MEMBER for Wannon Dan Tehan has supported a motion recognising the powerful role that 1968 Olympic sprinter Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality.
Norman, who died in 2006, was the Australian silver medallist who controversially stood in solidarity with two black American athletes during the medal ceremony for the 200-metre race.
But Mr Tehan warned federal members to be careful about offering a posthumous apology to the late athlete over Australia’s failure to send him to the subsequent Olympics in Munich.
A motion, moved by Labor backbencher Andrew Leigh, called for Parliament to recognise Norman’s extraordinary athletic achievements in placing second in the Mexico City Olympic in a time of 20.06 seconds, which still stands as the Australian record.
It also urged recognition of Norman’s bravery in wearing a human rights badge on the podium, in solidarity with African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who famously gave the ‘black power’ salute, and the powerful role Norman played in furthering racial equality.
Mr Leigh also sought a parliamentary apology for Norman’s non-selection at Munich.
Mr Tehan suggested Parliament should be “a little bit careful” over the apology. “The research that I have done would seem to show that Peter himself, when it came to the 1972 Olympics, recognised that he probably was not going to be selected. That was based on his performance at the 1972 Australian athletic championships.”
The member for Wannon said the 1968 Olympics held a special place in his heart because they were held in the year he was born and he had spent three years in Mexico City as a diplomat.
“The 1968 summer Olympics were famous for three things. Dick Fosbury inventing the Fosbury flop, Bob Beamon jumping 55 centimetres further than anyone else had jumped and so breaking the long-jump record, which stood until 1991, and the ‘black power’ medal ceremony.
“Peter Norman’s courage was there for all to see. As this motion rightly recognises, all Australians should proudly recognise his bravery on that day. As the motion acknowledges, we should also recognise Peter’s athletic prowess.”
He asked Australians to consider if they would have had the courage to stand in Norman’s shoes in 1968.
“We still had not put to bed the White Australia policy and we all know what was going on in the US during those times. I asked myself when I was preparing for this debate whether I would have been able to do what Peter did. I would hope that the best in me would have been able to; I really do.
“But unless you could place yourself in that situation at that time, I do not think you could clearly say that you would.”