Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Speech at 9th Olympic Dinner, Melbourne

Download PDFDownload PDF




18 June 2016

Speech at 9th Olympic Dinner




Lucy and I are delighted to be here in this great Olympic city tonight, in a year that marks the 60th anniversary of the Friendly Games in Melbourne, the first Olympics staged in our country, the first hosted in the Southern Hemisphere.

I want to thank you David and John Coates for bringing us together tonight for this fantastic tradition of the Prime Minister's "Olympic Dinner" and I want to thank you all for your generous support of this dinner and for your generous support of our athletes. Give yourselves a round of applause.


It’s an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of so many sporting greats who have represented our nation so proudly at Olympics past and to look forward with eager anticipation to many more magnificent achievements to come, as our team prepares to head to Rio.

It really is the most exciting time to be a Prime Minister, in an election year and an Olympic year.

Now clearly, the campaign trail and the Olympics are two very different fields of contest.

But in this longer than usual election campaign, I suspect all of us involved have some appreciation for how the marathon runners must feel as they approach the finish line, giving it our all and fiercely competitive to the very end.

Of course, neither sport nor politics are just about winning or losing. Ultimately, they are also about the important things we stand for, the values we represent.

Again, as we look back over these 60 years to when Melbourne was preparing for the Olympics, the most powerful of all images remains the famous day John Landy stopped mid-race to assist Ron Clarke back to his feet in the 1500 metres at the Australian titles here at Olympic Park.

That Landy somehow stormed home from thirty or forty metres back to win the race only added to the lustre.

But as the late, great sports writer and Olympic historian Harry Gordon put it, the legend was already written in stone - "a senseless piece of chivalry, it will be remembered as one of the finest moments in Australian sport."

You see that is the capacity of sport to inspire, to motivate us, to bring out the best in all of us. It symbolises all that is great and most inspirational about our Olympic tradition. All of us are inspired by our athletes. All of you here today have inspired us, our athletes going to Rio will inspire us yet again. A rather, shall we say ‘stately paced’ weekend kayaker like myself can never imagine to compete with the agility of Jessica Fox but every now and then, when you put the blade in fast to make a quick turn, you think “maybe,” maybe you could do that, maybe you could turn like she does. So how many kids will be glued to the television, looking at Cate and Bronte Campbell and imagining that they could do a tumble turn like that. How many of them will be inspired by that example. How many walkers - the most famous walker in Australia is here tonight and I don’t mean Jared Tallent who of course is a great case, a rare exception where justice delayed is not in fact denied. Let’s congratulate Jared again.


Our athletes inspire us all and the most famous walker in Australia is here tonight, which of course is John Howard.


Every morning his walk was there and of course John is a sporting fan, sometimes called a cricket tragic although there is nothing tragic about cricket, a wonderful game. But we know his passion for walking in the green and gold was such and has become such a part of our conception of ourselves through his long and very, very successful term as Prime Minister, that not so long ago when Lucy and I were in Canberra on a cold morning, heading out for a walk, I pulled a jumper out of the drawer and it was a Wallabies jumper. As I was walking out Lucy was FaceTiming with our daughter and son in Sydney and Daisy saw me in that jumper. She said “good grief, you are the Prime Minister.”


So John it’s great that you’re here and your commitment to Australian sport and the example you’ve set, always of fitness and exercise is a great continuing example, because elite sport gives the example to others. All of us can demonstrate that commitment.

Lucy and I were out today with hundreds of girls and boys playing netball and what we saw there again was the example that they take, the girls there all want to be Vixens, they all want to be Diamonds, they all want to be Jo Weston. They are all inspired by the elite competitors.

Now we also have here tonight, I want to acknowledge my colleagues Julie Bishop the Foreign Minister and of course Sussan Ley, the Minister for Sport, John Wylie, Chair of the Sports Commission, Fiona de Jong CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee and all of the other leading sports administrators.

You know there are so many legendary Olympians in the room, what you have done with your triumphs and sometimes defeats, tragic defeats, because the whole nation has been hanging on to your every move, you have brought us together in a way that nobody else can. In a way that really fulfils the original Olympic tradition going back to ancient Greece, where conflict was put aside, politics was put aside and the only focus was on the athletes and the sport. All of us remember where we were, what we were doing, how we felt when Cathy Freeman won her race. That was a race that united the nation.


Our hearts were lifted as Thorpie won one medal after another, how many swimmers, young swimmers aspired to do the same. Of course Dawn Fraser, a legend of swimming, again someone who embodies everything that Australians admire the most; competitiveness, good humour, not taking yourself too seriously, passion, irreverence, the Australian spirit.

There’s such a long list, but I have to mention our great friend Danni Roche, a gold medallist demonstrating you don’t have to be 6 foot tall to be an Olympic athlete. You can be a powerful player, a powerful hockey player for the Hockeyroos, Danni what a great competitor you have been, what a great service you continue to give to Australian sport, the Sports Commission and all the work you do.

We are all inspired by these wonderful feats of perseverance, mental fortitude and incredible skill.

And in this Olympic year, I am proud of my Government’s record supporting our athletes and preparing them for Rio.

In Government we provided close to $500 million through direct funding to summer Olympic sports and our athlete investment scheme which supports around 800 Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

We are absolutely committed to supporting participation in sport from grassroots to the elite level, at the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Because we understand what an important vehicle sport is to ensure Australians live active and healthy lives.

For the elite athletes in this room, you have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of Olympians. You will inspire every generation of young sportsmen and women. You will inspire every runner, every swimmer, every cyclist, every canoeist. You’ll inspire them all. They will look at you, at your success and seek to emulate it, probably never reach your level of skill but you will draw them forward. As you have drawn the best out of yourselves and gone that extra mile to excel so you will draw the best out of many, many other Australians.

You are doing the nation such a great service, we are with you, side by side as Eddie McGuire would say and we back you all the way.

Thank you.