Top gongs a blokey joke
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