A former Army chief will spend the next 12 months pursuing three equally important goals as the 2016 Australian of the Year.
Lieutenant General David Morrison exposed the demeaning treatment of women in the Australian Army in 2013, famously telling troops to “get out” if they could not respect female colleagues.
At a ceremony on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra on Monday evening, Lieutenant General Morrison was named Australian of the Year for 2016, succeeding the title from domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, whose 11-year-old son Luke was killed by his father in Melbourne just under two years ago.
There were three other winners named on Monday – Senior Australian of the Year was long-serving emergency department director Professor Gordian Fulde and the Young Australian(s) of the Year were Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, who offer a free laundry service to homeless people.
Australia’s Local Hero was youth educator Catherine Keenan.
In his acceptance speech, Lieutenant General Morrison, a passionate advocate for gender equality and workplace diversity, said he would work to increase opportunity across the community.
“Too many of our fellow Australians are denied the opportunity to reach their potential,” he said.
“It happens because of their gender. Because of the God they believe in. Because of their racial heritage. Because they’re not able bodied. Because of their sexual orientation.
“And we as a nation … should be able to give them the chance to reach their potential, because when they do, we all benefit.”
He said he would advocate for gender diversity, putting an end to domestic violence and the case for Australia to become a republic.
His stern video message to Australia’s soldiers went viral in 2013, sparking a cultural transformation in the force.
Australian War Memorial director Brendan Nelson described the video as “defining moment of leadership”.
In his four years at the helm, female enrolment in the Army increased by 700.
Lieutenant General Morrison is the former boss of fellow Australian of the Year finalist Catherine McGregor, and refused to accept her resignation when she went public with her transformation from male to female.
See Lieutenant General Morrison accept his award below:
Senior Australian of the Year
St Vincent Hospital long-serving emergency department director Professor Gordian Fulde said he would spend his year as Senior of the Year advocating against violence.
The 67-year-old was recognised for his work campaigning against the scourge of ice and alcohol-fuelled violence – overwhelmingly the main cause of injury in emergency departments.
“For over 40 years, I have seen and treated the carnage caused. It is preventable. It is unnecessary,” he said in a speech accepting the award.
“The cost … of injury and despair to the individual, to the family, to the friends, to the community, even turning to Malcolm [Turnbull], the taxpayer is astronomical.”
For more than three decades he has headed emergency at St Vincent’s Hospital and Sydney Hospital
In addition to his hospital work, Professor Fulde supports many schools and community organisations and sits on the board of the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation.
He is also actively involved in teaching and training students and staff, and is a familiar face on the reality TV show Kings Cross ER.
He wants Australians to understand the risks of alcohol.
“Even if you’re drinking a bottle of wine a night, you’re destined for really serious health problems – from your brain to your heart,” he told AAP.
“I want people to know that.”
Young Australian of the Year
The Young Australian of the Year was not just an individual honour in 2016, for the first time ever, two very deserving locals earned the title.
Queensland pair Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett built a business on a simple idea – load a van up with a couple of washing machines and travel around offering the world’s first free laundry service for the people they refer to as their ‘friends on the street’.
But Orange Sky Laundry, established in 2014, turned into far more than just an offer to do the washing, it played a part in restoring hope and respect – and a good conversation – to vulnerable Australians.
Mr Patchett said they had washed 70,000 kilos of clothes and have had over 15,000 volunteering hours across six services in Australia.
“We can restore respect, raise health standards, and be a catalyst for conversation,” he said.
“We have found a way to treat others how they want to be treated.”
The pair want to expand their service Australia-wide in hopes of improving the lives of others.
More than 270 volunteers operate the vans – which have two commercial washing machines and two dryers – and reach homeless Australians in 36 locations.
Collectively they wash more than 350 loads each week in Brisbane, Melbourne, South East Victoria, Sydney and the Gold Coast.
Australia’s Local Hero
Youth educator Catherine Keenan has an ambitious plan to change the nation. And it all begins with young people.
“Telling stories is the way we take the complicated emotions and weird spirallings of imagination inside us and give them shape and form,” she said while accepting the honour.
“It’s how we understand the world around us and how we convince others to work with us to change it.”
The former journalist, arts writer and literary editor was recognised for her work as co-founder of the Sydney Story Factory.
The centre focuses on helping marginalised young Australians, especially those from indigenous and non-English speaking backgrounds, but free classes are offered to all.
Through the not-for-profit organisation, Dr Keenan has helped thousands of primary and high school students to improve their writing skills and cultivate their creativity through storytelling.
Dr Keenan wants to use the year to improve literacy rates, particularly among indigenous young people.