Remarks, Australian of the Year Finalists morning tea

Source: Prime Minister of Australia

PRIME MINISTER: Well I’m sorry to interrupt the conversations you are having with Jenny. It’s a great thrill for Jenny and I to be here with all of you today.

Can I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, their elders, past, present, and particularly the future that give us so much hope.

Can I acknowledge also any veterans or serving men and women of our defence forces who are here with us today or may be watching this from elsewhere and just say thank you, as we do thank all of those who serve our community each and every day even now and I’m mindful of those serving us down in those, near those Adelaide Hills with the fires that are there and those all around our country, thank you for you service.

To the Honourable Ken Wyatt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, a great Australian. To Richard Colbeck, Senator Colbeck, the Minister for Aged Care services, Senior Australians and Minister for Youth- sorry and Sport. To Ben Morton, my Assistant Minister.

To Dani Roche and all of the members of the National Australia Day Council, Dani thank you for the tremendous job you do year in year out. You bring together this amazing family of people and you shepherd them around and you connect them up and they love it, can I tell you, and I know you love it even more. There is always a smile on Dani’s face on this time of year, and I know the joy that she extracts from that is seeing the recognition of you but also the opportunity for you each to share your stories with one another and to encourage, and to encourage each other in the tremendous work you do.

Today we are honouring you for the choices you have made in your life.

Your choices to serve, your choice to speak up.

Your choice to study, learn, and work hard, to make a difference.

Each year, I meet the nominees together with Jenny, and inevitably, as you have again today, you always tell me ‘oh but there are others who have made bigger contributions’. Or, ‘why have they focused on me this is all terribly humbling’.

Your humility is one of your great virtues. But I am going to ask you to set aside that a bit today, I’m going to ask you to allow us to penetrate that humility, and honour you.

Because you deserve it.

And you should reflect on that.

And you should feel good about that.

I know that you will feel uncomfortable about that, but allow us to praise you and to put our honour upon you as a country.

You are each and every one of you remarkable.

Australia is more than 25 million stories, all important, all to be respected, all to be sought to be understood because they weave together to make this amazing nation that we call home.

But your stories are of course remarkable.

And I want to share them with you, I’ll start with someone who I’m used to standing next to, and that’s Brendan Murphy. He has been at my side for many many months now, including this morning. He is calm, measured in approach, and his voice of expertise has helped us achieve what few countries have in the course of this past year.

He got used to being in Australians’ lives and living rooms and he’s brought them I think great assurance and comfort – so much so, that one little girl asked him how he managed to get out of the TV.

He has been a public face of reassurance to Australians at one of our most difficult hours.

Like Kirby, in Bendigo. When the disposable gowns ran out three weeks in, you invented a new kind of washable gown – and you got them to 750 GP clinics in regional Victoria.

Donna, also from Victoria, helped the homeless as they endured the lockdown. And Tara, has worked with the homeless here in the ACT.

From South Australia, Richard advocates for Australians with an intellectual disability – and he worked to ensure they had a voice as we responded to COVID.

For so many others of you, the pandemic was another layer of the complexity and the challenging work that you already do.

So many of you work with Indigenous Australians and the communities, making a real difference.

Helen, our first Indigenous doctor – doing tremendous work with young people facing trauma.

Miriam-Rose, the first Indigenous teacher in the Northern Territory. Not only leading a school, but helping other schools infuse art and culture into every child’s learning.

Stuart, also from the Top End, is about to become the first Yolngu registered nurse. I hope I got that right. What a terrific milestone. Something to truly celebrate.

Tanya, the first Indigenous executive on the AFL transforming the AFL from the inside, and from the very top.

Isabel, the oldest living survivor of the Stolen Generations, overcoming, overcoming unimaginable suffering to raise awareness and stop it from ever happening again. Thank you Isabel.

McRose up in the Torres Strait Islands, nurturing families and communities, and educating people about climate change. 

To Richard, he has done incredible work bringing Indigenous culture and traditions into the centre of our national life.

And Wendy a globally respected expert in Aboriginal health, working for decades in East Arnhem Land to make communities healthier and more resilient.

And there’s Pat, influencing policy and research over decades.

All of you have devoted your time to making life better for Indigenous Australians, our first nations people, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We are also seeing tremendous work to make our own country a better place for Australian women.

My friend Tayla, a great sportswoman. In decades to come her image will be in the museums of Australian history – that kick, that kick. And she’s been nominated for her work stamping out online bullying.

Like Tayla, Russell is a legendary figure in Aussie Rules in South Australia – and he has been nominated for his efforts against domestic violence – and supporting people with a disability.

Erica, a police officer from the Northern Territory – involved in her community keeping women and children safe.

Rosemary is doing the same thing with migrant and refugee communities. Keeping women safe.

Bich for over 35 years has been working with Vietnamese women and children. Helping them across so many areas of their lives and to realise what they hoped Australia would be for them.

To Isobel, she’s just 18 and she is breaking down the stigma about women’s hygiene. And is a real leader for the future. 

There are the two Graces:

Grace Tame from Tasmania – what an inspiration she is. A woman of immense moral courage and strength – leading the #letherspeak campaign, and we were just speaking earlier – giving voice to survivors of sexual assault.

Grace’s work is a reminder, as is the work of so many of you – that Australia is not perfect. And the way to make it better is to work for it into the future as all of you are.

And then there’s Grace Forrest – championing an anti-slavery message in countries all around the world.

To Dinesh and Nathan, undaunted, are making our country a more level, welcoming place for Australians with disabilities. Overcoming.

And Daniel and William supporting endangered orangutans.

Tim and Rebecca are working on a cause close to my heart – we were just speaking about it then, dealing with plastics and landfill.

There’s Toby – from Tasmania, championing a more sustainable future.

And of course Shane from my home state, following in your father’s steps fighting the fires not just of this Black Summer but of many summers and many times, a great national hero.

To Natasha and her Drought Angels bringing relief to thousands of farming families many of whom I only saw in this past week up in Queensland, going through heart-breaking drought.

And Edna – a volunteer for 40 years. Most Christmasses she’s organising hampers for families who need them.   

And Brian, 50 years- 50 years with the Scouts serving young people in this country.

This is an incredible lineup. And I thank you for your patience as I read through all of those contributions.

Amazing stories that can only make you humble and proud to be an Australian.

You all do different things, but what all of you have in common is that you saw a need and you went to meet it.

Perhaps you didn’t even know you could. Or you even had those capabilities.

You just saw the need.

And whatever you had to acquire or whatever capabilities you had to build within yourself, they built on the most important platform and that was the care and compassion you had for the need that you saw and that you sought to meet.

You decided to give it a go and as a result you have made our country better, you have made our country stronger.

And we are indeed thankful for your tremendous service.

I’m grateful, and the country’s grateful that your nominations are before us.

They are all richly deserved.

A few of you tonight will be especially recognised but that in no way diminishes anyone’s achievements tonight.

I’m sure even those, and I see our former Australian of the Year here with us today, know that you largely serve as an ambassador for the many stories who are represented here amongst all of those tremendous efforts that have been made right across our country.

So all the best tonight, I noticed that Minister Hunt is with us today as well I particularly want to acknowledge you Greg for the great work that you’ve done as well.

But, I hope you enjoy tonight.

Allow us the opportunity to honour you and thank you and be comfortable in that moment.

And as you return to where you’ve come from all across this great land, I’ll look forward to the many contributions that you’ll continue to make.

So thank you, and God bless.