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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 499

Senator FERGUSON (4.46 p.m.) —This is a very sad situation because, from what we heard from Senator Lees and Senator Bell, this debate really has more to do with the Australian Democrats' wish to publicise and politicise the results of what has happened than with congratulating Cathy Freeman on her efforts in Victoria, British Columbia. I say that because I do not think there is an Australian who was not proud to see Cathy Freeman run at these Commonwealth Games. No-one who has been involved in sport would not have been proud as an Australian to see her efforts in winning the 200 metres and 400 metres races. I did not feel any less proud about any of the other Australian athletes who competed, whether they won or not. Anyone who has been involved in sport at any level knows just how difficult and time consuming it is and how much effort is put in to attain the highest possible standard. Athletes who strive to attain their very best performance at either a Commonwealth Games or at any other sporting event deserve some commendation.

  I am disappointed because, although I am proud of what Cathy Freeman did at the Commonwealth Games, I would not chose to single her out above any of the other wonderful athletes we saw perform over the last 10 days. I was also very disappointed to see the Australian Democrats try to bring other issues into the debate, particularly their reference to the comments of Arthur Tunstall, the secretary of the Commonwealth Games Federation. To say the least, the Democrats followed the wrong course by trying to drag his comments into this debate.

  It is sad that the achievements of one athlete out of a team of great athletes should be highlighted because Cathy Freeman happens to be the first person of Aboriginal descent to win a gold medal. We have heard talk of reconciliation and unification. However, I think this sort of thing tends to highlight the divisions in this community. It is a very sad day when an effort such as Cathy Freeman's is used for political purposes in this chamber. Recognition of this achievement could have gone through this place without debate if the Democrats had chosen to accept the words `we understand'. And we do understand—everyone here understands why she chose to do what she did. I understand it.

Senator Collins —I do not want to understand her; I want to support her.

Senator FERGUSON —Senator Collins can, and I have no doubt that he will. But what he is trying to suggest is that people on his side of the chamber and the Democrats are more proud of Cathy Freeman's efforts at the games than we are. That is not the case because as Australians we are all proud of the efforts not only of Cathy Freeman but of all Australians who took part in the Commonwealth Games. That is why we were so totally supportive of the notice of motion given today by the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Senator Faulkner) when he recognised the efforts of all Australian competitors at the Commonwealth Games.

  I totally support the sensitive wording that was used by the minister. He has covered every possible aspect by even referring to those people who were not successful at the games. As I said earlier, as a Senate and as Australians we ought to be very proud of those who strive to compete and those who strive to do their very best, whether they are successful in winning medals or not. I would have been very happy indeed if that had been the only motion; one that congratulated all Australians. We think of all Australians as Australians regardless of their race, colour or background.

Senator Campbell —There would be no politics in that for the Democrats, though.

Senator FERGUSON —No, there would not be any politics in that for the Democrats, and so we have to have one athlete especially singled out for recognition. The efforts of the other athletes at the Commonwealth Games are recognised in the motion by the minister for sport. In that motion they are collectively recognised as Australians. Instead of that, we see the Democrats choosing to single out one Australian athlete for special recognition.

  I support Senator Campbell's amendment. I commend the minister, Senator Faulkner, for the way in which he worded his motion in the Senate today. It covers my own personal sentiments and, I think, the sentiments of the majority of Australians. We like to think of all Australians who took part in the games as being members of one race.