SPEECH: 2023 Senior Australian of the Year Lunch

24 January 2023

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Thank you Nikki, [Govan, Board Member, National Australia Day Council]. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal people, and recognise their thousands of years of custodianship of the lands and waterways that enrich us all. I pay my respects to First Nations elders past and present, and extend that respect to other First Nations people with us today. I am proud to be part of the new Labor Government which is committed to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full.  

I also acknowledge my parliamentary colleague, Patrick Gorman, [Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister].

I would also like to warmly welcome all of you joining us today – we have members of the National Australia Day Council, members of our Aged Care Council of Elders, as well as all our older Australians joining us today. Whether you are in active retirement, volunteering, working or combining all three! Thank you for being here today and for your contributions that enrich all of our communities.

And of course, it is an absolute delight to be here with our 2022 Senior Australian of the Year – Val Dempsey. I met Val just a few months ago on the lawns outside Parliament House as we launched the St John Ambulance first aid awareness course, and it was a pleasure to hear her speak so passionately. I look forward to hearing from Val shortly.

I would like to thank you, Val, for your dedication – firstly, your dedication to the task of Senior Australian of the Year for 2022, but also for your enduring commitment to helping others during your extraordinary service as a volunteer for St John Ambulance.

Val, you have shone a light on the critical work of St John Ambulance. I was a nurse for 20 years, so I’ve seen up close the value and hard work of our first responders. Your campaign to get every Australian to do first aid training saves lives. It is an inspiration to us all. Thank you.
The Senior Australian of the Year Award honours exceptional Australians, like Val, who have dedicated their lives to making a difference.

I extend an enormous congratulations to all the Senior Australian of the Year nominees who join us here today from every state and territory. It is quite a feat just to be nominated! Each of you demonstrate a clear commitment to connect with community and improve the lives of others. Every nominee is an example of age being no barrier, of a life lived to the fullest and we are all grateful to you for making the lives of others better.

The state and territory Senior Australian of the Year 2023 nominees are:

Sandra Miller, a proud Wirangu woman from the Ceduna area in South Australia, who has been a trailblazer, breaking down barriers for Aboriginal women aspiring to leadership roles at a time when they were under-represented. 

Tiwi Island Elder Bernard Tipiloura a suicide prevention campaigner whose considerable efforts over 20 years have led to a dramatic drop in suicide rates.

Professor Frank Oberklaid AM, a nominee from Victoria and an internationally recognised authority and advocate for children’s health.

From Western Australia, Community Advocate Theresa Kwok has been helping migrants settle in Australia from the moment she arrived from Hong Kong 35 years ago.

From New South Wales, Teresa Plane, a former nurse and recognised as a pioneer of modern palliative care in Australia. 

Professor Tom Calma AO is the ACT’s nominee and one of Australia’s most respected human rights and social justice campaigners. Professor Calma has worked for more than 45 years at local, community, state and international levels championing the rights, responsibilities and welfare of First Nations peoples.

Claude Lyle Harvey OAM, from Queensland, is spending his retirement increasing awareness of child protection while raising funds for Bravehearts, a not-for-profit dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse and assisting survivors.

Tasmanian Dr Frances Donaldson began her lifelong commitment to health care as a young nurse in Hobart, rising to become Director of Nursing before switching to study medicine in her 40s.

Dr Donaldson has since spent four decades working to improve health care standards in Tasmania including in the prison system, with marginalised people and on the frontline of Tasmania’s response to COVID-19.

Summarising the work and dedication of these fantastic Senior Australian of the Year nominees doesn’t begin to capture their amazing contribution to the strength, resilience and prosperity of the wider Australian community. I thank you all for your commitment, leadership and contributions. 

I hope you all enjoy your time in Canberra, I know the team at the National Australia Day Council are keeping you busy with a packed schedule. I’m told you’ll see more of our nation’s capital than I usually do, though we get a pretty good view from the Parliament House.

In a little over 24 hours, we will find out who will be named Senior Australian of the Year for 2023. The Albanese Government recognises the valuable contribution older people in Australia continue to make to our nation.

When we speak about ageing well it often means staying healthy, active and connected. It’s about never giving up and inspiring changes that create valuable legacies for future generations of Australians. And it makes me proud to be part of a Government that is driving health and aged care reforms so no matter who you are or what your circumstances, you too can look forward to living a long, healthy and connected life.

I wish all nominees continued success in your fields. You are doing your state and territories – and the nation – very proud.

Thank you.