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Monday, 9 November 2020
Government House Sydney
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

Bujari gamarruwa





I pay my respects to our traditional owners, Gadigal Elders, past, present and emerging, in the language of the First Nations people of this land, on which we gather.

Last year, on the 60th anniversary of the NSW celebration of our Australian of the Year Awardees, I made the comment that “In reflecting on the longevity of these Awards, we consider the very different place Australia was when these Awards were introduced in 1960.”

This year, I would add a postscript: “And the very different place Australia is, in 2020.” 

As Patron of the Australia Day Council of NSW, I welcome our 2021 NSW Australian of the Year finalists - and your special guests - from the Central West, the Far North Coast, the Northern Tablelands, the Riverina, Newcastle, the Southern Highlands and Sydney Metropolitan areas to Government House. I thank you for your contributions to our State and our nation in a year of immense challenge and change.

2020 has not been a year of much physical community engagement which makes the significance of your individual achievements and your selection as finalists for the NSW 2021 Australian of the Year Awards the more striking and, given the year we have had, I would suspect the more rewarding.  For some, you are here because you have, over many, many years, contributed to our community; for others you have taken up a challenge in response to a particular impetus or event. 

What you have in common is that you have worked and advocated to help make a society we want it to be, not only for yourselves but for others. You have joined alumni of proud Australians, particularly, proud Australians from New South Wales, of whom we are proud.  

A few names from the past 10 years tell us this story:

  • Professor Ron McCallum - Senior Australian of the Year in 2011 - Professor of Law and Dean of Sydney Law School, Equal Rights campaigner for people with disabilities, himself being blind from birth;
  • Professor Barbara Holborow - Senior Australian of the Year in 2012 - Children’s Court magistrate, a tireless champion for better judicial outcomes for children; 
  • Adam Goodes - Australian of the Year in 2014 - sportsman, role model and advocate for the fight against racism both on and off the football field;
  • Jacqueline Freney - 2014 Young Australian of the Year - Paralympian and motivational speaker who won a remarkable eight gold medals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games;
  • Professor Gordian Fulde –Senior Australian of the Year in 2016 - recognised as the longest serving emergency department director in Australia and for teaching and training students in the many facets of emergency medicine;
  • Professor Michelle Simmons and Eddie Woo in 2018, Australian of the Year and Australia’s Local Hero, respectively: Michelle - for her pioneering research into quantum physics, and Eddie - for changing our thinking on how we can teach our children;
  • And last year, Bernie Shakeshaft –Australia’s Local Hero 2020 - working to turn around the lives of young people at risk as founder of the BackTrack Youth Works Program in Armidale.

Some of you have strengthened and protected our community through drought, bushfires or pandemic …

Others have advocated and acted on issues of profound importance - First Nations and Stolen Generation recognition; advocating for the terminally ill, people living with disabilities, refugees and migrants;  the education and care of young people including those at risk, and those who are  homeless; environmental protection; volunteering to assist people in need and designing new health and communication technologies.

As New South Wales finalists of these prestigious national awards, you are recognised for ‘igniting the discussion’, shaping the conversation and changing our community for the better.[1]

This year, you are the finalists of the 2,601 NSW citizens who were nominated. This tells us that Australians are proud to acknowledge and applaud their fellow Australians whose achievements have positively impacted the lives of others in the community.

Whether you are the chosen candidate tonight - and I wish you all well - you can all be proud in what you have done and, as importantly, in the fact that others take inspiration from what you have achieved. Nothing can be better than leading by example.

On behalf of the community of New South Wales, and personally, congratulations. Thank you for being the people who have made 2020 a year that - despite everything - we will choose to remember.

Best wishes for this evening’s NSW Australian of the Year celebration.

[1] Australia Day message

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