User:Aussiesportlibrarian/Prime Minister Julia Gillard farewells athletes at Australian Paralympic Team Launch

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Canberra, AustraliaAustralian political leaders Prime Minister Julia Gillard; Minister for Sport, Senator Kate Lundy; and Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott wished the Australian team every success at the Official Australian Paralympic Team Launch in the Great Hall at Parliament House, Canberra on 25 June 2012. The London Paralympic Games commence on 29 August 2012.

‎Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaking at the Australian Paralympic Team Launch at Parliament House, 25 June 2012
Image: Aussiesportlibrarian.

A contingent of current Paralympians from eleven sports were present and amongst them were multiple gold medalists from previous Games – swimmer Matthew Cowdrey, track sprinter Evan O'Hanlon, and wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley. Sitting with the team contingent was Elizabeth Kosmala who is to compete at her eleventh Games.

Politicians from both sides of politics were in attendance including Jenny Macklin, Minister for Disability Reform, Bill Shorten, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Luke Hartsuyker, Shadow Minister for Sport. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was also in attendance. Rudd’s wife Thérèse Rein's father John Rein competed for Australia at the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960.

Greg Hartung, President of the Australian Paralympic Committee, set the scene by highlighting that the Australian team of 304, including 161 athletes, would be the largest ever to attend a Games outside Australia. Hartung acknowledged the great support provided by the Australian and State Governments and corporate sponsors and partners. Hartung told the audience that the London Games will be the largest ever with 4,200 athletes from 160 countries competing in front of a global television audience of 3 billion. Hartung said "the Paralympic Games has become an iconic event. It is the highest level achievement for athletes with a disability". Hartung highlighted the value of the Paralympics by stating besides inspiring people "it has the power to change lives and enrich the community".

Prime Minister Gillard told the athletes that today they became a 'team' as they will now wear the green and gold and to compete for Australia. She told the athletes that they were "the fastest, the strongest, the best". She jokingly told the athletes that they would have to put up with bad weather and bad food but acknowledged that Paralympics were going back to the home of the International Stoke Mandeville Games. Gillard stated that the Australian Government had provided A$13 million in team funding in the last year and that she didn't think there would be "a single tax payer out there who would begrudge a single cent".

Senator Lundy's brief speech focused on how sport unifies the nation and how the Paralympians are "epitome of inspiration" to current and future generations. Tony Abbott told the athletes that “you are best of the best. In fact you are better than that because each one of you has mastered a significant disability to be in this team". Abbott said that the Paralympians embodied the Australian characteristics of 'a fair go' and 'having a go'.

Bridie Kean and Kathryn Ross speaking about their Road to London Paralympics
Image: Aussiesportlibrarian.

Wheelchair basketballer Bridie Kean, rower Kathryn Ross and wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnely gave the audience an insight into their road to London. Kean, the Glider's team captain thanked the Australian Paralympic Committee for their support and increased professionalism since Beijing. Keen told how watching the wheelchair basketball at the Sydney Paralympics inspired her to take up the sport.

Kathryn Ross, a Beijing silver medallist, highlighted the funding support from the Australian Paralympic Committee, Australian Sports Commission, and Australian Institute of Sport allowed her to devote the last four years to her goal of competing successfully at her second Games. Special mention was given to her home town of Warrnambool for their support on her journey.

Kurt Fearnley speaking about his Road to the 2012 London Paralympic Games
Image: Aussiesportlibrarian.

Kurt Fearnley, who is aiming to be the first athlete to win the gruelling men’s marathon at three successive Games, said he was 'feeling happy' going into the Games and had done the work required. Fearnley said he was looking forward to the Poms singing Australia's national anthem. Finally, Fearnley thanked the support of both sides of politics and the community. He said that the "Australian Paralympic Team was as good as an export as any team and any people we send abroad".

The National Disability Insurance Scheme was raised by Greg Hartung and Tony Abbott during their speeches as an important government priority. Hartung highlighted the fact that 36 members of the team were high support needs athletes and this Scheme would lead to more people with a disability being able to participate in sport.

At the end of the launch, Jason Hellwig, London 2012 Chef de Mission, presented Julia Gilliard, Kate Lundy, Tony Abbott, and Luke Hartsuyker with team tracksuits.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.

Category:Sports Category:Australia Category:Oceania category:2012 Summer Paralympics Category:Julia Gillard Category:Tony Abbott Category:Paralympics