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Tuesday, 31 October 2000
Page: 18743


Senator LUNDY (7:30 PM) —The Paralympic Games, which concluded in magnificent style on Sunday night, was the second biggest sporting event in our nation's history. Yet in almost every respect the Paralympics represents something of far greater national and international significance than merely a sporting meet. The Paralympics is a celebration of achievement against adversity. It is a celebration of all that is positive, vital and inspirational in humanity; it is a celebration of all that is important about the Olympic movement; and it is a celebration of Australia's ability to host the best ever Paralympic Games and achieve the greatest ever Paralympic success.

But let me begin by putting the Sydney 2000 Paralympics in perspective. The Olympic Games involves two events of equal importance and significance. The fact that they are staged two weeks apart does not make one event more important or meaningful than the other. In fact the Paralympics are staged separately for a specific reason—that is, to focus the world's attention on athletes with disabilities and their achievements. It is held after the able-bodied Olympics because it is not a test event for the host city to experiment with transport and facilities. It is a separate component of the Olympic Games and stands in its own right as one of the world's great sporting and cultural events.

The Paralympic Games involved 4,000 athletes representing 125 countries. To put this in perspective, it was bigger than the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the 1998 Commonwealth Games and even the 1998 Soccer World Cup. Another achievement of the Sydney Paralympic Games is that it set a record for attendances. At Atlanta just over 500,000 tickets were sold, whereas Sydney well and truly broke the million mark. In fact the Paralympics actually exceeded the budgeted ticketing numbers, which shows just how popular and well supported the Paralympics were.

It was, however, unfortunate that we were not provided with equal television coverage of the Paralympics. I understand that Network 7 had other commitments and that they endeavoured to deliver maximum coverage of the first stage of the Olympics. The ABC therefore deserve special praise for providing all Australians with highlights packages and daily coverage on TV, and for their extensive and informed coverage on radio. The coverage provided by ABC radio, which was carried by 2CN here in the ACT, was absolutely first-class. I would like to congratulate Karen Tighe and the entire ABC radio sport team for their informative and entertaining coverage and sincere commitment to Paralympic sport.

The importance of the ABC to all Australians was clearly demonstrated over the past two weeks, and I hope that they will be able to continue to cover future events with the same resources and support. The closing ceremony was watched by an overwhelming number of viewers. This in itself is testimony to the level of interest in the Paralympics. Perhaps the commercial broadcasters will now realise that the people of Australia are keenly interested in all Olympic and Paralympic events.

Many meaningful legacies have been born from the Paralympics. The first, but by no means the most important, is the now well-documented record medal tally. For the record here in parliament, Australian Paralympic athletes won a total of 149 medals, representing 63 gold, 39 silver and 47 bronze. Remember that at the Atlanta Paralympics we won about half this number of medals. Australia now stands as the premier country in terms of Paralympic sport. No other country has ever dominated the Paralympic Games to such an extent, no other country has redefined disabled sport to such an extent, no other country has so many outstanding individual performances and no other country has ever seen ticker-tape parades like those hosted around the country this week. This is a legacy that we must build on.

On 2 October this year Labor leader, Kim Beazley, and I issued a joint statement offering bipartisan support for sports funding so that the achievements of Sydney would not be a one-off event. Because the Howard government has not yet detailed its plans for future funding for elite sport, there remains some uncertainty about where we go from here. That is why Mr Beazley and I have made it clear that the next Labor government will continue to fund sport at both the elite and community level. It is Labor's plan that Australia will capture the long-term benefits of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and ensure that there is consistent and high quality preparations for future national and international events.

Funding is particularly important for Paralympic sport because it is only through the provision of funding for research and development that Paralympic and disabled athletes can continue to advance and excel. There is a high degree of technical involvement in many disabled sports, and research in this area has a flow-on effect that enhances the lives of many people who require specialised equipment in their everyday lives. I hope that the government fulfils its promise to the disabled community and delivers a funding package that ensures the Sydney Games are seen as a platform for our continued world leadership in sport for people with disabilities.

In relation to individual performances I want to mention a few athletes who were outstanding in every respect. Siobhan Paton, a young girl from Wanniassa here in the ACT, won six gold medals in swimming and set nine new world records. Since 1997 Siobhan has broken an amazing 60 world records. The Paton family has a lot to be proud of. Judith Paton, Siobhan's mother, has devoted a tremendous amount of time, energy and love to both Siobhan and her younger daughter, Sarah, who is an under-13 national swimming champion. Judith Paton has apparently being getting up at 4 a.m. for the past four years to take her two girls to their training programs. Siobhan was honoured last night at the official dinner in Sydney, being selected Paralympian of the Year. A postage stamp will celebrate in perpetuity her record medal tally and her personal achievements.

Another Canberran who enjoyed success at the Paralympics is Lisa Llorens from Chapman, also in the ACT. Lisa won three gold medals and one silver medal at the track and is being compared to the great Marion Jones because of her domination. I read this morning how Lisa joined Little Athletics when she was very young, and her achievement in Sydney shows just how important Little Athletics and junior sport are to young Australians. I think it is fitting to quote from team captain, Sandy Blythe, who told a packed crowd at Sydney's ticker-tape parade that the message from the Paralympics is to `maintain the passion'. `The Games are gone, but maintain the spirit, maintain the passion, for the Games,' he said.

On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I would like to congratulate every single athlete, coach and support staff member and of course the family and friends of those competing for making the Sydney Paralympics the best ever. I would also like to acknowledge once again the volunteers and all of those performers who participated in the opening and closing ceremonies. Most of all I would like to acknowledge all of those athletes who went out there to strive for their personal best and achieved it. Not every sport records the personal best outcomes, but I know that an incredible number of athletes in their endeavours over the last two weeks did achieve their personal best and will hold that memory in their hearts forever.