Top gongs a blokey joke

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

THE AUS­TRALIAN of the Year Awards are a dull and pre­dictable roll­call of over-achiev­ing men re­warded for lit­tle more than just do­ing their day jobs.

The fact that a woman like Rosie Batty won the top prize be­lies the fact that many of the lead­ing awards are given to pro­fes­sion­als who are al­ready highly recog­nised.

How­ever, the awards shouldn’t be handed out on the ba­sis of pro­fes­sional ex­cel­lence, pro­fes­sional or aca­demic achieve­ment or lead­er­ship skills.

For a change, our na­tion’s top awards should only hon­our Aus­tralians who make a real dif­fer­ence to other peo­ple’s lives.

I’m tired of th­ese pres­ti­gious awards be­ing handed out to those who were born into priv­i­lege, re­ceived an ex­pen­sive ed­u­ca­tion and came from the best sub­urbs.

The se­lec­tion cri­te­ria for the Aus­tralia Day awards notes that can­di­dates should also be in­spir­ing role mod­els and make per­sonal sac­ri­fices – but it’s pretty clear th­ese things come sec­ond to pro­fes­sional achieve­ment.

For in­stance, those achiev­ing top hon­ours in­clude phi­lan­thropist and bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Mar­cus Be­sen, and for­mer Lib­eral politi­cians Richard Al­ston and Ian Macphee. Yes, you’d be right in think­ing they don’t need any more pub­lic recog­ni­tion.

Many of the 31 fi­nal­ists for Aus­tralian of the Year are well known and have al­ready been well re­warded and recog­nised for their achieve­ments. I’m think­ing here of peo­ple such as golfer Adam Scott and rugby player Johnathan Thurston, ac­tor and adop­tion ad­vo­cate De­borra-Lee Fur­ness and wildlife con­ser­va­tion­ist Terri Ir­win.

The fi­nal­ist list is also top-heavy with univer­sity pro­fes­sors, with a few man­ag­ing direc­tors thrown in for good mea­sure. A num­ber have al­ready re­ceived na­tional hon­ours.

The fact that four of the five re­cip­i­ents of the Com­pan­ion Award (AC) are univer­sity pro­fes­sors speaks vol­umes about the val­ues on dis­play here.

There are also twice as many men as women, which is another prob­lem.

This year, 406 men were awarded com­pared to just 207 women. What a to­tal joke. Don’t try to tell me it’s just be­cause men are twice as good as women.

It is ex­tra­or­di­nary that just 13 women since 1961 have been given the na­tion’s top hon­our of Aus­tralian of the Year.

Un­like some of the other fi­nal­ists, Rosie Batty is a per­fect win­ner be­cause she’s an or­di­nary woman who has man­aged to do a lot to help oth­ers de­spite ter­ri­ble per­sonal tragedy. She’s not a lawyer, a pro­fes­sor, an heiress or an aca­demic. She’s just some­one who wants to make sure we take fam­ily vi­o­lence se­ri­ously.

SA fi­nal­ist Nick Lee is in the same boat. Since his wife Jodi died from bowel can­cer in 2010, he has been tire­lessly rais­ing money and aware­ness about this de­cid­edly un­sexy but deadly dis­ease.

There are oth­ers do­ing just as much with­out the ben­e­fit pub­lic recog­ni­tion and fame brings.

I’m think­ing here of Par­a­lympian cy­clist Carol Cooke. Some­one with MS who wins a gold medal at 51 is more wor­thy in my eyes than a heav­ily dec­o­rated pro­fes­sor or a sports­man.

Equally im­pres­sive is some­one like SA’s Ian Steel, who set up a char­ity that feeds 25,000 hun­gry kids break­fast ev­ery week.

There are many oth­ers out there who are just as de­serv­ing.

In fact, wouldn’t it be won­der­ful next year if ev­ery sin­gle CFS and SES vol­un­teer who’d put in more than 10 years’ ser­vice re­ceived an Aus­tralia Day hon­our?

Such in­di­vid­u­als put their lives on the line week in, week out just so they can help keep oth­ers safe.

They don’t form char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions, they don’t ap­pear on they aren’t in­ter­viewed on the ra­dio, and they don’t have im­por­tant friends.

They also don’t re­ceive any pay for the work they do, and of­ten end up out of pocket as a re­sult of time off work.

Some, such as An­drew Har­ri­son of the Mount Tem­ple­ton CFS bri­gade, have lost their lives in the ser­vice of oth­ers. Imag­ine what a post­hu­mous Aus­tralia Day award would mean to his wife, Kel­lie, and their two young sons?

Another group wor­thy of re­ward are foster car­ers, who are vastly un­der­paid and un­der­val­ued for tak­ing care of other peo­ple’s chil­dren.

Wouldn’t it be great to see peo­ple like this re­warded in­stead of pow­er­ful pro­fes­sion­als?

In the end, it’s up to us. Go on, you’ve got a year to think about all the won­der­ful he­roes in your com­mu­nity to nom­i­nate for the 2015 Aus­tralian of the Year.

Just think – one more nor­mal per­son equals one less bil­lion­aire or for­mer politi­cian with their name in the pa­per on Jan­uary 26 next year. Blog with Susie at susieo­brien.com.au, Face­book.com/Newswith­Suse and follow her on Twit­ter @susieob

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