Published: 28 October 2021

Legislative Council Tuesday 26 October, 2021

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - I move that the Legislative Council notes -

(1) The achievement of Wynyard Yacht Club members Chris Symonds and his support worker Ela Klinger who will be travelling to Palermo, Sicily, to participate in the Hansa Para World Championships scheduled for 2-9 October 2021;

(2) Chris Symonds:

Has been living with Kennedy’s Disease, a rare neuromuscular disorder, for a number of years and is an NDIS participant;

(b) started sailing in the Hansa 303 class in 2014, competing nationally and internationally; and

c) is the winner of two World Championships and runner up in five since 2017;

(3) Chris Symonds and Ela Klinger are the only Australians of the 101 entries from 23 nations to compete in the Para World Championships in Palermo, Sicily in 2021; and

(4) An exemption for Chris Symonds and Ela Klinger to depart Australia was granted 'in the National Interest' on 28 July 2021, and that strict COVID safe protocols will be followed for the duration of the competition and on their return to Australia.

This is a good segway for the previous debate we just had and one of the reasons I did not speak on that motion is because in speaking to this motion I note the achievements of all para athletes and those that reach the highest level in their field. This is exactly where my constituents, Chris Symonds and his support worker and coach and good friend, Ela Klinger, fit the bill.

In moving the motion in my name, I am pleased to speak on this motion, a motion I gave notice of and my incredible constituent, Chris Symonds and his coach and training partner, Ela Klinger, have been selected to participate in the Hansa Para World Championships scheduled for 2 9 October 2021 in Palermo, Sicily.

As stated in the motion, Chris Symonds and Ela Klinger are the only Australians of the 181 athletes from 24 nations to compete in the Hansa Para World Championships, a testament to their ability, determination and skill and courage. I am incredibly proud of Chris' achievements prior to and during this competition. In my view, just being selected is an incredible achievement in itself. I also know a national award-winning Wynyard Yacht Club, the Wynyard community, the north-west coast, all Tasmanians and Australians can be rightly proud of his achievements.

As the motion notes, Chris has been living with Kennedy's Disease, a rare and debilitating neuromuscular disease, for many years. He is an NDIS recipient and relies on others to support him achieving his goals. Chris requires the support of a mobility scooter to assist him on land, but on water he is truly a force to be reckoned with. I cannot do what he does in a small boat. It blows my mind how agile and capable he is. As I said, just getting selected as the only Australians to compete is a win in itself and enormous achievement. Bringing home a world championship in the doubles open competition against 61 other yachts and a third place in the Para Worlds was an amazing and noteworthy achievement. I sincerely congratulate Chris and Ela on this world leading achievement. Chris has now claimed his third Hansa 303 doubles world championship title. Chris narrowly missed out on walking away with from the championships with two medals finishing fourth in the Hansa 303 singles race. A fantastic result in such trying conditions.

I do not know if anyone else in the Chamber here has met Chris Symonds, he is quite physically frail, he is not a big man by any stretch because of the nature of his debilitating condition means he does not have not have a lot of muscle bulk. What he misses out on in muscles he has got in courage and heart. He is the most courageous man. For those of you who have met or know Chris you will appreciate that a super human effort is required by a person impacted to the extent he is with Kennedy's disease to compete at this level, but even at a lower level. The singles events show his enormous determination and strength of character as he overcomes some of his physical limitations.

Australia's participation in these world championships was critical to support world savings goal to get sailing back into the Paralympics in Los Angeles in 2028. I am not sure if members here are aware para sailing is not in the Paralympics. It does not make any sense to me either. I know Chris has been actively lobbying to achieve this and he has my full support and I have supported him in lobbying our Premier and other relevant ministers and other people to do that.

Chris has led not just Tasmania's, but Australia's case for inclusion and he has supporting letters from Tasmania's Premier, Mr Gutwein and from the Prime Minister.

Ms Rattray - Who makes the decision? Is it the IOC?

Ms FORREST - I think it is, I am not entirely sure but Chris is on a mission.

Ms Rattray - They usually add a new sport each time.

Ms FORREST - I am not sure who the final decision maker is. I urge the Minister for Sport and Recreation who is unfortunately not in the Chamber to be actively involved in this push as it seems ridiculous to me it is currently not in the Paralympics sport. The world championships were a show of strength for reinclusion at such a difficult time with many having to fund their own way to compete, as many countries, including Australia are not providing financial support. This was the problem when the Paralympics started and the Prime Minister, finally, after lots of public pressure stepped in to ensure Paralympics were afforded the same prize money received able bodied Olympians when they receive medals.

This is another matter I urge the Minister for Sport and Recreation and the Minister for Disability to actively promote. It seems fundamentally wrong a person with such a disability can get to this level of competition and have no financial support to compete. As noted in the motion and there is no news to anyone, the COVID-19 pandemic has added many additional challenges and complexities to the preparation and planning for this opportunity for Chris and Ella. The COVID-19 protocols were key to ensuring athletes, officials and volunteers' safety and with 450 tests completed, vaccination evidence and daily temperature checks. I know on Chris's Facebook page there is a photo of him sitting on his mobility scooter having his COVID 19 test - looking quite uncomfortable I might add.

His last post I noticed on Facebook a day or two ago was he and Ela back on the plane heading home, so I wish them safe travels. They should be back in Australia by now. Chris and Ela went above the requirements required of them under the code of requirements with advice from one of the Australian Olympic team doctors, Kathy Yu, these measures included always wearing masks onshore, living away from hotels in an apartment where they were self-contained with food and heavy interaction with others to a bare minimum. These people are very vulnerable, Chris is particularly vulnerable.

Chris and Ela hired a local yacht skipper to drive the support rigid hulled inflatable boat and assist with any onshore requirements. The weather was extreme with thunderstorms, high winds and rain squalls testing all involved with only nine of the 20 scheduled races able to be completed. There is no controlling the weather making Chris and Ela's achievements even more noteworthy. For him to complain about the conditions when he trains in Bass Strait is saying something. Well, not complain about them, but to comment on them. Although the water temperature is much warmer in Sicily than it is off Wynyard, Chris informed me that Wynyard's ocean training area was perfect preparation. Sailors get to experience almost all weather and sea conditions in and around the Inglis River and Bass Strait, making them well prepared for the uncertain conditions in Spain.

Chris told me after the event in his view just getting there to compete was like preparing for and then competing in four marathons, the first marathon being training for the event, the second marathon planning and the coordination just to get to Spain and to the competition, the third marathon competing, especially in the very challenging conditions, and finally the fourth marathon is currently underway, getting back home safely. That is scheduled for 8 November at this stage, when he is back home in Wynyard safely.

There is little public and media attention with the exception of our local paper, the Advocate, but hopefully there will be more coverage of this great success on Chris' return. Unlike other sporting achievements, Chris posted on his Facebook page following the event, 'with all the planning, training, support the results could not have been better than to share it with Ella against the world's best Hansa para sailors.

I sincerely congratulate Chris and Ela for again putting Wynyard, Tasmania and Australia on the world stage in such a positive and successful way. I urge the state and federal governments to continue to lobby to have para sailing included in the 2028 Paralympics in Los Angeles, and to ensure our Paralympians are afforded and supported and funded to prepare, attend and compete in these events, as well as other international events Chris has and continues to compete in. Whilst Chris has received a lot of support from his local community, for which he is very grateful, I believe athletes such as Chris competing at such elite levels should receive similar financial support to able-bodied elite athletes attending world championships.

I conclude with reiterating my commendation to Chris and Ela and wish them well navigating their return to Wynyard with all the challenges that brings with the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic.


Go Back