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Speech at the Special Olympics Australian Team farewell, Sydney

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SENATOR THE HON MARK ARBIB Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development Minister for Sport Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness


18 June 2011 Special Olympics Australian Team farewell Sydney International Airport

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I’d like to acknowledge the Special Olympic Australia patron, the Governor General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce.

• Special Olympics Chair Mark Streeting.

• Board members

• Our wonderful athletes and Volunteers.

• Friends and family of the athletes and volunteers.

This is such a special day. I always say there is no better job in the country than being the Sports Minister. But today I feel so very lucky to be with you. Such a humbling experience. To see the smiles on the faces of Australia’s team before they head off to the Special Olympics.

Can I start by passing on the apologies of the Prime Minister who couldn’t be here, but wanted me to pass on her best wishes and also good luck.

And of course Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Careers Senator Jan McLucas. Unfortunately she couldn’t make it today, but Jan is very excited about attending the Games and is looking forward to seeing all of you at the events.

As Sports Minister I see off many teams and there’s many events where we compete across the globe.

Today you head off to one of the world’s largest sporting events. In Athens you will compete against 7,500 athletes from more than 185 countries.

The Olympics in any form are the pinnacle of sport and to be here, heading off today, is already a tremendous achievement.

To get here today you have shown dedication, determination and spirit.

I know all of you will represent Australia proudly and give your best and I know we will bring back many, many medals.

When it comes to building a truly inclusive society Australia is improving, but I think all of us know there is still a long way to go to change attitudes towards people with disability.

All of you here today are part of that positive change.

To the athletes, you are role models to all Australians.

To the volunteers, you are an inspiration to us all.

And to the family members and friends we say thank you.

I love this job because I love sport

And sport is a powerful motivation for change.

The joy on a child’s face when they play sport is priceless.

It has the ability to break down social, cultural and physical barriers. We all see it every day.

That’s exactly what the Special Olympics is all about. Participation, enjoyment, excelling. And that is why the government is happy to support Special Olympics Australia year round.

Last year the previous Sports Minister Kate Ellis committed $100,000 to help more people take part in Special Olympic sports. And I want to make sure the Government builds on that.

So today I am proud to announce that this funding will be ongoing, every year.

With the additional $100,000 this brings the total Government funding for the Special Olympics to $545,000 each year.

This funding will ensure the fantastic work of the Special Olympics Australia continues.

Even more important than money is the important work of volunteers and family members.

Every year volunteers run weekly programs for 11,000 children from 52 communities.

This is phenomenal and I would like to take the opportunity to personal thank every one of you that volunteers your time and energy to make the Special Olympics what it is.

I’d like to personally mention two volunteers that have committed a large part of their lives to the Special Olympics.

Anna-Louise Kassulke has volunteered with the Special Olympics for 20 years, she attended her first Special Olympics in 1991and hasn’t stopped since. Thank you Anna-Louise.

And also to Suzie Chainey through her passion for basketball and her work in occupation therapy understands how Special Olympics and sport really make a difference to so many lives and is thrilled that so many on the team will have their first overseas international competition and for some their first trip away from home.

These women, and the thousands of other Australian that volunteer, are an inspiration.

For every four athletes going to Athens there is one volunteer.

You are taking leave from your jobs, leaving your families and your sacrifices are appreciated.

The Special Olympics would not happen without you.

Can I say on behalf of all Australians to the team, we are 100 per cent behind you.

Strive for gold, but at the same time enjoy every moment while you’re attending.

Good luck and safe travels.

Thank you.