volleyball team. However, he was told that there were a lot of younger and fitter men. Paul realised that the best Australian team should be chosen, so he then tried his hand at sitting volleyball. To Paul's and everyone else's surprise he was not selected for the sitting volleyball team. Paul did not take that sitting down. He stood up and said, "I think there is something wrong here." He challenged that decision, and it was overturned. To his great excitement and joy he is now competing in the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games in sitting volleyball—another aggressive and demanding sport.
Players virtually have to sometimes knock each other out of the way to play this game while sitting down. We throw around the word "inspiration", but Paul's dedication and inspiration is extraordinary. It is something that he shows his TAFE students and it is certainly something that is evident in his community work in my electorate. He loves sport and has a determination to succeed, and that is why he did not accept the decision when he was not selected. He is running with the torch today, and I know that he will be extremely proud.
Paul has seen his sport come a long way over the years. At the Paralympics there will be wheelchair basketball, swimming and a whole range of sports on show for the world to see. I hope that after this period of infancy the sports will be fully appreciated and that sponsors will come forward when they see that there is something to be gained by supporting these athletes, who incur many expenses. As I said, they have day jobs and cannot become professional athletes as such, and they must compete in national and international competition. As one can imagine, there is a financial burden in having to fly to Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane for national competitions. Wheelchair basketball players for instance compete in the same way as able-bodied athletes. They do doomsday double weekends—they go to Adelaide and Perth in the one weekend—then come back to their day jobs on the Monday. And they train, train, train. As Julianne said this morning, they must be 100 per cent committed to what they are doing. Of course, they also have families and other commitments, just like the able-bodied athletes.
It is important, as I said yesterday, that we support these athletes and go to the Games not out of a sense of pity or sympathy or because we think we are doing a good service, but because we will see some amazing competition. There is always controversy—it is no different to able-bodied sports—about who is selected and who is not. The Minister for the Olympics mentioned earlier some of the sledging that occurs on the courts. No holds are barred. When wheelchair athletes first get knocked out of their chairs the crowd usually feels for the person who is knocked out. The next minute that person is back in the chair and competing as if nothing had happened. Of course, injuries happen and, in this case, because of paraplegia the players may not even be aware that an injury has occurred. They play on regardless. Their ultimate aim is to win, and they put everything they can into doing that.
I also wish to acknowledge those in my husband's team who are not competing in the Paralympic Games. In the National Basketball League there are people who have been playing this game for many years and perhaps because of their age and circumstances they are not in the current Australian team. Michael Callaghan for instance captained the team for many years and runs his own Mogo wheelchair business, which has supplied many state of the art sporting wheelchairs. Even sports wheelchairs were not very common until recent years. Another experienced and capable player in the team is Errol Hyde. Each of those gentlemen is over 50 years old and, when they get court time, they fiercely compete and are role models for others to follow.
When one sees characters like Errol and Michael—I was going to call him Gary, because Michael Callaghan is also known as Gary, as a reference to Gary O'Callaghan—and see the way they joke and compete, at times it is hard to remember where many of these players have come from. They have usually come from rehabilitation following car accidents. They do not dwell on the turn their lives have taken but, as Julianne Adams explained this morning, they are fulfilling a need for physical activity. Many of them, like Julianne, were athletes prior to their accidents. Many are young men who have suffered due to reckless car usage in their early 20s, while others may simply have dived into a shallow pool or like Donna Ritchie, Captain of the Australian Women's Basketball Team, fallen off a wall. It can be as simple as that. In the space of 10 seconds their lives change forever.
Full credit should go to the people who have gone through the selection process and made it to Homebush Bay. They will take up residence in the Olympic village, and I am proud to say that Sydney has accommodated them in the best facilities, which I know they appreciate. They have experienced accommodation of varying quality when they have competed overseas, not only in the Olympics but in world championships. The effort that has gone into this is characteristic of what we do in Sydney and what we have done with the Olympics. Every last detail has been planned for, and I hope and pray they will achieve success. For them, competing is what it is all about. We will be proud of them no matter what they achieve.
Many sports are on offer and spectators have the opportunity of day passes to wander in and out of various sports. I echo the Minister's statement: Do not go just to one sport, experience all the sports. It will certainly give the people in the trains plenty to talk about on their way home. I hope we will see the crowds build up for the sports as they subsequently compete in national league competitions and local league competitions in the future. My ultimate hope is that the sponsorship dollar will flow and more and more people can be involved in this sport at the elite level.
Mr HAZZARD (Wakehurst) [11.39 a.m.]: It is an enormous pleasure to be able to speak in this debate and to support the bipartisan motion that has been moved, acknowledging the wonderful Paralympian athletes who have been here today and who will be joined by many of their colleagues in the next couple of weeks at Homebush and, for that matter, at other venues around Sydney and New South Wales. I was very honoured to have been the shadow Minister for Sport. At present I am the shadow Minister for Disability Services.
When I was shadow Minister for Sport I met some incredible people: athletes, elite athletes and people who support athletes, athleticism and the role of sport in our community. Some of those athletes had disabilities and some did not. One abiding force I saw in all those people was their enormous level of commitment to their particular sport or sports. The character of those people was the sort of character we would like to see in so many of our young people but, for various reasons, those characteristics may not yet have developed. These athletes are the sorts of people who can provide the role models for our young people, to show them how commitment can change lives.
As the shadow Minister for Sport I saw some fantastic sports—again, played by athletes with and without disabilities. In the context of this motion today I note that some of the most aggressive and fantastic sports I saw included some of the sports mentioned today by our athletes, particularly Julianne Adams. Wheelchair basketball is an incredible sport to watch. One member observed earlier that spectators might be surprised when they first see an athlete tipped out of his or her wheelchair. I admit to being one of those people who was very surprised.
One of the most ferocious endeavours I saw—and the honourable member for Menai would know—was men's wheelchair basketball during the Gold Cup two years ago at Homebush. As I recollect, it was held in the State Sports Centre because the Dome and the SuperDome were not being used for the competition. I was sitting ringside and I did not know what to expect, because I had never seen wheelchair basketball. I expected that there would be a degree of respect and decency in the way the athletes moderated their behaviour. There was respect and there was decency, but it did not equate with being peaceful or calm around their colleagues. There seemed to be an unwritten rule that anyone who could tip the other team out of their wheelchairs was doing pretty well, because it would give them an advantage.
Ms Megarrity: Especially when you get a foul.
Mr HAZZARD: Yes, especially when you get a foul. The next few weeks will be a real eye-opener for the people of New South Wales. They should get out there and support these sports because they will learn a lot not only about sport generally but also about the competitive nature and commitment displayed by these athletes. I was lucky enough to watch perhaps a calmer sport, wheelchair tennis. Athletes who play wheelchair tennis do not get an opportunity to tip each other out of their chairs because a net separates them. And that is probably a good thing! I have enjoyed watching wheelchair tennis on a number of occasions. In the past few days I have heard some of the athletes talking on the radio about wheelchair tennis. I would certainly encourage all the families of New South Wales to get along and see this sport, as well as the other sports which make up this wonderful sporting event.
This morning I did not hear anyone say so, but the Paralympic Games will be the second biggest sporting event ever held in Australia. They will be bigger than the 1956 Olympics. That of itself is worthy of both note and celebration. It is wonderful that we as a country can celebrate, within the space of only a month, the two largest sporting events this country has ever hosted—and that the community of New South Wales and, indeed, of Australia is able to take part in them. Perhaps those who did not attend the first part of this sporting festival—that is, the Olympics—should get along to see some phenomenal sports at the Paralympics. Earlier I said that we see a certain quality in some of these athletes. One great thing is that in addition to my exposure as the shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation and the shadow Minister for Disability Services to some of these athletes, as a local member of Parliament I have also had an opportunity to meet many of these people. There are quite a number of elite athletes with disabilities in our local community on the northern beaches.
One of the first elite athletes with disabilities I met was Allison Quinn. I have seen this young girl grow up over the past few years. She is a phenomenal local athlete. Last year she went to the summer games of the Special Olympics. As we are celebrating the forthcoming Paralympic Games we should remember that athletes with disabilities also compete in other major sporting events. Again, I acknowledge the commitment of athletes such as Allison to take part in those sporting events and to ensure that they represent their country or their State, if it is a national competition, to the best of their ability by training with absolute commitment.
Earlier we heard about John Maclean. I had the pleasure of meeting John Maclean after he swam the English Channel. Indeed, I first met him while I was watching the basketball gold cup a couple of years ago. People such as John Maclean, the basketballer Lisa O'Nion and Donna Ritchie present an incredible role model for young people. I acknowledge that they may not realise exactly what role model function they serve in the community, but understanding how these athletes have overcome the disabilities they were either born with or suffered from during their lives is an enormous incentive for other people to get on with life. These athletes do not let anything hold them back; they simply get on with life. That is a message that our schools, families and communities should be getting across to young people, giving them great hope and a sense of future.
Before Hamish MacDonald addressed the Parliament earlier today he reminded me that had I met him about three months ago. I do not think he mentioned in his address that he is a shot-putter, although I think he does other things as well. Hamish and I, together with Lisa O'Nion, launched a book entitled Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, which was being distributed by Dominie books. Whilst I do not give companies free plugs and I have no commercial interest in the matter, I draw to the attention of honourable members that there is an increasing interest in schools and in the resource area of schools in relation to the Paralympics.
I found the book interesting because, although I had some involvement as the shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation and the shadow Minister for Disability Services, I was unaware of the history of the Paralympic Games. As this was not mentioned earlier, I point out that while the Paralympic Games is the second largest event ever to be held in Australia, it has a much shorter history than the Olympics. For that reason it must be acknowledged that it is an achievement to have sold all the tickets to the opening ceremony, many tickets to the closing ceremony and most of the pre-booked seats for a number of the sporting events. People like Lois Appleby from the Sydney Paralympic organising committee and Brendan Finn from the Australian Paralympic committee deserve credit for the role they have played, along with their workers and organisational people, in ensuring that this event comes to fruition. As for the history of the Paralympic Games, the book states:
I think his dream has now been largely acknowledged and realised. The book further states:
After World War II many people were left severely disabled due to injuries received in battle. Many of these injuries were spinal injuries and a leading neurosurgeon, Sir Ludwig Guttman, was very involved with treating these people. Sir Ludwig was one of the first to recognise the need and value of sport and recreation to assist therapy and rehabilitation of injured service men and women.
Sir Ludwig was to become known as "the father of sport for disabled persons". His dream was to have a games for disabled people that would match the Olympic Games.
This is the crunch. The book further states:
To support his treatment methods and ideas, Sir Ludwig organised a Wheelchair Games to coincide with the 1948 London Olympic Games. At this time the Wheelchair Games were not about fierce competition and elite athletes. They were about giving some quality of life to the large number of people with spinal injuries which was very important in the period following such a destructive war.
Four years later the Games were held again at the same location—Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England—and this time competitors were joined by a Dutch team, making it an international event.
The Paralympic Games are only 40 years old, and to have achieved what they have achieved and to have that achievement being manifested here in New South Wales—I like to think we are a society that is at the cutting edge of development of community—is a great thing. The book further states:
It was not until 1960 that the first Paralympic Games was held in Rome to coincide with the 1960 Olympic Games.
Finally, I note that nothing happens without an enormous level of family and organisational support. All the athletes appearing at the Paralympic Games, and indeed at other sporting events, are doing so because of their commitment and the commitment of their families and sporting organisations. While I was the shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation I attended the Homebush centre for disability sports, of which Ken Grinham is the chief executive officer. At the centre I met amazing people such as Ken Grinham, Jim O'Brien, who heads the tennis, and a gentleman whose name escapes me—and I apologise for that—who headed the blind sports association. A number of sporting organisations have their headquarters at Homebush. There is a tag for the headquarters: they are called the Grinham centre because it was Ken Grinham's vision to bring all the sports together.
At these Games sports of archery, basketball, fencing, javelin, shot-put and swimming were held. Ever since this event the Paralympic Games has been held to link with the Olympic Games in the same city and country wherever possible.
The Paralympic Games has grown enormously since these simple beginnings. Over 4 000 athletes from 125 countries will compete at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.
This blind gentleman arrived at the centre at 7.30 a.m. and did not leave until 6.00 p.m., 7.00 p.m. or 8.00 p.m. He put in an enormous number of hours, and they were voluntary—he did not get paid for them. He was working at the centre voluntarily to enable people with a similar disability to pursue their sport. I commend not only this motion but also all those involved in sports for athletes with disabilities. I can assure all those people that we recognise their great and intrinsic worth to our wonderful community.
Mr BARTLETT (Port Stephens) [11.53 a.m.]: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to endorse the Premier's motion and to invite the athletes of the world to the eleventh Paralympic Games, which are to be held in Sydney. I hope that the athletes enjoy their stay in Sydney, as others obviously did during the Olympic Games. I also hope that they enjoy our hospitality. I feel sure that our volunteers and the people of New South Wales and Australia will make them very welcome. As became apparent after the Atlanta Games, the importance of the Paralympic Games is that they raise the profile in the eyes of the community of all people with disabilities. I have been on a big learning curve since I moved out of local government into State Government. Some of the statistics I have come across show that something like one million people in Australia have some form of disability.
I would have thought that the number of people in our community with disabilities would be decreasing, but in fact the reality is the exact opposite. Because of modern medicines and the great abilities of surgeons to treat accident injuries and the like, the medical system is keeping people with disabilities alive much longer. In New South Wales alone some 500 people a year are becoming disabled in some way. This morning it was absolutely magnificent to listen to Julianne Adams and to hear the way she coped with that 10 seconds that changed her life. It brought tears to my eyes. I thought it was an amazing speech. Julianne has an optimism and attitude to life that fully able people would be wise to adopt. My experience with people with disabilities relates to facilities. At the Atlanta Games the Australian Paralympians achieved a great result in coming second in the medal count; they almost came first. That was a fantastic effort given our population compared to that of other countries.
The honourable member for Wakehurst spoke about the period since the 1960s and the idea of the Olympic movement becoming a Paralympic movement. In the Port Stephens electorate there is a great focus on people with disabilities, and I should like to list some of the facilities that are being developed. In 1983 the Tomaree Peninsula cycleway project was started. The project involved building dual-purpose cycle paths for people in wheelchairs and elderly people, safe cycle paths for kids, and walking trails. There are now something like 20 kilometres of those cycle paths throughout the Tomaree Peninsula and other areas of Port Stephens. The cycle paths not only provide an incentive for people with disabilities to become more mobile and to get around our beautiful environment but they also encourage others with disabilities to come and share the facilities. We now have disability maps of the Port Stephens area from which people can ascertain the location of the cycle paths and accommodation that is suited to their disabilities.
Over the last three years Little Beach, which is a beach on Port Stephens, has been developed as a focus for people with disabilities. Not only does it have specially designed playground equipment for children with disabilities, but it also has pathways which lead to amenities blocks. People with disabilities are provided with keys which allow them to enter disability amenities all over the electorate. A jetty and ramp system was constructed that allows people in wheelchairs to go into the water, take themselves out of their wheelchairs on their own if they are able to, float off into the sea, have a swim, and return to their chairs. A lot of thought, time and effort have gone into providing facilities for people with disabilities. About six Port Stephens Council engineers were sent out into the local community in wheelchairs and asked to assess the needs of people with disabilities. That worked very well: they came back and made changes to the local environment.
I turn briefly to the 15,000 wonderful volunteers who will work during the Paralympic Games. Many of those volunteers also worked during the two weeks of the Olympic Games. Given their enthusiasm last time, I am sure the volunteer aspect of the Paralympics will go very well. To those volunteers I say thank you. As I said yesterday, they almost stole the show from the athletes at the various Olympic Games events. They did a wonderful job for New South Wales and for Australia.
I should like to make a few comments about ticket sales to illustrate how communities become involved. Port Stephens Council has bought about 150 Paralympic Games tickets for people with disabilities in the Port Stephens area. Apparently the posting out of the tickets has not gone smoothly. Last evening during the dinner break I wandered down to the booking office on Broadway where the ticket sales are being conducted. I thought it would be a 10-minute trip each way, but it turned into a 35-minute trip each way. The queue of people waiting to buy tickets was about 50 metres long. Some time today an officer from Port Stephens Council will come down to Sydney to pick up those tickets. The whole Port Stephens community will benefit from the generosity of the council and its interest in the Paralympic Games. It was obvious from the comments of Julianne and Hamish what elite athletes they have now become as a result of their dedication. I was not aware that they are now funded as athletes in full-time training.
Mr Hazzard: Not all of them.
Mr BARTLETT: Not all of them, I understand, but some of them are paid full-time to become the best they can possibly be in their sport. Their dedication and commitment is to be commended. Having listened to the debate, I now intend to try to buy some tickets to the wheelchair rugby. Having been a rugby player myself and having listened to the comments of speakers in the debate, I am very much looking forward to buying one of the multi-event tickets so that I can participate in the Paralympic Games. A total of 278 athletes will represent Australia. That is the biggest group of athletes we have ever put together for the Paralympic Games. In fact, it is the largest team of athletes from any country—as one would expect, given the cost involved with moving people with disabilities around the world.
Regardless of whether our athletes win 106 medals at these Paralympics, the Olympic idea of bringing people from all over the world into a form of community to break down barriers and to break down racism and nationalism is a truly commendable idea. I wish all the athletes the best of luck, whether they are Australian or overseas athletes. When I went to the Olympic Games I enjoyed non-Australian athletes winning as much as I enjoyed Australians winning. The community is really getting behind people with disabilities. We are all aware of the tremendous amount of work that organisations such as the Rotary Club, the Lions Club and the Apex Club do for people with disabilities. I know that in the Port Stephens area the Tilligerry Lions Club is buying movable frames valued at $5,000 each to allow young children to become more mobile. There is a great deal of work being done by the Lions Club for people with poor sight. The service clubs, local councils and governments are right behind them.
I had not realised that during the previous term of the Carr Government there was a 600 per cent increase in funding for people with disabilities and for Paralympian athletes. I have no idea of the amount that has been spent on running the Paralympic Games or the cost of the facilities that have been built. However, on my visit to Stadium Australia I was impressed with the ramps that replace stairways. I was also impressed by the fact that those facilities were included in construction right from the word go rather than retrofitted. That shows how the community at Federal, State or local level has found the funds to provide these facilities.
In conclusion, I express my appreciation of the time and effort taken by Julianne and Hamish to address the House today. They are great communicators. Their love of life and their excitement about what is to happen during the next couple of weeks was wonderful to see. One can imagine the excitement of the children and the athletes who have come from all over the world to Australia for this event. Having just seen the magnificent Olympic Games, I am sure that the Paralympic Games will be a wonderful event for them. I wish all of them well. Whether they win medals or not, I hope they have a wonderful time and enjoy Australian hospitality.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan) [12.05 p.m.]: I am not sure whether those who have participated in this debate mentioned what I am about to say or not, but my understanding is that the title "Paralympics" is not a derivative of "paralysed Olympics" but refers to parallel Olympics—an event that is held in parallel with the summer Olympics. It is important to make that point. At the outset, I heartily congratulate the organising committee and the people working for SOCOG and the Paralympic committees. They have worked darned hard over the past seven years to bring about the forthcoming Paralympic Games. They have not only had the usual problems associated with putting on a unique event that is second-largest sporting event in Australian history, as other speakers have mentioned, but they have also been constantly overshadowed by the summer Olympics.
When raising funds, getting media attention or raising public awareness of the Paralympic Games, they have had to deal with the cloud of the summer Olympics. Those people have worked hard and the great majority of their efforts have been voluntary. I pay the sincerest compliment to them for their tenacity and wish them every possible success with the Paralympic Games. I hope the Paralympic Games enjoy the same gold medal weather, as I like to refer to it, as the summer Olympics did earlier this month and last month.
I join other honourable members in offering my heartfelt congratulations to Julianne and Hamish, who addressed the Chamber this morning. This House is a bastion of speakers, speeches, egos and honourable members who think they can communicate. I will be frank: I have not heard a better communicator in this place than Julianne. Her speech was brilliant, and I admit that she frightened the socks off me. I suspect that if she wanted to challenge any of us, she would probably beat us at preselection to become a member of this House. Life is all about what is between one's ears: if one can get the right stuff between the ears, the rest will follow. This morning Julianne certainly demonstrated that she has that.
The way in which those who are either born with disabilities or who have become disabled handle their lives is unique. I grew up with a father who at a very early age suffered from what was known in those days as infantile paralysis or what is now termed poliomyelitis. He was quite severely handicapped, but he would never ever use the word "handicapped"; he would never accept anything to do with the term. He could play tennis and cricket, he could ride a horse, he could shear a sheep and he could run, but he had an absolute tenacity in always seeking to win. He had to achieve. That is the great thing about nature. In many ways, nature compensates for handicaps or disabilities. One sees evidence of that time and time again.
Honourable members have heard me speak about the horse ride from Broome to Sydney which took place earlier this year. One of the horse riders who spent 122 days on the road was 72 years of age. He comes from Rockhampton and had only one and half arms because his left arm had been amputated just below the elbow. But throughout the whole journey, he shod his own horse and helped other people. Honourable members should try to shoe a horse with one hand and see how they go. I can tell them that that is a pretty fair achievement. The mental focus possessed by people with a disability who become superior athletes, academics or achievers in life is extraordinary.
I was on the SOCOG board for four years and I attended many functions held for athletes who were competing in the summer Games and the Paralympics. The energy and electricity in a room full of Paralympians is approximately 10 times greater than that in a room full of able-bodied and able-minded athletes. It is impossible to describe it but as soon as one walks into the room, one can feel it: the atmosphere is electrified. Those people are extremely focused and energised with life and exuberance. They have an absolute will to succeed. It is a wonderful experience to share a few moments with them socially. In the next couple of weeks, Australia and the world will have the chance to share with them the excitement of sport and competition.
During the limited opportunities I have had to observe Paralympians competing, I have admired their superb sportsmanship. This morning honourable members heard from Hamish and Julianne that Paralympic sport is extremely competitive. We have heard from other honourable members who have attended many events about how tenacious Paralympic athletes are in rugby and all other sports. But it is their sporting attitude towards each other that is a fair example for all of us as to how we might live many aspects of our lives.
The Paralympic Games will allow the dream that was created over the last few weeks to continue. This morning I was seated next to the honourable member for Manly, who said, "You know, Ian, the tears almost come to your eyes every time you think about the Olympics because of the whole excitement value of it." I must say that last Monday as I was driving to Sydney to attend this session, I had the car radio on for four hours and every time the Olympics theme music was played, it made my hair stand up on the back of my neck. The feeling is still with me. In the next two weeks, the excitement of the summer Olympics will continue for us and bring us together again as Australians.
I do not know how true this anecdote is, but I noticed in one of the newspapers last week that two electric train drivers were allegedly overheard talking at Central station. One said to the other, "There they are—last week they were all talking to each other happily in the trains but this week it is all over. They are looking out the window and are ignoring each other again." The Paralympics will allow us to talk to each other once again on the trains and in the streets and to be truly Australian with our friendship, exuberance, enjoyment of sport and enjoyment of each other's company.
I extend a very warm welcome to all the carers and helpers of Paralympians from around the world. I extend a welcome also to tourists who have come to visit Sydney for the first time and to those who are revisiting Sydney. I hope they enjoy the exuberance of the Games, the warmth and friendship of Australia, and Sydney in particular. I wish the organisations, the athletes, Sydney, New South Wales, and Australia well for the next two weeks. I congratulate everybody who has participated in any way in the organisation and structure of the Paralympic Games. I also acknowledge the sponsors for their contribution. I know that once again many people associated with the Olympic Co-ordination Authority [OCA], SOCOG and the other support organisations will never get to see an event, but they have worked their hearts out over the past seven years to make these Games succeed. In most cases, their jobs will disappear in about six weeks, so I pay them a tribute for the job they have done.
Ms BEAMER (Mulgoa) [12.14 p.m.]: I also congratulate Julianne Adams and Hamish MacDonald on their address to this Chamber. Those two outstanding people spoke about a very significant event for them and Australia, that is, hosting the 2000 Paralympic Games. There will be 4,000 athletes from 126 countries around the world. They will be spectacular Games in Sydney where we will set, once again, the benchmark. Parents of children with disabilities have said to me that if disabilities are talked about throughout the world Australia is indeed a fortunate country because it does far more for disabled people than a lot of other countries.
That is borne out by the fact that in Atlanta Australia came second in the gold medal tally with a base of only 18 million people compared with the huge populations of other countries. That was again highlighted in the Olympic Games when we came fifth despite our tiny population base. We are indeed sports-minded people. We have a lot of community support because we enjoy sports, we have a fair community and we think that everybody should be involved in sporting activities which allow us to express ourselves at the elite athlete level whether it is in the Olympics or at the Paralympics.
We should think about some of the achievements of Paralympians. Honourable members should consider that Tim Matthews from Victoria runs the 100 metres sprint on the track as an amputee in only 10.87 seconds, which is a tremendous time. The world record held by a Nigerian is 10.72 seconds and that is a tremendous achievement. Donovan Bailey holds the world record at 9.84 seconds; there is not much difference in the times run by Paralympians. We are looking forward to some of these world records being beaten in Australia. It demonstrates the real commitment of these athletes to sports. It has been said that Australia has the largest single team. Having all the tickets sold for the opening ceremony will show the kind of support that Sydney, New South Wales and Australia once again will give for the Games.
I will be a bit parochial and refer to some Paralympians from my area. John McLean from Penrith has been mentioned by some honourable members. The honourable member for Londonderry and I have had the fortune to meet John a lot in our community. He is a great athlete who will represent Australia in the 1,500 metres. He has competed in the Hawaiian ironman competition against able-bodied athletes and qualified to be an ironman in Hawaii, which is an extraordinary feat. He is wheelchair-bound, but he has swum the English Channel. He is one of the most inspirational people one could meet. He does not talk about his achievements but about what can be achieved if one tries. He speaks at schools and tells students what they can do it if they set goals. I defy any honourable member to do some of his incredible feats. I have also seen him at fundraising events for sports in the area for able or disabled people.
My electorate has been lucky enough to have a number of representatives: David Selibi represented Penrith and Australia in wheelchair basketball; Jeff Clark in athletics in 1996; and Collin George in goalball in 1996. The late Ched Towns was blind and he represented Australia in cycling in the 1996 Games. He died early this year whilst trying to climb Mount Everest. As someone pointed out to me, it perhaps was not the best idea at the time but he decided he would set a goal and nothing would stop him. Blindness certainly did not stop Ched and he tried to do anything he set his mind to. Ched was picked to carry the torch through Penrith. Probably one of the most moving events in Penrith was that his son, Kane, lit the cauldron. In front of 50,00 people who turned out to watch, his son lit it on his behalf and on behalf of the citizens of Penrith. That was one of the most moving parts of the torch coming to Penrith. Judy, his wife, will carry the Paralympic torch through Penrith. Once again I look forward to seeing the citizens of Penrith support our Paralympians just as they supported our Olympians.
There will be 14 sports at the Homebush Bay site. There will be equestrian and shooting events in western Sydney, which we look forward to. I urge all people of our area to watch the events. A lot has been said about the demonstration sport at Atlanta, wheelchair rugby, which will be a sport in Sydney. My sister who has a son with severe disabilities said it is the one event which, out of sheer curiosity, she just had to see, and she has her tickets. What are they going to do and how will it be done? It is a sport about which we do not know much because it has not had the profile of wheelchair basketball.
A lot of people will go to sports such as wheelchair rugby, a somewhat novel sport, or to sports where we have watched Australia win gold medals and excel, for example, wheelchair basketball which has a higher profile. I hope that at the end of the Games once again Sydneysiders and Australians realise that the Games are not about disabilities but about ability and what can be achieved doing our best. A lot of us will not be able to go anywhere near these athletes. Of course we did have competing in a race at the Olympics a woman who had competed in a previous Paralympics. That goes to show the depth and breadth of commitment that all of these athletes have. I commend the motion to the House. I commend the athletes from throughout Australia who will be representing us. I wish them all the best.
Mr O'DOHERTY (Hornsby) [12.24 p.m.]: It is a privilege and a pleasure to commend the motion to the House and to commend the Paralympic Games to all Australians and to all citizens of the world. The slogan of the Paralympic Games is "Set no limits". There is one thing for sure about the Paralympic Games: the one thing they are not about is disability. Anyone in the community who thinks these Games are about disability simply needs to listen to the inspiring comments made to us earlier today by Julianne Adams and Hamish MacDonald and watch the Games—either on television but, better still, at the events because, sadly, there will not be enough of it on television. I think it is a great shame and it reflects badly on our media that we are not able to have greater coverage. But this is not a day for criticism.
Anyone who absorbs the Games will know for sure and certain that the one thing the Paralympics are not about is disability. I listened with great interest to Julianne's story delivered today. There was in that story one moment when she told us about the fact that she severed her spinal cord and as a result her life changed. The rest of the story was a story that could be told about any member of our community, whether able-bodied or with a disability, because Julianne’s story is about someone with a desire to succeed in a sport. Through circumstances, she changed her sport. That would happen to many athletes many times in Australia. It is a very common story. Common to it were her character as a human being, her ability, her talent and her desire to succeed in a chosen field. She changed to a different field through circumstance.
It does not matter to the story that that circumstance was a serious disability. The point of the story is that the person Julianne is is the reason she is now succeeding at the highest level in her chosen field. That is what the Games are all about. They are about the character, ability and talent of our athletes coming to the fore in an environment in which they will give of their best. Irrespective of any other consideration, every citizen can share in their success and be inspired by what they achieve. Because of the inspirational nature of what they do, we therefore are inspired to do better in the things that we set our minds to—again, irrespective of any difficulties, disabilities or disadvantages that get in our way.
In other words, the inspirational message for the world, and indeed for the community of New South Wales and Australia for the next 10 days, is: If you have economic disadvantage, if you are a child growing up in disadvantaged circumstances, if you have a disability of some kind, if you have any kind of difficulty in your life, whatever that is, your character and your drive as a person using your innate talents are what will get you through and see you succeed. Every human being, irrespective of background, has the ability to do the same, drawing on the talents with which they have been blessed. I look forward to seeing the blessings that have been bestowed on some of our great athletes shining forth over the next 10 days. The mission statement, for want of a better term, for the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games is:
We will see that over the next couple of weeks. We will see athletes achieving their best performance, because the Paralympic Games will indeed set new standards of excellence. I believe we have had just a small taste of that in the performances at Olympic venues and in the undoubted organising ability and performance of the Sydney organising committee and offshoots during the Olympic Games. As a curtain-raiser for the Paralympics, the Olympic Games were fantastic. I look forward to seeing those Games surpassed over the next 10 days.
To inspire the world by successfully staging a Paralympic Games which sets new standards of excellence to enable athletes to achieve their best performance.
I have had for a very long time a view, a sneaking suspicion that, while Australia was inspired by what we saw in the Olympic Games just past, because of the character of our nation and because the Australian community is so open, generous and friendly and looks for and enjoys seeing achievement in others, we will enjoy the Paralympic Games even more than we enjoyed the Olympic Games. So it was that at 9 o'clock in the morning of the very first day that tickets went on sale for the Paralympics I was on the telephone to book some tickets for our family to go and see certain events. We got some day passes. We particularly wanted to be able to see the wheelchair basketball final. I was delighted when the results of the ballot came back and we were able to purchase tickets for the wheelchair basketball final. We are looking forward to that. And, on our day pass, I hope we can get around and see most of the other 14 of the 18 sports being held at the Homebush complex itself—four of them being held at different venues.
Fourteen of those events are shared, in common with the Olympic Games. I think there are four events that are unique to the Paralympic Games. Other honourable members have mentioned those. We will use our tickets at the first available opportunity. I am pleased that already the Australian community is showing its great support. The fact that the opening ceremony has sold out indicates that what I suspect may indeed turn out to be true, and that Australians will take the Paralympic Games to their hearts in a way that they did not even take the Olympics, as important as they were, to their hearts. I know how big the statement it is that I have made. But I think it is just part of the Australian character that we like people to have a go. That is why we cheer for Eric the Eel, or cheer on the person coming last in the marathon to get them over the line—because, above all else, while we like seeing winners, we want to see people have a go. People having a go is indeed what we will see throughout the Paralympic Games.
We also like to see people who support others in a community. I want to pay particular tribute to those who support the athletes, the carers and their coaches and other team supporters. When the honourable member for Wakehurst and I were speaking privately just a little while ago he was telling me about the coach of the boccia team, Tom Organ, whose wife Julie coincidentally teaches the children of the honourable member for Wakehurst. The honourable member was making the point that stories about the Paralympics had been coming at him from all different directions. As the shadow Minister for Disability Services and a member of Parliament, he has had a certain involvement at that level as well as through his official involvement with various organising committees for the Paralympic Games. I should mention here that those committees are doing a fantastic job.
The honourable member for Wakehurst has had an involvement through people he knows in his own community who are Paralympic athletes and so on. He now knows the family of someone who is a coach and supporter of the Paralympic athletes as well. The honourable member was making the point that few people probably fully appreciate the level of personal commitment and sacrifice of both the athletes and those who support them. He has been inspired to see the commitment that Tom Organ has made. That is a joint commitment that he shares with his family, because one can just imagine the amount of time it takes from other activities and events. I think the family is very much looking forward to seeing the Australian boccia team doing extremely well. With their inspiring patron, being the Leader of the Opposition, how could they do otherwise! I think the Organ family is looking forward to spending a bit more time with Tom after the Paralympic Games are over. I am pleased to mention that on behalf of my friend the honourable member for Wakehurst.
The world—as I mentioned in relation to the Olympics the other day—will see Australia once again achieving great things with the Paralympics and see what Australia can do. They saw that in the way we staged the Olympic Games. They will see it in the way we stage the Paralympic Games. The world will be inspired afresh, and in a different way, by the achievement they see on the part of our Paralympic athletes. I hope it is true of the Australian community, just as it was for the Olympics, that the world will see something that happens every day in our communities—that people volunteer, achieve and win gold in their own personal way every day in the Australian community. We saw that during the Olympics at Homebush. But it is true of us every day. I hope that when the world sees us being the kind of open society that the honourable member for Mulgoa spoke about a few minutes ago, enjoying and being inspired by the achievements and abilities of the athletes at the Paralympic Games, the world will know that is simply a reflection of the open society and community that we have every day of the year.
As the honourable member for Mulgoa said, Australian society is probably one of the more open societies in the world for people with disabilities. However, I am not sure whether we are getting it entirely right. This is an opportunity for me to say that I hope we are able to take a lot more out of the Paralympics so that our communities can become even more open than they are now. A few months ago I was talking with someone who represents people with disabilities from a non-English speaking background who said that, because of Australia's important and genuine efforts over the past few years as legislators and as communities to ensure that we do everything we can to make our society fully accessible to everybody, we are leading the way and we are doing a lot better than many other societies.
That is partly due to the fact that we have changed the language that we use to refer to people with disabilities in our community, and it is partly due to the fact that we have attempted to ensure that we integrate students with disabilities into their local schools, which is where they ought to be. It is their community. They need to be with other children from their own community. I am pleased to see that happening in many schools that I have visited throughout New South Wales over the last few years. As I walk down the streets in my electorate I increasingly see the friendliness and ability of Australians to look beyond whatever physical characteristics their fellow community members have and to speak to and engage with those people, regardless of their physical characteristics.
We are amongst the best countries in the world as having an open society but we still have some way to go. In the future, when people with disabilities read this debate in Hansard, they will say, "These are good words from our legislators." Honourable members should remember that a number of years ago the New South Wales Parliament passed the important Disability Services Act which set out the principle for an open society. However, words are not quite enough. If we want to make the dream of a fully open and accessible society a reality in New South Wales and in Australia we need to back up those words with resources and we must continue to change the practices and attitudes of government agencies, private enterprise, the non-government sector and individual members of the community.
I hope the lesson that we learn from the Paralympics is that these Games are not about disability—that is the last thing that they are about. The Paralympic Games are about people achieving because of the gifts and talents that they have. They have been given an opportunity to show those gifts and talents and to surpass their greatest expectations. I hope that we can apply the lessons we learn from the Paralympics to community life. Irrespective of anybody's circumstances, whatever they may be—physical, intellectual or economic—as community members, as legislators, as policymakers, we must look to individuals and say, "How can we assist you to do the best that you can do with the abilities, talents and gifts that you have? How can we see you achieve your best performance?" How can we, as the logo for the Paralympics states, "be inspired by the achievement of all" in our community every day? How can we make sure in our policies and in our practices as a community that we set no limits as the Paralympic Games sets no limits for the achievements of its great athletes?
Mr GIBSON (Blacktown) [12.38 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure today to speak in debate on the motion moved by the Premier. Yesterday I spoke in debate on the motion moved by the Premier relating to the Olympic Games. It is appropriate that the Paralympic Games be given the same recognition as the Olympics. The XXVII Olympic Games gave us an opportunity to show the world the Australian sense of humour. It also gave us an opportunity to show the beauty of this country to the rest of the world. I am certain that the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games and the athletes who participate in them will be an inspiration to the world. I am sure that they could teach us how to overcome hard times and adversity and teach us to achieve.
The Paralympic Games will go down in history as the Games of real guts. I am sure that all Australians will support the athletes at these Games by attending every event. Australians love winners, but they also love competitors, which is what these Games are all about. Congratulations must go to Julianne Adams and Hamish MacDonald who spoke in the Chamber today. It was delightful and interesting to hear the addresses of those two people. I am sure that every honourable member would echo the sentiment: There but for the grace of God go I. Julianne said that in just 10 seconds her life was changed completely. She was reborn. She adopted a totally new outlook to life just because of an accident that occurred in the space of a few seconds. I wish Julianne and Hamish all the best in the Paralympic Games.
Julianne said that she accepted her new challenge and that she has moved on with her life. This morning she said that she used sport as a lever to life. Sport is used by many people as a lever to life. It has taken a lot of guts to overcome the problems that faced these two young people. Julianne also said today that Paralympic athletes are just like every other athlete—totally committed to what they are doing. That is the only way that they can achieve. The Australian Paralympic team comprises about 280 athletes—the largest Australian team that has ever participated in any Games—who will take part in 18 different sports over a two-week period. Four thousand athletes from 126 nations will come to Australia for these Games. As I said earlier, these Games will became known as the Games of guts and determination. Ticket sales for the Games have been good.
I hope that every event receives the support that the Games of the XXVII Olympiad received. In Atlanta Australia won 106 medals—42 gold, 37 silver and 27 bronze. Some great stories can be told about the Atlanta Paralympics. Louise Sauvage, a competitor at the Atlanta Games, received a lot of publicity. During the Olympics I had the pleasure of meeting Louise—one of the highlights of my life. I do not think I have ever met a more knowledgeable or caring person than Louise Sauvage. It was a real pleasure to meet her. Louise won four gold medals in Atlanta—no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination. I am sure that she will attempt to win another four medals in Sydney. I also had the pleasure of meeting Amy Winters, a sprinter, who won a gold medal for the 200 metre event in Atlanta and broke the world record.
These athletes not only win gold medals; they also break world records. One athlete who will be competing in wheelchair tennis at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics is David Hall. What a delightful athlete David is. He not only plays tennis in a wheelchair; he is probably one of the best speakers to whom I have ever listened. He is the first person to admit that he can speak. Today David travels the world playing tennis. David's sporting life, like the life of any athlete, has been mapped out. He travels from tournament to tournament and he has won eight world tennis titles. He won the US Open in 1995 and again in 1997 and 1998. He was world champion in 1995 and again in 1998. Last year he was male athlete of the year, and that is no mean feat. No doubt he will be striving to achieve the same when he performs over the next few weeks.
We have heard a lot today about wheelchair rugby. One of the weekend newspapers wrote it up as "chariots of fire", and that is true. The report also stated, "mad men clash". The captain of the side, 30-year-old Steve Porter, maintains that it is dodgem cars in wheelchairs. I asked him once about the rules of the game, and he said, "The rules of the game are very straightforward. You cannot touch another player but you can do what you like to the wheelchairs." Believe me, they do a lot of damage to those wheelchairs. Steve was another fellow whose life changed very quickly because of an accident. A few years ago he was State karate champion. He was top of his field in that sport. He was also a top-line Australian Rules player. Because of circumstances he has changed his life; he was reborn. He said that the only difference now is that instead of walking he travels in a wheelchair. The girls basketball team is very competitive and very good. The team's motto—strive to be the best you can be—probably says it all. If everybody adopted that principle this would be a far better nation. These people are elite athletes.
The honourable member for Mulgoa spoke about John MacLean. John MacLean's life also changed in a few seconds. I first met John a few years ago, when I was one of the coaches of the Penrith rugby league side. In those days John MacLean was a top-line rugby league winger. I can still remember him, with his blond hair, scoring many tries for Penrith. Of course, he had an accident and has been reborn. Today John flies around in the wheelchair almost as quickly as he used to fly when he played rugby league. John has many achievements. He is always the first to compete in marathons and raises money for charities and people who are disadvantaged. He swam the English Channel. He has achieved what most of us only dream about achieving. I am certain that none of us will get as far as John has.
We could go on talking about individual athletes all day. The main point is that these people's lives have changed, but they have made the best of their situations. They have all become better people. I read a report in a newspaper this week in which one athlete said that if she could have her life all over again she would not change a thing. That says it all. She is striving to be the best she can be. The fact that she is in a wheelchair today and is not running around has not changed anything. I wish all the athletes and their families the best for the coming Games. I am sure these Games will be of the highest quality, just as we witnessed with the able-bodied athletes. I am certain that the rest of the world will be inspired because of the Paralympics. With the performances of our able-bodied athletes and our sense of humour we sold Australia. All those things will happen again in the Paralympics but, more important, the Paralympians will inspire this nation and the whole world.
Mr GLACHAN (Albury) [12.48 p.m.]: I join with other honourable members in wishing every success to the 4,000 athletes who will compete in the Paralympic Games, especially to the 278 Australians who will make up the Australian contingent. I wish them well. The Albury-Wodonga area will be represented in these games by Dianna Ley, who is in the Australian swimming team. I take this opportunity to wish her every success as she takes part in these Games. Ninety-three Paralympians from the Ukraine carried out their pre-Games training in the Albury-Wodonga area. They stayed at the Lake Hume Resort. They made an enormous impression on the people in Albury-Wodonga. They built up some wonderful friendships that will last for many years to come. Although Albury-Wodonga is right behind the Australians, we will have a very soft spot for those Ukrainian Paralympians as well.
I hope they enjoy their participation in the Games and do well. I know they will take home very fond memories of Australia and of Australians, which is most important. They were delighted with the way they were received in Albury-Wodonga and they will be great ambassadors for us when they go back to the Ukraine. We realise that a great deal of skill and determination is needed by Paralympians, but one does not understand what is required until one has a go at it. Some time ago the member for Benambra in Victoria and I, and others in the area, were asked to go to the centre in Wodonga to take part in a wheelchair basketball game. I saw disabled athletes playing the game and it looked fairly easy. But when it was my turn to take part I found it extremely difficult and it required an enormous amount of skill. The game is played at a cracking pace and one has to be fit and determined to take part. After having a go at the sport my respect and admiration for those people taking part in the Paralympic Games has grown at an enormous rate.
It is significant that we are conducting this debate today, as the Paralympic torch arrives in New South Wales today. That marks a great event, one that I know will help the general community to become more and more enthusiastic about these Games. As the Games progress everyone will admire the determination and grit of the participants. The great advantage of the Paralympic Games is that they highlight for all of us the needs of those with disabilities. For a long time—and not so long ago—our society made very little provision for and provided minimum assistance to people with disabilities. Events like the Paralympic Games make us realise that they do have needs and we have to respond to those needs. Now we are interested in providing better access for people with disabilities to our transport systems and our buildings. Changes that have been made in the past few years are revolutionary.
As I walked up Martin Place this morning I could not help but see on the front of that magnificent Commonwealth Bank building a brass sign that reads, "Wheelchair access around the corner in Elizabeth Street." It is a great step forward to see that sign and realise that people now are conscious of the needs of disabled people. Twenty or 30 years ago no-one gave it much of a thought and disabled people had to get on as best they could. Now we are taking steps to see that they have access to buildings and transport, and I am delighted to see that our community recognises their needs and is taking positive action to help them. The Paralympic Games will help to reinforce community understanding of the needs of these wonderful, courageous people.
Ms ANDREWS (Peats) [12.53 p.m.]: It is with a great deal of pleasure that I support the Premier's motion on the forthcoming Paralympics. The addresses this morning by Julianne Adams and Hamish MacDonald were most enlightening. I must admit that I too had tears in my eyes as I listened to Julianne relate to the House how she became a Paralympic basketballer, how she overcame her adversities and got on with her life. It was a great story for all of us to hear and to bear in mind as we listen to coverage of the Paralympic Games over the next couple of weeks. Hearing Julianne and Hamish speak reinforced the very reason that tickets for the Paralympic Games are selling out fast. Without exception, the Paralympians represent courage, determination and dedication.
Last year I had the honour of attending a presentation for the Paralympians at the Mingara club in Tumbi Umbi. It was a most moving experience. I take this opportunity to congratulate Lois Appleby, the Chief Executive Officer of the Paralympics organising committee, and her team, who have done a tremendous job in promoting the Paralympic Games. It is not an easy thing to do, because I have always felt that the Paralympic Games are in the shadow of the Olympic Games. I do not think that will be quite the case in Sydney, and that is largely due to Lois Appleby and her team, and of course the Minister for the Olympics, who has gone out of his way to give every encouragement to the success of these Games.
At the presentation at the Mingara club I had the honour of meeting the Central Coast Paralympic swimmer Melissa Wilson. Melissa, who is confined to a wheelchair following a road accident, has an excellent chance of winning a gold medal in Sydney. Also from the Central Coast and with very good chances of taking gold at the Games are swimmers Kirra O'Cass and Elizabeth Wright. I had the privilege of meeting Elizabeth Wright when we jointly opened a swimming pool at the Wesley Mission's Mangrove Mountain Retreat some time ago. Elizabeth is renowned for being one of the best disabled swimmers in the world and won a bronze medal in Atlanta. At 14, Kirra O'Cass is the youngest member of the Australian swimming team.
Wheelchair basketball is a popular sport on the Central Coast and many events are held at the Niagara Park Youth Centre in the electorate of Peats. This is largely due to the encouragement given to wheelchair basketballers by the centre's manager, Mark Pittman, and today I pay tribute to Mark. Central Coast wheelchair basketballer Liesl Tesch, who is a schoolteacher on the Central Coast, has a very good chance of bringing home gold from the Sydney Paralympic Games, as does wheelchair tennis champion David Hall from Buff Point, to whom my parliamentary colleague referred. I should mention the fact that David has been in the world's top five for a number of years, and he won a silver medal and a bronze medal in Atlanta in 1996.
Other Paralympians from the Central Coast who will represent Australia at these Games are Natalie Cordowiner of Erina, who is competing in archery, Andrew Newell who is competing in athletics and Adam Lusted who is competing in standing volleyball. Evangelos ‘Lucky’ Anagostou, who is also a Central Coast resident, is an assistant coach with the national shooting team. The Paralympic torch will arrive at West Gosford in the electorate of Peats around noon this Saturday and will spend three days on the Central Coast.
On Monday 16 October the torch will wind its way through the streets of Woy Woy Peninsula before going on to Patonga, where a Paralympic torch celebration has been planned to take place in the Eve Williams Memorial Oval at 11.00 a.m. The torch will arrive at Patonga at midday and at 1.00 p.m. will depart by a waterways boat for Palm Beach. I encourage all local residents to line the streets where the torch will be carried. A number of people from my electorate of Peats will be participating in the Paralympic torch relay, and I congratulate them on the honour which has been bestowed upon them.
I pay tribute to the schools on the Central Coast, particularly those in my electorate, for supporting the Paralympic Games with such gusto. I am aware that thousands of Central Coast school students will be coming down to Sydney to encourage the home team at the forthcoming Paralympic Games, and to give words of encouragement to Paralympians from the other 125 participating nations. To the 15,000 volunteers, many of whom are doubling up from the Olympic Games, I say thank you. I am sure they will do as excellent a job at the Paralympic Games as they did at the Olympics.
The arrangements for the bouquests to be presented at the Paralympic Games will be the same as those for the Olympic Games. The Australian Native Flower Growers and Promoters Association was instrumental in ensuring that the floral bouquets presented to all Olympic and Paralympic medal winners comprised Australian native flora, the centrepiece of which is, of course, the State's floral emblem, the waratah. I am pleased to inform the House that 70 per cent of the native flowers used in the bouquets were grown on the Central Coast.
Two ladies from my electorate who are prominent members of the Australian Native Flower Growers and Promoters Association, Kay Ezzy of Mangrove Mountain and Nola Parry of Kariong, worked very hard to have Australia's unique and beautiful native flora showcased to the world at both the Olympics and the forthcoming Paralympic Games. To all the participants at the forthcoming Paralympic Games, particularly our home team, I wish you well. I am sure they will give their best, and I am sure they will receive all the encouragement they deserve from the spectators. I know that Australians attending the Games will once again deck themselves in green and gold, paint their faces, wave their flags and yell that now famous catch call, "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!"Good luck to all of them.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Anderson.