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Australian of the Year 2016: Diversity advocate David Morrison

2 min read

As an Anglo-Saxon male, former chief of army David Morrison admits he’s benefited from societal rules that play in his favour.

It’s exactly those rules he’s trying to change.

Lieutenant General Morrison on Monday night vowed to continue his fight for gender equality and workplace diversity after being named 2016 Australian of the Year.

As chief of army, he famously told misbehaving troops to “get out” of the force if they could not accept female colleagues and treat them equally.

His stern video message to Australia’s soldiers went viral in 2013, earning him global recognition and sparking a cultural transformation in the force.

Gen Morrison, the ACT’s finalist, retired as chief of army in May last year and took up his role as chair of the Diversity Council Australia, which advises business on diversity in the workplace.

He hopes the Australian of the Year title will give him the platform to take his message further.

“Too many of our fellow Australians are denied the opportunity to reach their potential,” he said in an impassioned acceptance speech.

“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.

“We as a nation … should be able to give them the chance to reach their potential because when they do, we all benefit and that’s what true diversity is about and why I am so passionate about it.”

Gen Morrison said he was in disbelief when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed him as the winner at a ceremony on the lawns of Canberra’s Parliament House.

He promised to continue the work done by his predecessor, domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, whose 11-year-old son Luke was killed by his father in Melbourne just under two years ago.

“She has set a benchmark for us all,” he said.

“The scourge of domestic violence which faces us as one of our great social issues won’t be solved in a year … but it is up to us in our lifetimes to do something about it.”

Gen Morrison is also the former boss of a fellow finalist Catherine McGregor, who was behind his 2013 video before she went public with her transformation from male to female.

NSW doctor Gordian Fulde was named Senior Australian of the Year for his work as the country’s longest-serving director of emergency at St Vincent’s Hospital.

The 67-year-old said he was blown away by the award, which he hopes to use to change the way Australians think about drugs and alcohol.

“For over 40 years I’ve seen and treated the carnage it’s caused,” he said.

“We really do not need to be drunk and ugly or out of it to enjoy this fantastic country.”

Queensland finalists Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett earlier took out Young Australians of the Year as the brains behind Orange Sky, a free mobile laundry service for homeless people.

“We can restore respect, raise health standards, and be a catalyst for conversation,” Mr Patchett said.

Former journalist now youth educator Catherine Keenan was named Australia’s Local Hero for her work as co-founder of the Sydney Story Factory, which has helped thousands of school students improve their writing skills and cultivate their creativity through storytelling.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all children in Australia had equal access to these creative opportunities?” she said.

While battling the wet weather, the prime minister congratulated all the finalists – hailing them as “shining examples of our best selves”.

“On the eve of Australia Day, we rejoice in being citizens of a nation whose identity is not defined by religion or race, but rather, by shared political values,” Mr Turnbull told the ceremony.


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