Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Australian of the Year Awards

7:39 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) Share this | Hansard source

Today I wish to raise the important matter of the Australian of the Year Awards. The National Australia Day Council was established in 1979, known then as 'the committee', with a vision to make future Australia Day celebrations truly national and Australia-wide. The National Australia Day Council, NADC, is a not-for-profit govern­ment owned company ably chaired by Adam Gilchrist AM and is the coordinating body for Australia Day celebrations across the nation and for the Australian of the Year Awards.

The NADC heads a network of eight state and territory Australia Day affiliate organisations and some 780 local Australia Day committees. Tomorrow the Prime Minister, along with the NADC, will launch the call for nominations for the upcoming Australian of the Year Awards. The Prime Minister will be joined by the council chair, Adam Gilchrist AM; Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon; and Young Australian of the Year, Jessica Watson. I strongly encourage my Senate colleagues and members of parliament to get behind this prestigious national awards program and see if they can get along to that launch tomorrow morning.

As parliamentarians, we are always privileged to hear the great things happening in our respective communities. We often learn about extraordinary individuals who work tirelessly to make life better for others or who achieve amazing things. This award program presents each of us with a unique opportunity to pay tribute to these dedicated and inspirational people. The local insight that is gathered and the passionate community involvement associated with these awards is also extremely valuable in ensuring the continued success of the awards, which recognise Australians from our very diverse backgrounds. For more than 50 years, we have been naming an Australian of the Year. In recent years we have also presented awards for a Senior Australian of the Year, a Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero.

The honour roll of past recipients is a veritable who's who of our nation's modern history, with many inspirational Australians from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds being honoured. The list includes people from a wide range of professions and interests, scientists, medical professionals, sportsmen and sportswomen, humanitarians, historians, artists, entrepre­neurs, philanthropists, military people and people active in the volunteering and community sector. Each of our past Australians of the Year has had a clear vision and a driving passion that helped inspire Australians to their cause and make them truly worthy recipients. For example, the late Lionel Rose MBE received the Australian of the Year Award in 1968 for being an inspirational Australian and international sportsman. He was recently remembered and celebrated with a state funeral in Victoria. He received the award after becoming the first Australian Indigenous world boxing champion. It was also the first time an Indigenous Australian had been honoured with the Australian of the Year Award. Since then, many Australians from a wide range of cultural backgrounds have received this honour. You will have heard about the 2011 national award recipients announced by the Prime Minister on the eve of Australia Day earlier this year.

Simon McKeon, the 2011 Australian of the Year Award recipient, is a social entrepreneur who uses his position and expertise to encourage the big end of town to better support those in need, not just with money but with skills. Simon's message is to take the skills you have, be they in finance, marketing or public policy, and put them to use for the community's benefit and to support the community sector. As well as Simon, the current Australian of the Year recipients are Professor Ron McCallum AO, Senior Australian of the Year for 2011, for his service to the law and many charitable organisations; Ms Jessica Watson, Young Australian of the year for 2011, an inspirational young woman who sailed around the world last year; and Dr Donald Ritchie OAM, Australia's Local Hero for 2011, who received his award for being a dedicated suicide prevention advocate. If you have not read all of these people's stories, I urge you to. They are truly inspirational and give substance to the nature and character of these awards, which honour many diverse achievers across our community. The Australian of the Year Awards are one of the country's most highly valued and well-respected active citizenship programs. They recognise and promote outstanding Aust­ralians making special contributions to our nation and to our way of life. The awards also promote community engagement, another pre-eminent celebration of being an Australian through the award program.

I would like to say just a few words about process. These awards can be bestowed on any Australian. However, to be considered for an award, a person must first be nominated, and that is what makes this program unique. All nominations are received by the NADC and, after the nomination period, which runs for two months, the nominations are sorted out by state and territory. Each state and territory has a selection panel, which is chaired by the local Australia Day organisation and includes community representatives, NADC representatives and program sponsor repre­sentatives. These state based selection panels then choose four finalists for each award category, with one of the finalists becoming the state or territory award recipient. State or territory award recipients then progress to the national level of the awards and become the national finalists. The board of the NADC then selects the national award recipients in all four award categories. The Prime Minister, as many people would know, announces the Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian and Australia's Local Hero on the eve of Australia Day.

Many of us have had the privilege and excitement of being at this ceremony, which has been held on Federation Mall, in front of Parliament House—along that beautiful land axis of the Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony plan of Canberra, where the pinnacle of Mt Ainslie flows down to the War Memorial along Anzac Parade, across the lake to Commonwealth Place, Reconciliation Place, Old Parliament House, Federation Mall and of course Parliament House here on this hill. The visible backdrop to the awards ceremony, many Australians—as it is televised—find completely inspira­tional. We have been lucky with the weather—on a beautiful summer day, on the eve of Australia Day—that all Australians can see their national capital hosting this very prestigious award.

Nominations for the 2012 Australian of the Year Awards are open to 31 August 2011. More information can be found on the website. I urge everybody, all my Senate colleagues and members of parliament, to promote these awards in their communities, to nominate someone you consider worthy of recognition. I say to all Australians: if you know someone who is, in your view, worthy of this recognition, then you have the opportunity to make that nomination. Consider who you think makes us proud to be Australian and encourage people in your communities to do the same.

Having attended that ceremony, I know that it is both poignant and moving to hear and read the tributes and citations of those nominated. It is truly a wonderful celebration of what it is to be Australian. I commend the NADC and Australian of the Year Awards.

Senate adjourned at 19:48


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