Former Australian Chief of Army and current chair of Diversity Council Australia David Morrison AO was tonight named ACT Australian of the Year at a function in Gandel Hall at the National Gallery of Australia.
The equality advocate immediately acknowledged the efforts of his colleagues to address cultural issues in the army “propelled by their deep sense of commitment and belief”.
“I am so much better person for having served in their ranks for much of my adult life,” he said.
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It was after the then Lieutenant-General ordered misbehaving troops to “get out” if they couldn’t accept women as equals, and his video message on the subject went viral that the army undertook a cultural shift that has led to the number of women joining up growing by 2% and greater acceptance of racial, ethnic and sexual diversity among the ranks.
Morrison thanked only one person by name, and to much applause: “The person who stands as my bedrock and my foundation, my beautiful wife Gail”.
He then spoke succinctly but with a strong message for all Australians:
“We live in I think one of the great communities and societies of our world, but no one would baulk at the idea that we could be better.
“No one, I think, who thinks deeply about how we live as individuals or part of a community would set themselves apart from the great challenges that we as individuals in this community face now and will face in the future.
“We will only meet those challenges if we allow every single individual to reach their potential, to make their contribution, irrespective of their colour, their creed, the god they believe in, their sexual orientation or their gender.
“We are at a tipping point, I think, here in contemporary Australia. We can all choose to make a difference and in doing so we will determine not just our contemporary world, but a world that we will leave as a legacy to those men and women who will be Australians of the future.
“Thank you again, it is a deep honour.”
Professor Greg Tegart won 2016 ACT Senior Australian of the Year for his efforts to give aged and disabled people a better quality of life.
Social entrepreneur Nipuni Wijewickrema was named 2016 ACT Young Australian of the Year for her work creating employment opportunities for those with special needs.
Peter Cursley collected the ACT Local Hero award for his fundraising efforts for neonatal care following the death of his wife and baby.
All four winners will now compete with their counterparts in other states for the national awards, presented in Canberra on the eve of Australia Day.
You can read full bios of all the finalists at australianoftheyear.org.au.