RADIO 3AW: Paralympics launch ceremony
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Monday, 1 September 2008
TONY LEONARD: Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Bill Shorten, joins us now.
BILL SHORTEN: Good morning, Tony.
TONY LEONARD: You’re at the airport at the moment, Sydney Airport, I’m taking, farewelling our Paralympians.
BILL SHORTEN: Yes, with Therese Rein, the Prime Minister’s wife, we’ll be saying goodbye to our 290-strong Paralympian team.
TONY LEONARD: Obviously the euphoria that was the Beijing Olympics has stopped for the week though, but no doubt once the Paralympics start, you know, getting amongst the medals and start competing, I’ve got no doubt at all there will be renewed interest.
How are they all feeling? What’s the levels of excitement?
BILL SHORTEN: Oh, the athletes who are here and their trainers and coaches, they’re pumped. I mean, what people have to understand about the Paralympics, or should understand, is if you’re a sports junkie and you like watching athletes who’ve trained hard competing in world-class events with other nations, then the 100 hours of the Paralympics on TV is going to be just up your street. It’ll be incredibly exciting.
DARREN JAMES: And it has gained legs over the years, hasn’t it? It’s become really another event as an adjunct to the main Olympics.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, you know, I think it is all about that Olympic spirit. Sometimes people talk about it, but when you talk to the athletes here, not only – they’re completely professional in their dedication and athleticism, but they’ve all got great stories. And it’s sport as it used to be, it’s about the athletes competing for the love of the sport.
DARREN JAMES: And have you studied the form? Have you got anyone we can keep our eye on who’s a potential gold medallist?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, in the Athens Olympics, we actually won 26 gold medals. So we’ve got plenty of potential gold medallists. Every one of them has a story to tell and it’ll be great, but there’s a couple of particularly well known people – Kurt Fearnley who’s the distance Paralympian. Get this, he competes in 1500 metres, 5000 metres and the marathon.
And there’s another chap, Matt Cowdrey. Some of the boosters in the Paralympians call him the Michael Phelps of the Paralympian – of the Paralympic swimming competition. He can swim all classes.
So Matt Cowdrey and Kurt Fearnley. But there’s plenty of other champions here.
TONY LEONARD: Bill, just on the point of funding for sports people, the coaches, the elite coaches were quite critical of the level of the Government’s commitment to the able-bodied Olympics. What sort of measure of support from a federal government point of view goes into support our Paralympians?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, there’s always more that could be done. I know that our very capable Sports Minister, Kate Ellis, has got a review going about the Olympics. But for the record, we’re sending more athletes this time than we did in 2004 to Athens. Funding has increased between the preparation of the ’04 team to the ’08 team. And we’re due at this stage to spend about $22 million preparing our next team after this event.
But there’s always more that can be done, but what will help – what helps Paralympics and the profile is people tuning in. As I said, if you are a sports nut and you like watching good, competitive sport at the world stage across all the same event classes with athletes who train their guts out…
TONY LEONARD: Yeah.
BILL SHORTEN: then the Paralympics is for you.
DARREN JAMES: And it’s on ABC2? It’s on free-to-air and everyone can watch it and sit back and enjoy it and, well, more sport the better.
Will there be any ambassadors like – Steve Waugh was a part of the, I guess, coaching team for Australia. Will there be anyone like that?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, in fact, one of the patrons of the Paralympics is Ms Therese Rein. Her father was a Paralympian.
DARREN JAMES: Uh-huh.
BILL SHORTEN: So she’s out there promoting, promoting it. And I tell you, they have this great talent search program as well where they identify people who could potentially be Olympic athletes.
Yeah, so I think it is going to be a range of ambassadors off – they’re going to Beijing. So, in fact, I’ve even got myself a guernsey to attend in the last four days.
DARREN JAMES: Oh, fantastic.
TONY LEONARD: Oh, okay, so you just can’t extricate yourself for the two weeks, Bill? You’ve just got to – you’ve actually got to do a bit of stuff up in Canberra, but you’re allowed to – they’re going to give you a bit of time off to witness some of it over the last couple of days?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, that’ll be – yes. Our Sports Minister, Kate Ellis, is going for the first few days. But I think it’s important to be there. You know, I think it’ll be fantastic…
TONY LEONARD: No, no one’s questioning whether you should be there as the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities. The question would always come from the cynical population, Bill, is just how many of you need to be there.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, I reckon when you see these – I think when you’ve got our athletes competing overseas, then they should have their – they should be recognised and supported. I’m not saying there’ll be anyone else other than me, but my point is that, you know, these are great athletes and they do deserve recognition and they’re proud of their country and they wear the green and gold, and we should be backing them at every level.
DARREN JAMES: Absolutely.
TONY LEONARD: You’re bang on there, and you mentioned Athens and I know that there was great joy taken by all of Australia with the efforts in the Paralympics. I’ve got no doubt this will be same again, given that there is still a real glow about what happened a fortnight ago.
DARREN JAMES: Twenty-six gold.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, that’s right, and I think we came fifth in Athens. I mean, competing is what’s important. Once you’re representing Australia at the elite level, you are elite, you’ve made it.
DARREN JAMES: Well, I tell you what, it’s an exciting morning for you. You can hear the excitement in the air in the background, and good luck to the all the athletes heading over to Beijing. And thanks for joining us this morning, Bill.
BILL SHORTEN: Fantastic. Good on you.
DARREN JAMES: Bill Shorten on 3AW.