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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2132


Senator REID(12.33) —I wish to address my remarks to aspects relating to the Department of Sport, Recreation and Tourism. This Department is extremely important to the whole of Australia, but it has particular relevance to the Australian Capital Territory as the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Recreation (Mr Brown) has so many responsibilities within the Australian Capital Territory. In regard to tourism, I certainly welcome the great increase in funding in last year's Budget to the Australian Tourist Commission. As I have said previously, I was disappointed then that tourism in the Australian Capital Territory did not receive the same emphasis from the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren); nor again did we find in the Supplementary Estimates that he had in any way sought to redress the imbalance and provide additional funding for the Australian Capital Territory Government Tourist Bureau in Canberra and extra money to be spent in conjunction with the Canberra Visitor and Convention Bureau.

One aspect of funding was important to the Australian Capital Territory. It relates to the Olympics for the Disabled being held in Australia, in particular in the Australian Capital Territory, in the bicentenary year of 1988. There was no funding for this project in the Budget or in the Supplementary Estimates. I think it is appropriate that we review what has occurred with respect to the Disabled Olympics. The Australian Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Sports Federation started working on this matter at least as early as October 1982. The then Prime Minister, other Ministers and departments were all involved in working towards achieving the holding of these Games in Australia in 1988. Of course, it was appropriate that the Federation should then write to the new Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), and it did so on 21 March 1983. The Federation received a letter from him, which I will read. The letter is from the office of the Prime Minister in Canberra. It states:

Dear Dr Grant-

Dr Grant is the President of the Federation to which I referred-

Thank you for your letter of 21 March 1983 concerning a possible bid by Australia to stage the 1988 Olympic Games for the Disabled.

I fully support the concept of staging these Games in Australia as a means of encouraging and supporting our disabled athletes.

As the draft Program for 1988 prepared by the Australian Bicentennial Authority indicates, the Government also sees the holding of the Olympics for the Disabled in Australia as an important component of our Bicentennial celebrations.

I am confident Australia has the facilities and expertise to hold such an important international event and I wish Australia's application later this year every success.

Dr Grant knew that that letter did not actually guarantee funding, but he was entitled to feel encouraged by the confidence displayed in the letter from the Prime Minister. Other correspondence indicates that the Australian Bicentennial Authority certainly had these Games in its program. The Executive Director of the Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of Victoria wrote to the Chairman of the Bicentennial Authority on 23 March last year, indicating the expertise amongst her Association. She had been chairman of the organisation involved in arranging the 1981 Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Games held in Melbourne. She indicated the Association's pleasure at seeing that the 1988 Games were, at that stage at least, part of the draft program for the 1988 bicentennial celebrations .

There was wide support and encouragement in the community for this organisation to proceed with its bid to get funding from the Government. It was seeking from the Government an underwriting of funding for the Disabled Olympics in 1988. I shall not go through the letters that the Association received relating to this matter, but there was clearly a wide perception of the benefits to all Australians and to the disabled community from holding these Games in Australia. Based on this encouragement, Dr Grant wrote back to the Prime Minister on 26 April. He also wrote to the Minister for Territories and Local Government.

Perhaps one of the most important things that occurred in the history of this matter was the response of the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism. The Federation's submission went to the Prime Minister, Mr John Brown and Mr Uren on 19 May 1983. Subsequently, in the same month, Mr Brown addressed the National Executive of Sporting Directors in Canberra. It was a closed meeting, which was appropriate, but he subsequently talked with the Press. It was not a casual run- in with the Press, where he made some lighthearted answers; it was clearly a serious interview which was reported in the Canberra Times on 22 June 1983. The article referred to the meeting and the fact that the Press was not part of it but had the opportunity to speak to the Minister afterwards. He ranged over sporting issues and the role of the Australian Institute of Sport. The article states in part:

The proposed inaugural Australia Games in Sydney in January had Federal Government support but were cancelled for a number of reasons, primarily because the organisers had found it difficult to raise additional funds in an Olympic year.

Mr Brown confirmed government support for the Games and said, ''I would hope that by 1988 we would have an Australia Games properly set up and that it would extend into the wider area of handicapped athletes and the community generally.' '

. . . .

Mr Brown said he fully supported Australia's move to secure the 1988 Disabled Olympics.

Considering it was an obscenity-

that is a strange word to use-

Considering it was an obscenity that we missed the 1988 Olympics, and I have no doubt that given [an earlier] change of government in Victoria and Australia we would have got those Games in our bi-centennial year, I applaud the efforts of Canberra to get the handicapped Olympics.

''We haven't discussed it yet but I'd be surprised if there wasn't great government support . . . I don't care where it is held as long as we get it.''

Were not the disabled and the rest of the community entitled to be delighted with that response and the prospect of government support for those Olympics? The saga goes on. There was a meeting in London in August, by which time no response had been received from the Government. Support was given to the proposal. I have a letter from Mr Julius Patching of the Australian Olympic Federation, who said:

We are delighted to hear of your bid to host the 1988 Olympics for the Disabled in Canberra, and you can be assured of the complete support of this Federation.

We did try ourselves to get the 1988 Games to Australia, but the Treasury and Co. would not be in it: a great pity.

Congratulations on a very well prepared proposal. If you think there is any way we can enhance your bid internationally or locally, please let us know.

The support was genuine and widespread from all sporting and handicapped organisations, from local business houses, from the Australian Institute of Sport, and from the Canberra College of Advanced Education, which was involved with proposals for accommodation. With the public support of the Prime Minister and Mr John Brown, to which I have referred, people were entitled to think that that was genuine. There was great difficulty in getting a response from the Government in relation to the submissions. By August, when no response had been received, it was acknowledged in a letter from the Minister for Territories and Local Government that at least he knew that. It became apparent that the whole thing would have to be deferred to the next international meeting in January. The House of Assembly supported the proposal and its recommendation, strongly urging that the Games be held in Canberra, was also conveyed.

There were discussions with the Department, and the Federation was asked to supply additional information, which it did. That comprised some 56 pages additional to the original submission, which it will be recalled Mr Patching had said was an excellent submission. I know that 56 pages in itself does not necessarily indicate quality. I will not go through the whole submission today, but I assure honourable senators that the matter was dealt with in great detail. The Canberra Tourist Bureau offered its support, and it was clear from this community that everything that needed to be done would be done.

The worst part of the story, really, is that by January of this year, when the meeting was to be held in Innsbruck, no answer had been received from the Government. Dr Grant was due to have left Australia to attend that meeting but he had not received a response from the Government. We all know now that the Government refused to co-operate with bringing these Games to Canberra. It did not reply in a way which I thought was polite to the disabled or to those who had done so much to prepare the submissions. To say the least, the decision was disappointing for everybody concerned, and no adequate explanation for it has been given. The suggestion that it is customary for the Games to be held in the same place as the Olympic Games is not correct. It has been held in the same place but not always. In fact I think on more occasions it has not. The suggestion that Canberra did not have the facilities was also, I think, inaccurate. Certainly some things would need to have been done. In a radio interview Mr Brown referred to the fact that we did not have an airport that would enable disabled to get off aeroplanes easily. That situation could have been corrected by 1988. If we believe government promises about what might happen with our airport, we are entitled to think that that would not be a problem. Of course, it was a warning that the Government had very little intention of doing what ought to be done to our airport, and that has been confirmed as late as this week. There were other instances when Mr Brown gave great support to the Disabled Olympic concept, as he did in answer to a question in the House of Representatives on 22 September last year.

It is the rudeness and the ineptness of the Government that I complain about mostly. It did not reply to Dr Grant. It did not give him an opportunity to put in a bid. The Government said subsequently that Korea had put in a bid. In fact Korea did not, until it realised that Australia was not going to, and of course the Games are now going to Korea. It is quite clear that it was accepted internationally that Australia wanted the Games and that that had the blessing of its Prime Minister. It was accepted that, 1988 being our bicentenary year, it would be a very appropriate activity to hold in Australia at that time. There was no bid from anywhere else, including Korea, until the death knock at the meeting when Korea indicated it could hold the Games.

I cannot understand why the disabled athletes in particular and the community and the bicentenary concept in general have been handled in the way that they have. I think we are entitled to feel that Canberra and Australia have been let down by the Government as far as this issue is concerned. I think it needs to be placed on record that the amount of funding that has been given to sport, recreation and tourism does not adequately explain why it is that this event, which could have been funded over a period of years and could have been of such benefit to the disabled and to this community, has not been endorsed by this Government.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.