Speech by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

Special Olympics Annual Variety Dinner, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre

Location: Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre

Special Olympics Annual Variety Dinner

Friday 24 August 6.30pm

Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre

Thank you Ben [Haack], athlete, coach, mentor, Special Olympics ambassador…and can I add to that list, media super star. As I was eating my breakfast last Monday, I heard you speaking on ABC radio.

Congratulations too on your appointment to the Special Olympics Australia Board earlier this year. Having an athlete of your calibre and experience on the Board is a great asset for Special Olympics Australia.

I acknowledge the custodians of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge

  • Gill Stapleton, CEO Special Olympics Australia
  • Mark Streeting, Chair Special Olympics Australia
  • John Foreman, our MC for tonight
  • Many friends from Special Olympics


It’s a pleasure to be here this evening representing the Minister for Sport, Senator Kate Lundy.

We know how much she values sport for what it can achieve on and off the field, so she would have liked very much to be here tonight but she’s on her way to London to attend the Paralympics.


Each year, there is a particularly fantastic night in Sydney’s calendar of events.

It’s the Special Olympics Variety Dinner – when corporate Australia, the community, media, and the ‘Special Olympics family’ get together to raise funds for the magnificent work the Special Olympics does in inspiring people with an intellectual disability to reach their personal best.

This year raises the bar significantly because it is the first time the event has gone ‘national’.

And we have the biggest crowd, with more than 650 people.

Tonight you are hoping to raise $150,000 which will go towards school and special programs.

And what makes tonight really exceptional is seeing the Special Olympics Dance Performance Group looking their fabulous best, doing their “All that Jazz” routines.

Aren’t they wonderful! They have performed each year since 2006 and raised over $500,000 for Special Olympics.

When the Special Olympics Dance Group first came together they had only six dancers.

Today there are over ten groups with a total of 124 dancers.

And the grouped featured on the Governor General’s Christmas card last year.

On Monday evening, along with John Trevillian, I was at dinner at Government House and she is so proud of her association with Special Olympics and so proud of your achievements

I also want to sincerely thank some of Australia’s best known and loved performers who are here tonight supporting our dancers. They have given very generously of their time and their talents.


The word ‘olympics’ has been everywhere over the past few months.

We have witnessed magnificent sportsmanship and athletic feats in London from our elite athletes.

Starting in 5 days we are about to see more that will amaze us from our elite athletes with a disability, in the Paralympics.

And we have the Special Olympics, happening every day with sports training and competition, all around Australia and the globe.


Special Olympics is the only organisation that the International Olympic Committee has authorised to use the word ‘Olympics’.

It was established in the USA in 1968 by Mrs Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F Kennedy.

Globally, Special Olympics supports 3.5 million athletes in over 170 countries.

Across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia, Special Olympics supports around 4,600 athletes in over 350 sports clubs.

Annually over 250 local competitions are held outside of regular training.

And over 1,600 volunteers provide sports training and competition every week. They also work on committees, manage events and raise funds.

Now, I must confess…I am not an athlete, and have never been. I’ve never actually been very ‘sporty.’ But something changed last year – and I can pinpoint the very moment it occurred.

I had the honour of joining the largest ever Australian contingent of athletes, coaches and volunteers at the 13th Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece.

In Olympic tradition, the opening ceremony saw each country enter the stadium.

I stood amongst our team, around 130-strong athletes, waiting to be called. As we all walked into the stadium, the Parthenon – the historic centre of Athens and the birthplace of the Olympic movement – our team was introduced….AUSTRALIA.

Instantly, I had goose bumps.

My back was straight. My chin up. I was so proud.

To hear the support that erupted for our team, to see our athletes embrace the incredible atmosphere and enjoy the pinnacle of their sporting careers – was one of the greatest thrills of my life.

To be able to share such an incredible moment was so special… It still gives me goose bumps when I talk about it.

It was that ‘goosebump’ moment that really showed me that this wasn’t just about sport, it was so much more. I may not be a great athlete or a sports buff, but my eyes have been opened as the power of sport, the spirit of the Olympic movement.

Special Olympics encourages every athlete to achieve their personal best, no matter what their level of ability.

Of course athletes strive to win medals, but it is also about courage, confidence and camaraderie.

This attitude is summed up in their oath: ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’

Its all about achieving our personal best – something we can all do, whatever we do.

I am looking forward to soon welcoming Special Olympics Australia to my home town.

The Trans-Tasman Tournament will this year be held in Cairns, in beautiful Tropical North Queensland, during October…which is fast approaching.

We’ll have around 350 athletes from Australia and New Zealand go head-to-head in athletics, basketball, soccer and tenpin bowling.

And of course we can look ahead to 2013 where Australia will host more than 1,700 Special Olympics athletes, 600 coaches, 4,000 volunteers, and approximately 200,000 spectators from 25 nations for the inaugural Asia Pacific Games in Newcastle.

462 Days to go!

Special Olympics Australia has clearly been incredibly busy and what a jam packed calendar of events they have in store in the year ahead.

To the team at Special Olympics Australia…well done to you all. You are achieving great things. Your work to secure the inaugural Asia Pacific Games is just one example of – and is testament to – your continued effort and enthusiasm over a long period of time.

We all know Special Olympics provides fantastic opportunities for Australians with intellectual disability to get involved in sport, to be part of a team and meet new friends, all in a fun and supportive environment.

But we also cannot under estimate the health outcomes also being achieved.


It is estimated that almost half the Australian population aged 8-65 are physically inactive.

This is estimated to cost the Australian healthcare system $1.5 billion a year.

On top of this, studies indicate that less than 10% of people with an intellectual disability, in the same age range, participate in regular sport.

That’s why the Special Olympics are so important for Australians with an intellectual disability.

During the World Games in Greece, I was able see firsthand the Healthy Athletes program.

Healthy Athletes is an impressive public health service that provides free screenings and health information at Special Olympics competitions.

Despite a mistaken belief that people with intellectual disabilities receive the same or better health care than others, they typically receive sub-standard care, or virtually no health care at all.

I visited the Healthy Athletes screening service operating at the World Games in Athens.

Special Olympians from across the globe, including many Australians, benefited from the service. It educates athletes on healthy lifestyle choices – like diet, nutrition – and they also identify problems – they test hearing and vision, check teeth and feet, as well as providing follow up.

And importantly they train health professionals to work with people with intellectual disability.


According to the World Health Organisation people with an intellectual disability form the biggest disability population in the world.

We have around 500,000 intellectually disabled people in Australia. About 1 in 44 Australians has an intellectual disability.

Therefore many of us will be close to or know someone who is intellectually disabled and unfortunately we know that our disability service system is failing many of those people.

The Prime Minister said recently that budgets are about values, they’re about choices, they’re about what you put your ultimate regard for.

Our Government is putting an overwhelming priority on launching a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We have delivered $1 billion to fund our share of the first stage of a national disability insurance scheme.

More than 20,000 with significant and permanent disabilities, their families and carers will benefit from the first stage in five locations around the country from the middle of next year.

We want every Australian, including people with disability, to achieve their best in life, to develop skills and gain experience, and to have the confidence to dream big and believe in themselves.

And that’s what the National Disability Insurance Scheme is ultimately about – ensuring people with disability are supported to reach their potential.


Tonight belongs to our ‘special olympians’.

They fill our hearts with pride at what they achieve and with joy for being who they are.

Special Olympics Australia is doing magnificent work every day to help them to be their best.

Thank you all for being here – and being part of “all that jazz”.