The Australian of the Year is meant to go to citizens who ‘shape our nation, inspire us and are role models for us all’. However, the last few years have shown that the award is now strictly given to activists who endorse trendy, progressive causes. With the announcement of the 2016 Australian of the Year award going to Lieutenant General David Morrison, one would assume he would emphasise veterans’ concerns. Instead, it looks as if his primary focuses will be on domestic violence, gender equality and advocating for a republic. What has been most objectionable was his statement made during his acceptance speech declaring that:
It is an extraordinary time to be an Australian, but I need to give it qualified agreement.
He went on to state that many Australians face discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion and disability status. Morrison’s statements are nothing extraordinary. Instead, they are indicative of a recent development in the political leanings of the award.
Comments from Australians of the Year in the past few years have depicted us all as being a racist, violent and overall intolerant bunch who are simply out of touch with this century’s progressive standards. Recipients of the award now tend to focus on, and perhaps even exaggerate, the negative aspects of our society.
Prior to 2007, recipients were primarily individuals who genuinely made a valuable contribution to the Australian community, alongside the occasional sporting star. People like Ian Frazer and Fiona Wood were heroes who surely inspired many. Since then, a new category of recipients has entered the scene— social justice warriors who champion progressive political ideals.
In 2007, the award went to Tim Flannery, the climate change crusader with an outrageous record of false predictions of an impending armageddon.
While broadcasting his apocalyptic climate story, he had the audacity to state that ‘some may say that Australia deserves its fate’ due to our failure to submit to the Kyoto protocol while being a high per-capita emitter of the dreaded carbon dioxide.
It is quite fitting that the following year’s award went to Lee Kernighan for his work which raised $1 million toward drought affected communities. His work highlighting the plight of struggling farming families is commendable, although, it does seem timely that this drought related narrative came directly after Australians were subject to Flannery’s doomsday predictions regarding a decline in rainfall.
Indigenous activist Mick Dodson followed. During his time in the role he advocated for changes to the Australian Constitution which would recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the preamble.
Patrick McGorry received the award in 2010, stating that the mental health system would be his main focus. This sounded practical, until he tied this in wit hthe detention centre debate and commented that such centres are ‘factories for producing mental illnesses.
It seems convenient that this occurred during a heated time in Australian politics, when both major parties were struggling with how to effectively deal with an increase in boat arrivals.
Simon McKeon was then awarded in 2011. During the year he described Australia’s moral landscape as being one tainted by:
Barren plains of self-interest, a ridiculous focus on the short term and a general level of intolerance I find perplexing and dispiriting.
He then advocated for the issue of climate change to be elevated to the top of the political and public agenda. The trend continued.
In 2012, Geoffrey Rush indicated that he would use the award to put:
An arts perspective on other current issues, whether its climate change or gay marriage, there’s a role for the arts to play in that.
I wonder whether he would have endorsed an ‘arts perspective’ that portrayed climate change as not being inevitable, dangerous and anthropogenic? What is certain is that the National Australia Day Council decided that an actor was a more suitable candidate than the man who invented SkyHydrant, the invention which brings easy access to clean water in disaster stricken communities.
Ita Buttrose placed ageism at top priority in 2013, stating she:
Would like to attack the ageist attitudes in our society … Just because you’re old does not mean you are not a person.
During her time in the role, she spoke out against the treatment of the elderly in age care facilities saying that they become:
Unrecognisable in terms of their physical, mental and emotional welfare [within weeks of entering one].
This was the same year that the Gillard government rushed through new aged care reforms which were introduced the previous year.
Adam Goodes focused on how racist we all are, and in his acceptance speech he outlined that his hope was ‘that we as a nation can break down the silos between races’. He received the award for his advocacy against racism, and when interviewed about the 13 year old that called him an ape, he stated:
Unfortunately it’s what she hears, in the environment she’s grown up in.
The process of choosing an Australian of the Year operates at two levels. First, State and Territory selection committees choose four finalists for each of the four categories of award. Those chosen at the State and Territory level become the national finalists. It is then up to eight members of the National Australia Day Council Board to select the Australian of the Year from the group provided.
So who makes up the National Australia Day Council Board, and why do they decide who our greatest role model is for the year? Tim Soutphommasane, appointed as the Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2013, was conveniently a board member the year that Adam Goodes received the award. Soutphommasane also appears to have his own agenda, recently stating that repealing the 18C provision of the Racial Discrimination Act:
May unleash a darker, even violent, side of our humanity which revels in the humiliation of the vulnerable.
Jason Glanville, who was mentored by Mick Dodson, currently sits on the board. He is also on the board of Reconciliation, an organisation which advocates recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Australian Constitution.
Robbie Seft on has been a board member since 2010 and is also managing director of Seft on and Associates. Her company helped develop ‘Young Carbon Farmers’, a government funded project which advocates reducing carbon emissions in order to combat the effects of global warming.
Furthermore, it is clear that identity politics plays an important role in the selection of the Australian of the Year. The board’s selection criterion outlines that:
Consideration may be given to: gender, age, location, ethnicity and field of endeavour.
Australians of the Year should be chosen purely for their real contributions to the Australian Community without special attention being given to their ethnic background or divisive activist causes.
Australians do not need to be told they are victims to some kind of oppression in the form of racism, sexism, ageism or some other -ism. We also don’t need to need to be lectured about climate change and asylum seeker policies by actors and social justice warriors. This award has transformed into a blatant insult to those that contribute to our wonderful country.
The Australian of the Year is now a propaganda platform for activists to shove their contentious messages in our faces. It appears that the National Australia Day Council chooses a winner based on their own political leanings. Or perhaps there is something more to this—considering they are a federal government organisation.
To avoid further speculation, I suggest we either change the process of choosing the winner, or scrap the award completely.