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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9312

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (19:27): Iconic images emerge from every Olympic Games: golden girl Betty Cuthbert taking home three gold medals in Melbourne, Kieran Perkins's stunning performance from lane 8 in Atlanta, Cathy Freeman carrying the Australian and Aboriginal flags after winning the 400 in Sydney. But perhaps the most powerful image of the modern Olympics is this: Life magazine and Le Monde declared it one of the most influential images of the 20th century, an image of three brave athletes of the 1968 Mexico City games making a statement on racial equality. And one of them was Australia's Peter Norman.

It is Peter Norman's role in that moment, in taking a stand against racial injustice, that I want to talk about. In the 1968 Mexico City games, Peter Norman ran a time of 20.06 seconds in the men's 200-metre final, winning the silver medal and in the process setting the Australian record that still stands today. As recently as the 2000 Olympics, Norman's time would have won him the gold medal. But in 1968, it was when the Star-Spangled Banner began to play after the medal presentation that Peter Norman became a part of history. The two Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, stand with heads bowed and one arm raised, a black glove on the right hand of Smith and one on Carlos's left. Their posture and shoelessness symbolise black poverty and racial inequality in the United States, sending a powerful message to the world for racial equality.

Prior to the presentation, Smith and Carlos told Norman of their plan. 'I'll stand with you,' he told them. Carlos recalled he expected to see fear in Norman's eyes but he did not. 'I saw only love,' Carlos said. On the way to the dais, Norman borrowed an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge from white US rower Paul Hoffman. After Carlos forgot his gloves, Norman came up with the idea that the two Americans should share one pair of gloves. A protest like this on a global stage had never been done before—at the time it was electrifying. Racist slurs were hurled at Smith and Carlos. IOC President Avery Brundage, a man who had had no difficulty with the Nazi salute being used in the 1936 Olympics, insisted the two be expelled. In that moment, Norman advanced international awareness for racial equality. He was proud to stand with Smith and Carlos, and the three remained lifelong friends.

At his funeral in 2006, Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers. As for Norman himself, he competed in the 1970 Commonwealth Games, but was not sent to the 1972 Olympics. Some said that this was because of his action in 1968; others say that financial pressure prevented the AOC from sending a full complement of athletes. What is clear is that in 1972, Norman consistently ran qualifying times for the 100 and 200 metres but was not sent. It is also clear that he never complained about his treatment. He never stopped thinking about himself as a runner. His trainer, Ray Weinberg, said, 'He always called me coach.' Thirty-two years later it took an invitation from the United States Olympic team for him to be part of the 2000 games—the United States Olympic team.

The apparent treatment of Peter Norman was symbolic of the attitude of the late sixties and the early seventies, the view that sport and politics should not mix. In the early 1970s, a group of brave protesters took a stand against apartheid in South Africa, interrupting games played by white-only sporting teams. History has vindicated those anti-apartheid protesters and history has vindicated Peter Norman. I am grateful that his 91-year-old mother Thelma, his sister Elaine Ambler and her husband Michael can be here today.

Every Olympic Games produces moments of heroism, humanity and humility. Its motto is: 'Citius, Altius, Fortius'—'Swifter, Higher, Stronger.' In 1968 Peter Norman exemplified this—swifter, because of his record that still stands; higher, because he stood tall that day; and stronger, because of the guts it took to make a stand. In that simple act of wearing that badge, Peter Norman showed the world he stood for racial equality. He showed us that the actions of one person can make a difference. It is a message that echoes down to us today. Whether refusing to tolerate a racist joke or befriending a new migrant, each of us can—and all of us should—be a Peter Norman in our own lives.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): On indulgence, as the mother of a young son who loves running, I would like to welcome Mrs Norman to the chamber.