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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 497

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4.39 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate—

(a)congratulates all Australian athletes on their outstanding achievements at the Commonwealth Games;

(b)congratulates Cathy Freeman for her gold medal performances;

(c)congratulates Cathy for becoming the first Aboriginal woman athlete to win individual Commonwealth Games gold medals;

(d)commends Cathy for her pride in her Aboriginal heritage, and the inspiration and encouragement she provides to young Australians, and particularly young Aboriginal Australians; and

(e)supports Cathy for her decision to carry the Aboriginal flag, and the Australian flag, during her laps of honour.

I will be brief as I believe the opposition has other speakers as well as the two who have already spoken. I want to pick up a couple of points that have come out of the debate so far. Firstly, understanding is the key issue. The whole question is about the difference between understanding and supporting what Cathy Freeman has done.

  All I can say is that understanding is simply not enough. Indeed, there is a lack of understanding by the coalition of how important this act was for her. The key to the whole debate before us now is the coalition's lack of understanding of the importance of this to Cathy. I think it was Senator Ferguson who said that this was not just a sudden and spontaneous gesture on her part—she indeed packed that flag. Only Cathy can tell us about her feelings when she made that decision. But I imagine it was a very careful decision; a decision that was bound up in her feelings about her Aboriginal heritage and its importance to her. Indeed, one of the issues that spurred her on to her successes may have been her desire to show the world how she felt about her Aboriginal heritage.

  I believe that it is very significant for this chamber to support Cathy in her actions; to support her in her pride for her traditional heritage, her Aboriginal heritage. Reconciliation with Aboriginal Australians will not be possible unless we have a greater understanding of the importance of such issues. We have singled out Cathy from among all the athletes, not just because of her performance obviously but because of the Aboriginal heritage issue. I hope that we can come to a calm, sensible and reasoned debate in this chamber on this issue and acknowledge its importance for all Australians, not just Aboriginal Australians.