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Recognition of Peter Norman and Salamanca Protests for legalisation of homosexuality - Adjournment Speech

Tuesday 13 November


I rise to recognise the anniversary of one extraordinary Australian. All of us, in some way, wish we had the talent and dedication to represent our current country at the Olympic Games, but few of us succeed. All of us at some point must stand and either fight for our convictions or fly from them. Few stand like Peter Norman.


On a single day in 1968, a young apprentice butcher from Coburg raised himself above the common bar of humanity and took Australia with him. The date of 16 October was the 50th anniversary of Norman's brilliant silver medal in the 200 metres at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. It was also the anniversary of his support of the silent protest by the United States gold and bronze medal winners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, against black poverty and racial inequality in their country—heads bowed, barefoot and each with one gloved fist raised. It is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century.


Peter Norman finished the 200-metre final in 20.06 seconds, blazing like a comet to the line in a time that would have won him gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. It remains an unbroken Australian record. Just before the medal presentation, Smith and Carlos told Norman about their plans to protest peacefully during the medal ceremony to focus world attention on the struggle for equality. 'I will stand with you,' the Australian said. 'In his eyes,' Carlos recalled in his eulogy at Norman's funeral, 'I saw only love.'


Norman helped create the symbolism of the moment by suggesting that the two Americans could share their only pair of gloves. On the way to the dais, Norman also borrowed an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge and pinned it to his tracksuit. In the simple act of wearing that badge, Peter Norman showed his fellow athletes and the watching world that the courageous actions of one person makes a difference. Uniquely for an Australian, Peter Norman stood at the very centre of the global stage, where his conscience demanded, for a cause that was not his own, with no precedent to inspire him and no incentive to motivate him other than his commitment to human rights. Like Smith and Carlos, he paid for that commitment. Shunned on his return from Mexico City, his role in the protest effectively cost him his career. While he did compete in the 1970 Commonwealth Games, he was not sent to the 1972 Munich Olympics.


The Australian Olympic Committee did not invite him to participate in any way on any day at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. It was the United States Olympics team who included him in their Sydney Olympics celebrations. When Peter Norman died in 2006, Tommie Smith and John Carlos flew to Melbourne to be pallbearers and deliver eulogies at his funeral. The USA Track & Field federation declared 9 October, the day of Norman's funeral, Peter Norman Day.


My parliamentary colleague and friend Andrew Leigh MP, in October 2012, in the other place moved a motion recognising Peter Norman's extraordinary athletic achievements, acknowledging his bravery and apologising for his mistreatment. It was passed unanimously. Now the Daniel Andrews Victorian Labor government, in partnership with Athletics Australia, has announced it will honour this sporting hero, Peter Norman, by striking a bronze statue at the Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne. I am really proud of Daniel Andrews for making this decision so that finally Peter Norman will be respected for the stand he took and so that Australia can recognise his courage in memoriam.


In athletic and humanitarian terms, from Edwin Flack to Cathy Freeman, Peter Norman is the noblest embodiment of Australia's Olympic ideal. First among equals, his hour in Mexico City abides as the finest Australian achievement at any Olympic Games. Not only was he faster, stronger and standing higher than any of us; he was brave for all of us. He put on display—for the world to realise—that sometimes you have to stand up for what you think is right. On behalf of Australia, thank you, Peter Norman.


I also want to share another important anniversary with the Senate. Last month marked an important anniversary in the fight for equality in Tasmania. Thirty years ago my friend Rodney Croome, along with 130 other people, was arrested at Hobart's iconic Salamanca Market for defending a small stall promoting gay law reform. People were arrested for displaying the word 'gay' or 'lesbian' or wearing material that displayed a pink triangle, a symbol used previously by the Nazis to identify homosexual men imprisoned in concentration camps but reclaimed by activists in the 1970s and 1980s to represent collective pride and protest. Three years later, in 1991, Croome and Nicholas Toonen took the Australian government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, claiming Tasmania's laws were in breach of articles 17 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Toonen's landmark claim prevailed, but it would not be until 1997, six years after the claim was filed and almost a decade after Croome's arrest, that homosexuality would be decriminalised in Tasmania.


In 30 years, Tasmania has gone from being the last state to decriminalise homosexuality and adopt discrimination laws to being Australia's most progressive. Tasmania was the first to allow civil unions and show support for same-sex marriage, with Rodney Croome himself recently describing our laws as gold standard. But, if Tasmania's laws are gold standard, what of the other states and the Commonwealth? Isn't it offensive that in this day and age a dichotomy between our jurisdictions can still exist for LBGTI equality? The fact that we had to have a plebiscite for marriage equality, held one year ago this week, demonstrates that we still live in a legal and social landscape that does not always adequately value and respect the human rights of LBGTI people. But, as history now shows, the Australian people wanted marriage equality and the human rights of LBGTI people respected. Yet it's not over. The recent hyperbole that arose from the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review only highlighted the prejudice that continues to ferment below the surface. It fleshed out the ways in which Australian law still grants religious bodies the right to exercise sexual discrimination, whereas Tasmania is the only state that prohibits all forms of discrimination against LBGTI people.


At the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, there is a moving exhibition currently on display, commemorating the Salamanca protests some 30 years ago with original photographs, police documents and protest materials from that 1988 event. To this day, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Group continues to operate every Saturday at Tasmania's Salamanca Market. I think these anniversaries are an opportunity for us to reflect on our values around sexuality, relationships and humanity. They're an opportunity for us to realise the magnitude of discrimination that the LBGTI community continues to experience, and to progress reform towards an equal future free from harm.