2021 Queensland Australian of the Year recipients announced
Published Tuesday, 10 November, 2020 at 08:00 PM
Premier and Minister for Trade
The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk
Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia and senior resident at Gold Coast University Hospital, is the 2021 Queensland Australian of the Year.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the annual awards at a ceremony in Brisbane tonight, ahead of the national Australia Day awards in January.
The Queensland Senior Australian of the Year Award went to Torres Strait Islander Elder Aunty McRose Elu for her community advocacy and climate change work.
Conservationists Daniel Clarke and William Clarke received the Queensland Young Australian of the Year Award for inspiring young people.
Natasha Johnston, the founder and director of Drought Angels which supports drought-stricken farming families, was named as the Queensland Local Hero.
The Premier said the awards acknowledge their outstanding commitment to making a positive difference to their communities, the state, the nation and the world.
“This recognition also encourages us after a challenging year that a brighter future is always achievable with hard work, devotion and compassion,” she said.
“There were four nominees in each of the four categories, and they all deserve our gratitude and admiration.”
Queensland Australian of the Year
“Dr Dinesh Palipana knows no barriers,” the Premier said.
“He is a truly inspiring person and a much-deserved recipient of the Queensland Australian of the Year Award.
“Dr Palipana was the first quadriplegic medical graduate and medical intern in Queensland and was also recently admitted as a lawyer.
“As co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, he helped create national policies for inclusivity in medical education and employment.
“He speaks, writes and advocates for the equitable treatment of people with a disability, and he has contributed significantly to the advancement of treating spinal cord injuries and restoring functions for people with paralysis.
“I warmly congratulate Dr Palipana as the Queensland Australian of the Year.”
Queensland Senior Australian of the Year
Premier Palaszczuk said Aunty McRose Elu’s award recognised her decades-long contribution to Queensland as a campaigner and a strong family advocate.
“Since 1980 Aunty McRose Elu has been drawing attention to the impact of climate change in the Torres Strait, speaking at the United Nations and to business and political leaders,” the Premier said.
“She champions renewable energy and sustainable methods of production as a member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change.
“She is a Torres Strait Elder who advocates for her community with a vision of enhancing the lives of children and families.
“She also helped negotiate the legal recognition of the traditional customary adoption practices of Torres Strait Islander families in Queensland which my Government was proud to pass this year.”
Climate and conservation were also at the heart of the work of the Young Australian of the Year and Local Hero award recipients.
Queensland Young Australian of the Year
“Daniel and William Clarke’s Queensland Young Australian of the Year award emphasises the importance of their work in protecting the critically endangered orangutan populations in Borneo and Sumatra, and inspiring young people to make a difference,” the Premier said.
“They address industry leaders and politicians on sustainability and the environment, and they have spoken to more than 60,000 students at around 80 schools across Australia, with their literature on their conservation work being incorporated into school curricula.
“Their award recognises the importance of looking beyond on our own borders to make a changes for the better in our world.”
Queensland Local Hero
“Queensland’s Local Hero award for Natasha Johnston reflects her hard work and dedication with Drought Angels, delivering care packages and financial support to thousands of farming families across Queensland and New South Wales,” the Premier said.
“This is a lifeline for farmers enduring drought conditions.
“Natasha’s work is helping to keep them on their land and is also helping to address the rate of suicide and depression.”
The Queensland Australian of the Year recipients will now represent the state at the national awards.
“I thank and congratulate all of the nominees in all four categories for their wonderful work in our communities,” the Premier said.
“I particularly applaud tonight’s recipients, and I wish them every success in the future and at the national Australian of the Year Awards in Canberra on 25 January, the eve of Australia Day 2021.”
For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards, visit www.australianoftheyear.org.au
Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM
Advocate for doctors with disabilities
Lives: Gold Coast
Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM is a senior resident doctor at Gold Coast University Hospital. Despite facing numerous barriers, he became the first quadriplegic medical graduate and medical intern in Queensland. He was recently admitted as a lawyer. As co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, Dinesh has worked with the Australian Medical Association to create first-of-kind national policies for inclusivity in medical education and employment.
Dinesh is a doctor for the Gold Coast Titans physical disability rugby league team. He is also a member of multiple committees for disability advocacy and has spoken in world-renowned forums such as TEDx. Through COVID-19, he advocated for equitable treatment for people with disabilities, including as a witness to the Disability Royal Commission. Dinesh has also contributed significantly to scientific advances in treating spinal cord injury and restoring function to people with paralysis. His national and global impact has been recognised with numerous awards, including Junior Doctor of the Year and the Order of Australia.
Aunty McRose Elu
Advocate for Torres Strait communities and climate change
Torres Strait Island Elder McRose Elu is a tireless advocate for her community. She has an unwavering vision to bring about change to better the lives of children and families. McRose is committed to reconciliation and sharing the traditional practices of her people at local, state and federal levels. She was instrumental in negotiations to legally recognise the traditional customary adoption practices of Torres Strait Islander families, which led to the introduction of a landmark Bill to the Queensland Parliament.
Since 1980, McRose has been drawing global attention to the impact of climate change on the Torres Strait, including speaking at the UN and to business and political leaders. As a member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARCC), she advocates for renewable energy and sustainable methods of production. McRose also provides essential translation for Torres Strait Islander communities to help them access services and lobbies for funding to support community capacity building.
Daniel Clarke and William Clarke
Conservationists for the endangered orangutan
Age: Daniel 24 and William 22
Live: Redland City
Brothers Daniel and William Clarke are passionate conservationists for the critically endangered orangutan populations in Borneo and Sumatra. Since 2008, they have highlighted the species’ plight and raised more than $900,000 to help protect the animals. The funds have supported orangutan care centres by building new holding enclosures and enabling investment in veterinary equipment. The brothers have also sponsored more than 50,000 hectares of orangutan habitat and adopted more than 100 animals.
Daniel and William’s literary work on orangutan conservation has been incorporated into education curricula. To date, the brothers have spoken in at least 80 schools to more than 60,000 students Australia-wide, inspiring other young people to make a positive difference in the world. Daniel and William are regularly invited to speak at events to address industry leaders and politicians on sustainability and the environment. Their conservation efforts have been recognised by former US President Barack Obama and Dame Dr Jane Goodall.
Founder and Director of Drought Angels
Natasha Johnston is the founder and director of Drought Angels, a service that delivers care packages and financial assistance to thousands of drought-stricken farming families across Queensland and New South Wales. Natasha and her friend Nicki Blackwell were inspired to help after hearing stories of farmers struggling to put food on the table. After loading a ute with supplies to take to one family in 2014, they soon started responding to calls for assistance from other families in urgent need.
Drought Angels is a unique service that provides a listening ear in addition to financial assistance and food hampers. This personalised support is a lifeline for farmers who often don’t reach out for help. Natasha’s work plays a vital role in reducing rates of depression and suicide, as well as helping to keep farmers on their land.
Media contact: Chris O’Brien 0419 774 004