Thursday, 2 September 2021
Statements on Indulgence
Tokyo Paralympic Games
Before the parliament rises, as we indeed did for our great Olympians, I want to share Australia's joy and pride in our Paralympians. There are still three more wonderful days ahead, and we are so, so proud of our team. They have shown discipline, focus, determination, dogged persistence, a great sense of humour—a great sense of the Australian spirit on display. We have witnessed the essence of what sport is all about: being the best you possibly can be.
Our team has won 60 medals, including 13 gold, so far. These are Australia's newest gold medallists: Madison de Rozario, gold in the 800-metre T53; and James Turner, gold in the 400-metre T36. In the cycling there is Darren Hicks, gold in the 24-kilometre road time trial C2; Amanda Reid, gold in the track 500 time trial C1-3; Page Greco, gold in the track 3,000-metre individual pursuit C1-3; and Emily Petricola, gold in the track 3,000-metre individual pursuit C4. In the swimming there is Rowan Crothers, gold in the 50-metre freestyle S10; Ben Popham, gold in the 100-metre freestyle S8; Lakeisha 'Lucky' Patterson, gold in the 400-metre freestyle S9; William Martin, gold in the men's 400-metre freestyle S9; and the men's 4x100-metre freestyle relay, 34 points, including Matt Levy, Rowan Crothers, William Martin and Ben Popham. In the table tennis, there were Australia's first gold medals in the sport for some 37 years: Lina Lei, gold in the singles class 9; and Qian Yang, gold in the singles class 10.
We have won 60 medals so far, and, recognising the national significance of the Paralympic team, I'm very pleased to announce that the government will provide additional support to Paralympics Australia to ensure our Paralympic medallists will receive equivalent payments to our Olympic medallists. The Minister for Sport, at my request, spoke to Paralympics Australia CEO Lynne Anderson earlier today, and I'm delighted we've been able to support our fantastic Paralympians in that way. I thank Lynne for the great work that she does with our Paralympic team and the way we've worked together on this.
Our Paralympians are wonderful and powerful role models. Darren Hicks, who won gold and silver in Tokyo, was a truck driver who had a terrible accident seven years ago. With the help of others, he rebuilt his life. Fighting back the tears, Darren said, 'It's an absolute dream to hear the anthem.' There's Curtis McGrath. Curtis served as a combat engineer in Afghanistan, and in August 2012 lost his legs after an IED explosion. That same day he vowed, 'You'll see me at the Paralympics.' He kept his vow, winning gold at Rio, and he's been competing today, progressing through his heat to the semifinal. Australia is proud of Curtis, proud of his service and proud of his grit.
So many others have inspired us. There was Grant 'Scooter' Patterson's ecstatic reaction after winning a bronze medal in the swimming individual medley and achieving his childhood dream after missing out on the Rio Paralympic Games. We witnessed the incredible return of sprinter Isis Holt. Isis won two silver medals and a bronze medal in Rio. Isis is from here, from Canberra, and took a two-year break from the sport to focus on her studies, and she comes away from Tokyo with two more silver medals.
Swimming silver medallist Ahmed Kelly, until the age of seven, lived in the Mother Teresa orphanage in Baghdad along with his brother. He was adopted by a humanitarian worker. Like so many others, Ahmed made Australia his home. Ahmed loves Aussie rules, and he was given the nickname 'Nails', because he's as tough as nails. There's the youngest athlete on the team, 15-year-old Isabella Vincent. She won silver in the pool. As a six-year-old she was inspired by the great Australian Kurt Fearnley, who happens to have the same condition as her. Izzy and Kurt met not long before she was jetting off to Japan. She said: 'They say you shouldn't meet your hero. They are wrong.' Now Kurt says he is her No. 1 fan.
Speaking of No. 1 fans, I'm claiming membership of the Todd Hodges fan club, together with Peter Gutwein. How good is Todd Hodges! When he was asked about his technique and his motivation in the shot-put circle, this is how he described it: 'I said "God and country" and I whacked it!' Todd's planning all the way out to Brisbane 2032—and I will be there to watch him. I have to give a shout-out to Dan Michel and his ramp assistant Ash McClure who won bronze in boccia—I hope I've got that right; I'm glad barre's not in the Olympics!—which was Australia's first medal in this discipline in 25 years. Dan and Ash are from the Shire, and I'm a very proud local member for them.
All our Paralympians are incredibly dedicated, but the dedication of Christie Dawes in athletics and Danni Di Toro in table tennis is simply extraordinary. They are both competing in their seventh Paralympics. James Turner, who won gold in the men's 400-metre T36 race, explained why the Paralympics matters so much to all of us. He said: 'Having a disability is defined as what you cannot do, but competing at the Paralympics is all about what you can do. I want to go out there and show what you can do instead of focusing on what you can't.' That's a great lesson for all of us.
To everyone in the Paralympics movement and to all who organised these games, especially our great friends in Japan, I say thank you. It has been a great triumph and will continue to be in the days ahead. To all our Paralympians, thank you so much for inspiring us. Congratulations on your tremendous efforts. I want to thank all of your families and your friends and your supporters and everybody who has stood alongside you and helped you along your way. They know that, at the end of the day, it was you who made the choice as a Paralympian, it was you who decided to go forward, it was you who decided to commit and be determined to be where you have been over these magical few weeks. You have inspired us and we are grateful that you're one of us as Australians. There is still much to complete and, in the days ahead, we continue to wish you all the best of luck.
It's safe to say that, during what's a very challenging time for Australians, a common sentiment across our nation is: thank goodness for the Tokyo Paralympics! This is the largest Australian team ever sent to a Paralympic Games overseas—179 athletes supported by 168 staff and competing in 18 of the 22 sports. At present, with three days to go, Australia is eighth on the medal tally, with 13 gold, 23 silver and 24 bronze—and more medals to come, we hope, over the next few days.
Some of the performances so far have been nothing short of stunning. Australia's first gold medal of the games was won by South Australian Paige Greco in the 3,000 metres women's individual pursuit. She broke the world record by seven seconds in her heat, and then—because apparently that wasn't enough!—she knocked another two seconds off that time during the next race. Her teammate Emily Petricola then saw to it that Australia had back-to-back gold medals. Swimming champion Will Martin, who has already won gold in the 400-metre freestyle and the 4 x 100 metre freestyle just went and broke the world record in his 100-metre heat—a record that, incidentally, was set by him.
Once again, the great stories are not just laid out in gold. As COVID was hitting Sydney, swimmer Tiffany Thomas Kane had just an hour to pack and leave. Her grandmother died after she left Australia, and Tiffany dedicated one of her bronze medals to her. We've seen our 37-year gold medal drought in Paralympics table tennis brought to an end by Lina Lei and Qian Yang, who won their respective women's singles finals in Tokyo. For Yang it was her first time representing Australia. That's certainly one way to debut for your country!
It's been a time for drought-breaking. Dan Michel won Australia's first medal in boccia in a quarter of a century. I can inform the Prime Minister that boccia is a version of bocce, the Italian game, for people to compete with mobility impairment. It's a game of great skill that I watched the other night. It's quite an extraordinary game of skill. Dan said, 'I am heaps excited with it.' As are we, Dan!
I say to every one of our Paralympians: you have done us all proud as a nation in Tokyo. You are performing magnificently as athletes, as human beings and as representatives of your country. You embody everything that is great about the Paralympics. I want to take the opportunity as well to thank our friends in Japan for hosting the games.
I know we'll all be cheering on Dylan Alcott tonight when he plays his quad singles final. He's in with a good chance of completing something that can only happen by definition every four years—a golden slam, winning all four majors and the Olympic singles gold in a single year. Let our hopes for him remind us just how much the games are about dreams.
In a trackside interview, wheelchair racer Sam Carter recalled watching the Paralympics as a 10-year-old boy. He said, 'Every time I show up at the village, it's like I get a mental high-five from 10-year-old Sam.' I will leave the final word to Sam, who has this advice for any 10-year-olds who are dreaming that same dream: 'Get out there. If you work hard, you can do it. It's totally within reach.'
Our Paralympians have the goodwill of every single Australian, including the goodwill of our entire parliament. Well done.