Parliament: Other Speeches

Australian Olympians and Paralympians

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I just wanted to put on the record a few brief remarks on behalf of Dignity for Disability, acknowledging the extraordinary achievements of our Olympians and in particular our Paralympians who have done our state very, very proud in these Olympics, and in fact in many Olympics before that. Libby Kosmala is an example of someone who has participated in 12 Paralympics and has just gone into her retirement after 12 Paralympics, which is an extraordinary achievement.

I saw Libby at a function to welcome home the Paralympians just a few weeks ago. I said to her, ‘You’ll be looking forward to a rest, then?’ And Libby said, ‘No, I’m going shooting tonight.’ Obviously, she is still very committed to keeping up her skills. Dignity for Disability is certainly happy to support the Hon. Tung Ngo’s motion wishing our Olympic and Paralympic athletes well, especially our South Australian athletes, of course.

While I was away in Sydney, during the Paralympic welcome home parade in Adelaide, I was fortunate to be present at the Adelaide chapter to welcome home our Paralympic athletes. At this year’s Rio Olympics, I was particularly pleased to see a refugee team featured for the very first time. The stories of those 10 athletes really resonated, as I am sure they did with many people. Each had their own incredible journey, and I think their involvement in the Olympics is really what the Olympic movement is about. Successive federal governments in this country rail year after year against so-called boat people, yet we are quite happy to celebrate them when they achieve things such as this.

Of course, as a person with disability myself who happens to be more inclined to and indeed understand the arts rather than sport—I appreciate that some people can do both, but unfortunately I missed that gene—I always find the fascination with the Paralympics every four years interesting, to say the least. When the endeavours of people with disabilities are before us on television for roughly ten days every four years, all around me express amazement at the abilities of people with disabilities, and not just in track and field, in the water or on the water, on the playing pitch or in the gym, but there are also the artistic feats we see during the opening and closing ceremonies.

The thing is, though, that these sporting and artistic feats are occurring away from the glare of the world media each and every day. Participation in Paralympic sport occurs every day in South Australia by our Paralympic athletes. I get frustrated when we have this 10-day period when it is okay to recognise the achievements of disabled people. We see people with disabilities in advertising campaigns and skits on our televisions—in fact, not always people with disabilities, as there was one particular magazine campaign that used able-bodied models and then photoshopped some limbs off, but that is another story. I wish I was joking—I can see the Hon. Ms Franks laughing in disbelief—but unfortunately I am not making it up.

We certainly have a long way to go in terms of accurate representation of people with disabilities in society and in the media and, while I am glad that the Paralympics can play some role in that, I only wish that we could see this diversity and the true reflection of our modern Australian society on our screens, in our streets and on our stages each and every day. Just thinking about advertising, some members may have seen the fantastic advert that ran around the Paralympics called, ‘We are the superhumans.’

While I struggle with the term ‘superhumans’, it was, quite apart from that, a perfect and beautiful media campaign in which we saw people with disabilities, Paralympic athletes, doing a variety of tasks—everything from their Paralympic sports, and we saw people running in wheelchairs down a basketball court, diving into a swimming pool or whatever it might have been—interspersed with footage of them doing everyday things, such as going grocery shopping or crossing the street or looking after their children, and this was all while a Sammy Davis Jr song called Yes, I can was playing.

The point of that song was not to be what the late Stella Young would call ‘inspiration porn’, but to actually tackle those negative attitudes, assumptions and misconceptions that people with disabilities come up against each and every day. I think my very favourite scene in that advertising campaign was when a young man was seated in what appeared to be the principal’s office. We do not hear the rest of the conversation, but we see him sitting there in the office in his wheelchair, and the person we assume is the principal says, ‘Oh, well, I’m sorry, you can’t.’ They then cut to footage of this young man running down the basketball court at a terrifying speed in his wheelchair screaming, ‘Yes, I can.’

So, I think the Paralympics and the Olympics, for all their flaws, are really a great example of the social model of disability, which I am sure members recall me talking about before—the idea that the physical, intellectual or sensory difference, or whatever it may be, in and of itself is not actually the issue. It is the barriers which we as a society erect as a response to that difference which are in fact the issue. If anyone has not checked out that video, I highly recommend it. It is fairly easy to find on YouTube.

You might at first be a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of someone driving a rally car with their feet, but you very quickly get used to it. It is a great example of the social model of disability and one I am very happy to see happening. As I said, I only wish that we did not have to wait for a specific event to accurately portray people with disabilities and, indeed, just the general diversity that exists in our community, be that diversity of physical abilities, diversity of racial differences, backgrounds, genders and so on. I certainly am very happy to be looking toward a society in which we can say that is the case.

Having now gone on that flight of fancy, can I now close by congratulating all the Olympians and Paralympians—who have already been mentioned, so I will not go into all of them—in particular, Libby Kosmala for her 12 Paralympic Games. It is an extraordinary achievement, and she obviously is to be commended for the fact that she has not quite retired just yet, given that she was still going out to shooting practice on the evening I saw her, having just come back from Rio. I also congratulate Jocelyn, whom I cannot yet say I know particularly well but, it being Adelaide, I do know her personally.

I have to say that, as has been mentioned, she went into the Paralympics as a paracanoer, and it is my understanding that she only touched a canoe for the first time a few months ago, so she is an extraordinary athlete with obviously not only a great deal of natural talent but also a great deal of perseverance and determination, which have seen her reach great heights of success in a very short time. As much as I said I was just closing, I have just had another reflection, that is, the importance of the Olympics and Paralympics in changing social policy. The Hon. Ms Franks mentioned a couple of great examples of those.

Another that occurred to me just as I was speaking is the Tel Aviv Paralympics at some point in the eighties, if I recall correctly. I saw a presentation recently where there was an old photograph that showed Paralympians being carried up the steps of an aeroplane—obviously those who were wheelchair users or mobility aid users or otherwise needed assistance to get up the steps—to get to the Paralympics from wherever they were leaving. It was, in fact, that event that led to the advent or the widespread use of the assistive equipment we now see used to assist people to get into aeroplanes who cannot use stairs independently or easily.

We really cannot underestimate the impact of sporting events, particularly those as high profile as the Olympics and the Paralympics. As much as they can have their flaws, of course, in terms of the sometimes negative impact they have on hosting countries, they also achieve many positive and far-reaching things in terms of not only the lives of individual athletes and individual nations but also broader social policy changes that impact many people, including people like me who might like to get on a plane to go and see some theatre.

I am very pleased to support this motion on behalf of Dignity for Disability, and I thank the Hon. Mr Ngo for putting it forward. I again thank all our Olympians, including the Paralympians, for what they have achieved in terms of putting our country and our state very much on the world stage in a positive light.