Peter Norman, a man who believed right could never be wrong - Transcript, 2GB Radio





Subjects: Peter Norman.

ALAN JONES: Someone who's campaigned outstandingly for recognition for Peter Norman is the Federal Labor MP Andrew Leigh. Very smart man, a very fine academic. Also a runner. I first spoke to Andrew about this back in 2012, when to his great credit he moved a motion in the Federal Parliament of apology to Peter Norman. Andrew’s on the line. Andrew, good morning.

ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES:  Good morning, Alan. Thank you for the generous introduction.

JONES: It's true. What a lovely, lovely story. But oh dear, takes a long time to catch up with the truth, doesn't it?

LEIGH: It's 51 years. It's extraordinary it's taken us this long to recognise that what Peter did was so much more than his run, amazing time as it was. You know, even the closest anyone's come to Peter’s 20.06 was Dean Capobianco in 1993 with his 20.18. But the achievement of being willing to take a stand against racial inequality in 1968 at a time where that was pretty unpopular stance. They were booed in the stadium for making the black power salute.

JONES: Absolutely. And they were sent home too, and Peter was never chosen again. Isn't that, when you think all those years ago, the wonderful - it's almost epigrammatic the way Tommie Smith said ‘a man who believed right could never be wrong’. Isn't it a beautiful thing?

LEIGH: Yes. And that moment in which they asked him if he believed in God and he said he believed strongly in God, because he was from a Salvation Army background. They looked into his eyes and they said that they saw only love as Peter said ‘I'll stand with you’. That willingness Alan, to go against the tide and to have that that firm moral compass that tells you that racial injustice is wrong and that even at the Olympics it's worth taking a stand. So many others at that time were saying all sport and politics can't possibly mix - you couldn't have a stand for equality at a sporting event. Peter Norman knew, as so many of us recognise now, that racial inequality was a big issue and needed to be confronted head on.

JONES: You moved that wonderful motion, you and I talked at the time. The first part of that motion in the Federal Parliament was that this House recognises the extraordinary athletic achievements of the late Peter Norman, who won the silver medal in the 200 metre sprint running event at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, a time of 20.06 seconds which still stands as the Australian record. I mean, in many ways though, the statue is not really about the magnificent athletic achievement albeit an outstanding one. It is about the symbol of what he stood for and the example he set to others.

LEIGH: Absolutely. Oddly enough, it was my grandfather Keith Leigh - a Methodist minister in Rosanna church – who was one of the first to recognise that, and to hear some of the raised eyebrows from his congregation invited a Salvation Army man to come in and address the congregation when he came back in 1968. So in some sense, Alan, I'm following in my grandfather's footsteps.

JONES: Look, you’ve done brilliantly. You've done brilliantly. Part three of your motion in the Federal Parliament, part three said that the Parliament on behalf of the nation quote ‘apologises to Peter Norman for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006’. On that day that you moved the motion, just take us back very quickly, what was the reaction of the Parliament? That the lower house, the House of Representatives.

LEIGH: It was unanimous. We had people from both parties speaking in favour of the motion, recognising all that Peter did. As a runner myself, I'm pretty much in awe of anyone who can perform at that level. But so many of us recognised that a wrong was done and I think it's credit to the Australian Olympic Committee and Athletics Australia now that they have apologised to Peter Norman, recognised that he should have been given a more prominent role in the 2000 Olympics, and that he should he should have been recognised not just for his athletic performance but also for his moral courage. I remember a schoolteacher in Queensland told me he'd set the Peter Norman story for his class, asking them to think about where they could have ‘Peter Norman moments’ in their own lives - when they could maybe stand up against somebody telling a racist joke on a bus and do the right thing where others were looking away.

JONES: Beautiful. You've done a wonderful job. Good to talk to you, Andrew. Thank you for your time.

LEIGH: Always good to chat, Alan.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.