2015 Young Australian of the Year Award Finalists’ Afternoon Tea

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training

Thank you Patrick for that kind introduction and welcome to you all. It is a pleasure to participate in this event again.

For most other countries, national days often serve as symbolic reminders of tumultuous events.

Our country is different. Politics is not at the heart of celebrations on Australia Day.

National days often mark the signing of political treaties, violent revolutions or independence gained after years of colonial rule. In some cases, they are a day that reflects on an important saint or other religious icon.

In Australia, our national day marks a unique and monumental occasion.

In January 1788, the First Fleet sailed into Sydney. Ships filled with convict and free men, women and children, as well as supplies, were disembarked and were unloaded.

Of course, the First Fleet arrived in a land that had been populated for tens of thousands of years by Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

These stories continue to make up a rich part of our national story, but the end of this extraordinary seven-month long voyage marked the beginning of a new chapter in Australia’s history.

It is a story full of highs, but also some lows. New chapters continue to be written by us, today.

Since those events 227 years ago, Australia has matured into a country that is respected and envied around the world and is one of the world’s oldest and longest continuous democracies.

Australia has not faced the civil wars, revolutions, violence or foreign occupation that have befallen other countries.

We have resolved our differences through the ballot box and when we have participated in conflicts away from our shores, we have done so in defence of freedom, human dignity, and democracy, during war or bringing peace to its aftermath.

Of course we are human, our path has not been without obstacles, we have made mistakes along the way.

But I am sure all of you here today appreciate the good fortune that we all share just by virtue of being Australian.

Australia Day is a celebration of this good fortune. It is a celebration of the opportunity we all have to pursue our dreams, whatever they are, and to live in freedom with mutual respect.

It is not just our diverse backgrounds and origins that make our national day unique. The way we mark Australia Day also differs many other national celebrations.

We celebrate our national day very casually, with friends and neighbours, or by attending a local festival.

In a formal sense, we have events such as this and those tomorrow and we increasingly celebrate our cultural diversity.

One of the few formalities on Australia Day is the announcement of the Australian of the Year awards, which for all of you here, hold special significance this year.

I’d like to turn to our eight finalists in the Young Australian of the Year category and tell you a little about each one.

From Tasmania, we have Adam Mostogl.  Adam is a business mentor who is helping give young entrepreneurs a kick-start through his business Illuminate SDF. Adam partners with organisations to inspire young people to find creative solutions to problems.

From New South Wales, we have filmmaker Genevieve Clay-Smith. Through her not-for-profit organisation Bus Stop Films, Genevieve helps marginalised communities create short films about their experiences. In 2009, her film, Be My Brother, won first prize at Sydney’s Tropfest.

From the Northern Territory, we have youth worker Chantal Ober. As well as coordinating the Katherine Region Youth Group, Chantal volunteers her time to run the shinegirl school program for young girls.

From the ACT, Patrick Mills who is the first indigenous Australian to achieve great heights in world basketball. In 2014, he won an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs and in 2012, he led the scoring for Australia at the Olympic Games.

From Victoria, we have Thomas King. Since the age of 13, Thomas has campaigned against unsustainable palm oil production in South-East Asia and has raised substantial funds for rainforest protection.

From Queensland, we have Yassmin Abdel-Magied. I met Yassmin through her role on the Y20 Summit Planning Group last year. Before that, at the age of 16, Yassmin founded Youth Without Borders to help young people create positive change in their communities. She is an engineer, but also volunteers her time for groups such as the Australian Multicultural Council, the Queensland Museum and the ANZAC Centenary Commemoration Youth Working Group.

From South Australia, we have scientist Kristin Carson. One of Australia’s youngest senior medical researchers, Kristin is responsible for more than 40 projects and 25 researchers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She has an interest in respiratory illness and has produced 50 peer-reviewed publications.

From Western Australia, we have Drisana Levitzke-Gray. Drisana, whose first language was Auslan, helps deaf people advocate for their human rights and promotes the deaf community. Drisana attended the Frontrunners international youth leadership course in 2012 and 2013 and was the first deaf Auslan user to sit as a juror.

Regardless of which one of our finalists is named Young Australian of the Year for 2015, all have made, and I am sure will continue to make, enormous contributions to our country.

Each of you has demonstrated exceptional leadership and you are role models to other young Australians.

My congratulations and best wishes for the weekend, and year ahead.

Thank you.

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