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Australia Day Honours recipient Paul Harpur believes support for Para-athletes should be seen as part of a wider policy to guide and encourage society towards inclusion.

Harpur, a Professor of Law at The University of Queensland and Australian Paralympic Team representative at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to people with disability. He, swimmer Ellie Cole and equestrian Sue-Ellen Lovett were among outstanding contributors to the Paralympic movement who were bestowed with Australia Day Honours.

“Being a Paralympian supercharges opportunities,” Harpur said. “Not only by being part of the Paralympic family and all looking out for each other, but also I think Para-sport creates a mentality that enables success.

“It increases access and I can use it to help bring other people along. The Paralympics really does set you up. You’re surrounded by champions and it rubs off on you.

“A lot of Paralympians become change agents, not just in sport but across society. It’s one of the reasons I think we need to get behind our Para-athletes.”

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Harpur is heavily involved in various committees at UQ – which is the Official Higher Education Partner of Paralympics Australia – including the Olympics and Paralympics Oversight Committee and Senate Committee for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. He was Blind Australian of the Year in 2022.

Harpur partly credits his experiences representing Australia in goalball at the Sydney Paralympics and athletics at the Athens Games for setting his direction in life.

“It’s definitely connected with the Paralympics,” he said. “The mission of the Paralympics is to use Para-sport to help champion change in society. I see a really strong connection between what I do and the Paralympics. It’s really important to me to keep seeing change.

“I was in Sydney for the Paralympics and I saw how the Games led to changes. It really had an impact and it makes me excited for Brisbane 2032 because I think it’ll have an equal or even bigger impact.”

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Cole, the winner of six Paralympic gold medals, was named a Member of the Order of Australia “for significant service to sport as an advocate for diversity and inclusion”. Cole was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2014.

Lovett, who competed at the Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia “for service to horse sports, and to the community”. Lovett has completed several rides for charity, raising millions of dollars in support of Guide Dogs Australia and cancer-related services.

By: David Sygall, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 30 January 2024
Imagery supplied by University of Queensland and Paralympics Australia