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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9315

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (19:42): It gives me great joy to rise as well on this occasion to support those speakers before me, who have spoken so eloquently, and to recognise Peter's family, who are with us today. The 1968 Summer Olympics have a special place in my heart for two reasons: they were held in the year that I was born and I spent three years in Mexico City as a diplomat, during which time I went out to the stadium. I have seen where Peter ran on that day, so it gives me great joy to speak on this motion.

The 1968 Summer Olympics were famous for three things: Dick Fosbury inventing the Fosbury flop; Bob Beamon jumping 55 centimetres further than anyone else had jumped and so breaking the long-jump record, which stood until 1991, and the black power medal ceremony. Peter Norman's courage was there for all to see. As this motion rightly recognises, all Australians should proudly recognise his bravery on that day. As the motion acknowledges, we should also recognise Peter's athletic prowess. As Peter's good friend Mike Hurst pointed out in a moving article on Peter's death, and I would recommend that everyone read it, Peter had two problems when he started out: he was a slow starter and he was asthmatic. You need to go to Mexico City and try to acclimatise yourself to the altitude to get a sense of what it must have been like as an asthmatic to go there and achieve what he achieved. It is quite extraordinary. It took me three to six months to acclimatise to the altitude. All our athletes who went there and acclimatised and performed so well should be recognised, but it is particularly Peter, for what he did and the time he ran, that we should note.

There is one point, however, that respectfully I would like to raise. That is, we have to be very careful with point No. 3 of the motion because the research that I have done would seem to show that Peter himself, when it came to the 1972 Olympics, recognised that he probably was not going to be selected. That was based on his performance at the 1972 Australian athletic championships. Ron Carter quotes Peter as saying:

I ran a shocker. I'm history. I'm out of the team. All I had to do was win even in a slow time and I think I would have been off to Munich. I felt a lot older than 30 today.

So, on point No. 3, we need to be a little bit careful. He was selected for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and there did not seem to be an issue around that. I think that, in recognising all the other elements, we have to be a little bit careful there. Aside from that, this motion that Dr Leigh has put forward is significant. It recognises a fantastic individual and a fantastic performance by Peter Norman at the Mexico Olympics.

I now refer in particular to what the member for Lyne had to say. That statue in San Jose is a truly remarkable piece of art. The way you have described it—how you can stand between, how you can place yourself in the shoes of Peter Norman—lets you ask yourself: do I have the courage to do what Peter did? It was not easy in those times. Here in Australia, we still had not put to bed the White Australia policy and we all know what was going on in the US during those times. I asked myself when I was preparing for this debate whether I would have been able to do what Peter did. I would hope that the best in me would have been able to; I really do. But unless you could place yourself in that situation at that time, I do not think you could clearly say that you would. That statue sums that up. It asks all of us to make sure that we fight for racial equality and that we are brave enough to place ourselves between those two athletes.