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Reception for Australian of the Year Award finalists, Government House


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Government House. Linda and I are delighted to host this reception for the 2021 Australian of the Year Finalists.

2021 – it’s a New Year, and we are all still here. More than that, we have much to be proud of and every reason to be optimistic about our nation's future.

I have more to say about where I think we are at as a nation in my Australia Day message on Tuesday, but in lieu of the broadcast can I say this: there is absolutely no doubt of the innate goodness and strength of Australians and Australian communities. No doubt. And you, as Australian of the Year finalists and alumni, embody those qualities.

We have seen those qualities in you and in other Australians in good times and, as the past year or so has shown, in challenging times. They endure and they help make us a great nation.

That is not to say that things have gone perfectly well and that people haven’t suffered. We know that there has been significant loss. We know that for many Australians every day is a challenge. But in a year spent talking with Australians from all walks of life I know how good we, as a people, are. That is why I am optimistic about our future.

Tonight is a celebration and the opportunity for me to say 'thank you'. It is also a reminder of the power of giving and of the importance of acknowledging and recognising selflessness. So, to the finalists particularly, please try to relax this evening and enjoy the occasion and the many plaudits that will come your way.

I begin by thanking the National Australia Day Council for its stewardship of the Australian of the Year Awards, now into their seventh decade. This year’s campaign theme – ‘Reflect, respect and celebrate’ – captures beautifully the sentiment that ‘we are all part of the Australian story’. More than 5,000 nominations were received this year – testament, I think, to the regard in which the awards are held by Australians.

Perhaps the awards will resonate more strongly with Australians this year, given the events of 2020. Either way, it’s important for us to come together and reflect, respect and celebrate the outstanding contributions made by the finalists.

Some of you are already household names and I dare say recognised more these days down at your local shops. This newfound fame might be slightly uncomfortable. I encourage you to embrace it. It says that you are respected and celebrated national role models; exemplars of who many of us aspire to be.

Not surprisingly, many of our finalists come from the health and emergency services sectors. Others come from fields such as social services, Indigenous health, people with disability, and policing. On behalf of all Australians, I congratulate all finalists for their unwavering commitment to make a positive difference to their community. Linda and I give thanks every single day for being able to live in a country where so many people want to make the world a better place.

I know that all of the finalists do what they do without seeking recognition; that you attend to your work regardless. Linda and I hear that ad nauseam at Investiture ceremonies. It’s very Australian! But in good faith we say to you that Australians are people who want to acknowledge, recognise and celebrate achievement. As Australian of the Year Awards alumni will attest, the flow-on effects of recognition can have a huge impact and inspire others.

I thank all Australian of the Year finalists, past and present, for their outstanding contributions to our nation.