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Thursday, 11 May 2000
Page: 16369

Mr ROSS CAMERON (10:55 AM) —Gerry Hewson is a bloke who is a couple of years younger than I am and lives in my electorate. You might say that as a 19-year-old he was a fairly typical Australian. He loved sport—loved watching it, loved playing it and loved participating generally. He had a particular love for speed and used to race his motor bike, both officially and unofficially. On one occasion, when he was 19 years old, his mate just touched the back wheel of his bike which was travelling at fairly high speed. Gerry was thrown off the bike and became a paraplegic. In one moment, his whole world radically changed.

To speak with Gerry about that today, there is not a flicker of bitterness about him. He is a highly motivated and focused young man. In fact, he would say that in many respects the accident marked a very significant, positive turning point in his life, when he began to think much more seriously about his capacity and his ability to give to others. He found he had this gift for motivating people. Today his real vocation is motivating other young Australians to transcend whatever problems they encounter in life. Gerry was recently given an award in the Order of Australia for his services to, in particular, the disabled as an inspirational leader of the Australian Paralympic basketball team. We expect Gerry to be playing a leading role in the fortunes of our Paralympic basketball team later this year when the Paralympics are staged at Homebush Bay.

That, by introduction, is just to draw attention to the fact that a group of us will be heading off on the annual Pollie Pedal, a group of politicians riding bikes from Canberra to Sydney to raise money for and awareness of the Paralympics. We are delighted that Tim Fischer, as mayor of the Paralympic village, will be there to receive us at the other end and that the event is going to be launched here in Canberra by Kate Carnell. It is especially pleasing this year to see its bipartisan character with support from a number of ALP federal members and particularly local government mayors and officials.

For the interest of anyone who may want to join us at some point along the route, we are going by a fairly circuitous route that will take us through a number of regional centres. It has always been part of the logic of the Pollie Pedal that it would give us politicians down here in Canberra an opportunity to stay in touch with what is happening in regional Australia. So we go from Canberra on 13 May to Goulburn on the 14th, Moss Vale on the 15th, Shellharbour on the 16th, Camden on the 17th, Richmond on the 18th, and then from Parramatta, Dee Why and Manly to the city on 19 May. It is about 600 kilometres and each stop along the way will have the Minister for Sport and Tourism, Jackie Kelly, and the Minister for Employment Services, Tony Abbott, with us. We will be having a look at how effectively government programs in their portfolio areas are being implemented and adopted, and we will be well received by the local communities.

But the principal point, as I say, is to raise awareness in the community about the inspirational story behind each paralympian. This is a story about ability, about Australians transcending whatever difficult cards there are in the hand that life deals each one of us either from congenital disabilities or from accidents. It is an expensive business to run a Paralympics—in many respects more expensive than the other Olympics. Just getting competitors there with their wheelchairs in many instances, and getting them there from other parts of Australia, is a very substantial economic challenge. So we hope to make our small contribution, and I particularly want to thank members of the ALP who have joined us in this bipartisan initiative.