12 October 2022

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

When Australia had the opportunity to send 10 ‘everyday’ Australians, from every state and territory, to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II late last month, a quick decision had to be made on the attendees. It was decided the list of these attendees would largely be comprised of current and former Australians of the Year, providing a diverse group of citizens representative of the wider population for an occasion where our nation had a significant presence before a global audience.

When time was of the essence, these people were stand-outs, possessing the qualities and values that had earned them the honour of being named state winners of Australian of the Year, and some, national winners, in the past two years. As a former board member and deputy chair of the Australian of the Year selection panel for more than 10 years, it made me proud to see these outstanding Australians given the opportunity to not only pay our collective respects to our former head of state for the past 70 years, but represent who we are as a nation to the rest of the world.

For me, it reinforced the importance of this awards process for us, as a country, providing the opportunity to honour ‘everyday’ Aussies who go above and beyond to help their communities and the people who live there. We need these alternative ‘leaders’, separate to the likes of politicians, actors, influencers or sportspeople. Of course, some of our Australians of the Year also fit into these categories, but that’s not the primary reason they are honoured. They are recognised for what they do out of the spotlight, supporting and driving causes and initiatives that elevate our communities and often make a difference in the lives of people who may otherwise struggle to be heard.  

As a group, they represent who we are – at a particular place in time – and today I’m proud to say they reflect our diversity and the values we prioritise as a fair and compassionate nation. At a time when it’s all too easy sometimes to argue we’re short on compassion and empathy, our Australians of the Year show us this is not the case.

Post-COVID, Australia is on a road to recovery which is not without its bumps, and certainly more than a few potholes. There’s no doubt many Australians are doing it tough at present but there are still reasons for optimism – hope that Australia may recover quicker than other economies, and may emerge better equipped for this post-pandemic world. And it is a different world, there’s no getting away from that, and we will emerge as a changed nation. A nation that needs different ideas, thoughts and opinions now more than ever – provided by a variety of people from a range of backgrounds with a range of experiences that will help shape Australia’s narrative now and into the future.   

And this is what our Australian of the Year awards provide us with today – driven, passionate and powerful thought leaders who lead by example and shine a light into every corner of our society. Their messages may not always be easy to hear, but they make us consider alternative perspectives and address sometimes hard truths that can only make us a more progressive, prepared and resilient nation.

Shanna Whan, Founder and CEO of Sober in the Country, Australia’s Local Hero 2022 IMAGE: Australian of the Year Awards