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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9319

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (19:57): I too rise to speak on the member for Fraser's wonderful motion regarding an apology to the Olympic champion and silver medallist Peter George Norman. I do not use the word 'champion' lightly—I tell Peter's family that now—but Peter Norman was a champion, and not only because he was a five-time Australian 200-metre titleholder and his time of 20.06 seconds from the 1960s still stands as the Australian 200-metre record. Peter Norman was a champion because he won Olympic silver in 1968. Peter Norman was also a champion because he captured the hearts and minds of fair-minded people everywhere when, in 1968, his actions and support for two African-Americans sent a clear message to people around the world, especially in Australia, that basic human rights and equality for all are important.

On the morning of 16 October 1968, US athlete Tommie Smith won the 200-metre race in a world record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia's Peter Norman second with a time of 20.06 and the USA's John Carlos in third place with a time of 20.1 seconds. After the race was completed the three went to collect their medals at the podium, and the others discussed this with Peter Norman, as other speakers have mentioned earlier. The two US athletes received their medals shoeless but wearing black socks to represent black poverty.

Tommie Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride. John Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue-collar workers in the US and wore a necklace of beads which he described as being 'for those individuals that were lynched or killed that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred'. Carlos and Smith also made a raised fist gesture. For the benefit of those people from generations X and Y, it is a symbol like that at the Olympic stadium that is known to many as the 'black power salute'—to show their support for human rights. Both US athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event but Carlos, in the hubbub and excitement, forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic village.

It was Peter Norman from Australia who suggested that Carlos wear Smith's left-handed glove, differing from that traditional black power salute. That is an explanation for something that until today I had never understood about that photograph. So when the Star Spangled Banner played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front-page news around the world, not necessarily for all the right reasons. Peter Norman, who was neither black nor American but lived in a country alongside racism—I think most Australians would admit that—also wore a human rights badge on his shirt during the ceremony to show support for the two African Americans. Norman, a noted critic of the White Australia policy, used his badge to express his empathy with their ideals.

It was this silent gesture by Peter Norman that began the change from a black power salute to a human rights salute. This truly epitomises how signs and symbols can challenge people's perceptions and generate widespread change. That does not mean that your decisions to effect change come without a price. Sadly, as his family knows, Peter Norman was reprimanded by Australia's Olympic authorities and the Australian media ostracised him. Norman was also banned for two years on his return, probably at his peak running time. Despite Norman running qualifying times for the 100 metres five times and the 200 metres 13 times during 1971 and 1972, the Australian Olympic track team, sadly, did not send him or any other male sprinters to the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich—the first modern Olympics since 1896 where no Australian sprinters participated.

Peter Norman made a brave choice when he decided to support Carlos and Smith. Norman's decision to support Carlos and Smith, to stand up for equality and human rights and to openly criticise the White Australia policy made him a true hero and champion. It is for that that he should be remembered. Sadly, Norman passed away on 3 October 2006 at the young age of 64—eerily, almost 38 years to the day from when he made his grand gesture on the Olympic podium. While Norman did not lend a fist, as he said, he certainly did lend a hand. His actions are an example to all that one small act can make a difference. I often say that wearing a badge is never enough, but on this occasion it was a good start. It is the way that we as people, as parliamentarians and as members of our communities can build on the foundations to make a real difference to the world.

These are tough times for Labor supporters. It may be time for two badges, some might suggest. But the next time that anyone thinks of wearing a badge to support awareness of diabetes, breast cancer, our troops or whatever the topic is, I will also think about how brave people can go one step further to challenge perceptions, just like Peter Norman did. For me he will always be a true Olympic champion. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.