Federal Parliament has risen for 2021 and it would have to be said it was a less-than-auspicious end to the parliamentary year. At a time when the nation is in desperate need of courageous, positive and decisive leadership, Australians have been hard pressed to find that in Canberra and our States of late, with headlines unfortunately reflecting the questionable behaviour of some of our elected representatives, rather than anything related to good policy or inspiring commentary.
So, when our political leaders are failing to lead by example, it’s comforting we can look closer to home, and often no further than our own communities. In the run up to Australia Day, the states are announcing the winners of their Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Local Hero awards. These state winners then go onto contest the national awards. Once again, the recipients to date have been outstanding in their achievements and commitment to community, displaying genuine leadership qualities and more importantly, leading by example.
NSW’s Local Hero for 2022 is Shanna Whan, who founded ‘Sober in the Country’ in an effort to help those who realised their ‘social drinking’ had moved into uncomfortable territory and who had the desire to change community perceptions around alcohol and its consumption. Shanna’s efforts, and those of all the 2022 Australian of the Year nominees, underline the depth of initiative, passion and empathy in rural and regional communities and the importance of acknowledging the efforts of ‘ordinary’ Australians who are not pursuing money, personal satisfaction or celebrity, but rather have a genuine desire to make things better for their fellow Australians.
That is the beauty of the Australian of the Year Awards – they honour people who we can look up to, admire and emulate. They are people who saw an issue and didn’t look away or look for someone to fix it, but rather took the initiative and had the courage to stand up and say ‘I can do this’. And they did. And they make our communities better every day, for all of us. The Awards have come in for their share of scrutiny over the years, and these discussions have been welcome, because as society changes, things have to evolve, and the Awards are no different.
As a former deputy chair of the Australian of the Year Awards – stepping down from the role earlier this year – I have welcomed their evolution. Particularly the shift in more recent years to recognise Australians who are not necessarily household names but whose efforts and achievements stand them apart as leaders and role models worthy of state and even national recognition. What I also championed, and welcomed, during my time with the Awards was the nomination and recognition of more rural and regional Australians, and it’s been gratifying to see a 30 per cent increase in these numbers in the past decade.
My former role also brought home to me the fact that when we fear our more high-profile leaders are not meeting our expectations, inspiration and reassurance can always be found within our own communities. Good news has at times been hard to find in the past two years, so people like Shanna and her fellow 2022 nominees are worth celebrating, and as we rapidly approach the end of 2021, and look with hope to a brighter 2022, it’s stories like these that fuel that optimism.
To see Robbie’s column in The Land, go to https://www.theland.com.au/story/7558477/when-inspiring-leadership-is-in-short-supply-look-no-further-than-our-local-communities/