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Kevin Rudd Praises Spirit of ‘Fair Go’ And ‘Can Do’ In Speech To Australian Of The Year Nominees

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has praised Australian of the Year nominees, at a morning tea at The Lodge, in Canberra.

Rudd said the Australian story was summed up in two expressions: “I’ve summarised it as the spirit of the ‘can do’. That is, Australians who look at a problem and say to themselves ‘I can fix that’, and they go about fixing it.

“And then there’s equally the great Australian spirit of the ‘fair go’. That is, when I see my brother or my sister in need, then they deserve a fair go and my job is to go out there and do what I can to give that to them.”

  • Listen to Rudd’s speech (20m)

Transcript of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech to Australian of the Year nominees, at The Lodge, Canberra.

I begin by acknowledging the first Australians, on whose land we meet and whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

This last week I’ve been travelling around Australia and the reason I did that was because I thought it was important that rather than expecting the nation to come to Canberra for Australia Day, instead we took Australia Day to the nation. So in each of the state capitals, where I’ve met many of you in the course of the last week, it has been a great experience to spend some time with some extraordinary Australian achievers.

And whether it’s Melbourne or Hobart, the time I had in Adelaide and Perth and Darwin and Brissie and Sydney last night and now here in the nation’s capital, it is not just you who are represented here today as finalists in the Australia of the Year, but literally tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of other volunteers right across the country.

It’s an extraordinary Australian story. At each of these receptions, just sitting down quietly, even if only for a few moments, talking to someone from the local Meals on Wheels organisation, the local Girl Guides, the local St Vincent de Paul, the local entrepreneurs, the extraordinary stories of achievement and of voluntary effort.

What I’ve spoken about in part during the week is the spirit which animates us as Australians, and I’ve tried to summarise it in two ways. I’ve summarised it as the spirit of the ‘can do’. That is, Australians who look at a problem and say to themselves ‘I can fix that’, and they go about fixing it.

And then there’s equally the great Australian spirit of the ‘fair go’. That is, when I see my brother or my sister in need, then they deserve a fair go and my job is to go out there and do what I can to give that to them.

And if you look across the great story of Australia, both as it’s being written today and as it’s been written for centuries past, these two great spirits, that of the ‘can do’ and that of the ‘fair go’, essentially hold together the narrative of our nation. The great stories of individual achievement; the great stories of entrepreneurial breakthrough; of scientific innovation; of sporting excellence – these are things which inspire us, which make us proud to be Australians, as we have among us a culture and a habit and an animating spirit which says ‘we can break through this and make a difference.’

And at the same time, this great, I think, ennobling attitude of Australians, where we have the sense and the spirit of the ‘fair go’ etched deeply into the Australian soul, if someone tried to go surgically extract it from the Australian DNA it wouldn’t work because it has been so deeply entrenched there, so that when any of us are confronted with our fellow human beings and fellow Australians in need, or people who are our neighbours in need, our first impulse as Australians is ‘what can we do to help.’

If I reflect on the year that’s passed, you see these great spirits that animate our nation at work in some of the extraordinary challenges we faced together in 2009. I think, particularly, of the Victorian bushfires barely a year ago, and I think of the unspeakable tragedy which we saw unfold in those fires and the unspeakable sorrow which descended on so many families, and so many shattered lives, and at the same time to see also, out of the ashes emerge immediately these two great Australian spirits – ‘what can I do to fix this’, and ‘how can I help to give my fellow Australian a fair go.’

And so whether it was truckies jumping in their rig in Perth and saying ‘I’m headed to Melbourne’ – and they did – folk in Far North Queensland navigating their way around their houses in a boat as the floods unfolded there to make sure that they could get to the post office to make a donation to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, or farmers across the country who leant their hand with the immediate tasks of stock management, of how you dealt with the very practicality of fences which had been burnt to a cider, and how could you rebuild, through to the Lions Clubs and the Rotary Clubs and the rest, and I have so many pictures of people’s faces in my mind, as those there, sitting quietly, Australian sense of humour, handing out a sausage, handing out a hamburger, providing a well-catered evening meal, in the midst of utter, complete devastation, and that so much sums up who are as an Australian mob, and it’s an empowering story, and it is something of which the nation at large should be proud.

The other story, an unfolding story, which comes to mind in the year just past, is the extraordinary work of our men and women in uniform, and it is not just in the battlefields of Afghanistan, though that is a deep and bloody conflict, it is the work being done on the ground in Timor; the work being done on the ground in the Solomons; the work being done on the ground in Sudan; the work being done on the ground in the Sinai; the work being done on the ground in Australia today wearing a uniform of Australia, confronting extraordinary difficulties; in the battlefields of Afghanistan, dealing with extraordinary threats to human life and therefore enormous achievements of courage and compassion in the field of battle.

This, too, is part of the Australian story, as it’s been for so many generations before us.

And so, these two great spirits of Australia, what we can do together, spirit of the ‘can do’ and the spirit of the ‘fair go’, are also reflected in these extraordinary lives gathered here today.

Some of you may have been puzzled as you all came in the door why I knew a little bit about something of what each of you have been doing, and that’s because I sat down and had a bit of a read on my way up from Sydney this morning, but when we have:

* John Dee, co-founder of Planet Ark, showing people in business the ways they reduce the impact on the environment;

* Patrick McGorry, leading international researcher, clinician, advocate of youth mental health reform and the executive director of Origin Youth Health;

* Chris Sarra, extraordinary work at the Cherbourg school in my own state of Queensland and now heading the Stronger Smarter Institute to transform Indigenous education;

* Ralph Martins, a world leader in Alzheimer’s research, who, by the way, does endorse a couple of glasses of red wine as one of the best preventatives, in moderation, and I’ll let him prescribe later in what degree of moderation for each of you – he’ll be taking consultations in that corner;

* Julian Burton, having suffered life-threatening third-degree burns to his body after the Bali bombings, since 2003 was driven to found the Julian Burton Burns Trust, solely committed to the prevention and care and research associated with burns injury;

* Bruce Englefield, the contributor and one of the major voices for the future of the Tasmanian Devil, and saving the Devil;

* Patricia Easteal, extraordinary work as a human rights advocate, as a legal reformer, and one passionately committed to the cause of eliminating domestic violence;

* Warwick Thornton, who has told through film the extraordinary story of Samson and Delilah, a beautiful story, a tragic story, but a story which has not just been conveyed to Australians at home but been honoured abroad, and, as I’m advised today, one of the nine shortlisted films for best foreign film at this year’s Oscars;

* Pierre Johannessen, who informs me that he’s not Danish but Norwegian in origin, as a young Australian, basketball being his passion, establish the Big Bang Ballers in Bangladesh and now Nepal, Afghanistan and the Philippines, catering for the needs for 8,500 kids and more, using basketball as a means to give hope and opportunity in young people’s lives;

* Liam Jurrah – what an extraordinary footballer, from the central Australian desert to being conscripted by the Australian Football League and acting as an inspiration for the game and for his people, and for young people in the Territory;

* Danielle Catanzariti, the little one – Hi down there. Extraordinary emerging from Murray Bridge, South Australia, at the age of 10 in the Murray Bridge Players and Singers to have been invited by Cate Blanchett to perform in a play, most recently Blackbird, and in 2008 receiving the AFI young actor award;

* Brad Smith, the irrepressible, ever-smiling entrepreneur and youth advocate from Tassie, named Australian Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008, but as he said to Therese and I as he came in this morning, his passion – using creative opportunities, business opportunities, to show kids a different path in life rather than resorting to drugs;

* Jean Madden designed the street swag, out now to 13,000 folk to help those sleeping rough;

* Trooper Mark Donaldson, a story writ large in our nation already, but if you read his military citation as I did the Christmas before last, before it was my honour to dispatch it to Her Majesty the Queen, it read like a page of military gallantry which we’ve associated with wars past, but one undertaken by him in a war present and in the great tradition of Australian comradeship in the field of battle, putting his mates’ lives first and his own life last – Trooper Donaldson, Victoria Cross;

* Jack Manning Bancroft, 24 years of age, CEO of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, passionate about what he can do with young, Indigenous Australians in working out from Sydney and beyond;

* Larissa Brown, who founded the Centre for Sustainability Leadership – important work;

* John Buckingham, here in Canberra, passionate about what can be done surgically and in other fields to assist women suffering from breast cancer, and with 13,000 women diagnosed each year with breast cancer, important and extraordinary work;

* Alan Langworthy, through Power Corp, delivering solar and renewable energy to many remote communities and saving both the cost and the carbon emissions impact of diesel-generated power;

* Maggie Beer, the irrepressible culinary icon extraordinaire and her work in so many fields, including helping Australians in making informed food choices, author of many books, and now, critically working with Stephanie Alexander to promote the Kitchen Garden Foundation;

* Bill Mollison, the father of permaculture, one of Australia’s true icons;

* Ron Rankin, a volunteer member of Surf Lifesaving Australia for over 46 years;

* June Butcher, founder of the Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, which now has 140 volunteers caring for over 2,000 animals each year;

* Lyn Thorpe, using her surgical theatre skills to help people in need of life-changing surgery, whether it’s cataracts, cleft pallet or other disfigurements in developing countries;

* Nigel Dick, instrumental in establishing Odyssey House in Victoria, a residential rehabilitation program for young people with drug and alcohol addiction, and having worked with it to help more than 8,000 clients over 30 years;

* Paul Pisasale, the irrepressible mayor of Ipswich in my own state of Queensland, with a passion for helping young, local, unemployed people and behind the formation of Young Unemployed People of Ipswich, which I presume, Paul, goes by the acronym YUPI, is that right?

* Rhonda Parker, from WA, Boyup Brook, a small, rural town where she is so much the driving force behind the community fabric and the community contributions which keep that community going, having put it on the map with the fourth largest country music festival in the country;

* Mike Coddington; Murray Bridge Country Fire Service Brigade, eight years rising to become brigade captain and increasing the membership from a mere 8 to, he tells me, not 24 according my brief, but 30 as of today;

* Delwyn Polden – she and her husband Rick have taken hundreds of children into their home on both and short and long-term care and used private coaching of music to help kids in difficulty;

* Julie Grehan, here from Canberra, has set up Daryl’s Den, a craft club for people with disabilities;

* Norma Higgins from the Territory, from Katherine, who set up a market in the community of Katherine to help local producers have an opportunity of selling their product locally;

* Ronni Kahn, founder of OzHarvest who has now briefed me personally and in detail on what OzHarvest does and silly me for confusing it with Food Bank, but I’ve been properly reprimanded and I won’t get it wrong – but take seriously this core challenge: of all the food which is served in restaurants and through catering businesses around our country each day, how do you harvest that food immediately and within hours have leftover, surplus food delivered to those centres which can use that food for meals for people in need then and there. A terrific idea now servicing 163 charities;

* Kevin & Rhonda Butler, fencers extraordinaire – not in terms of the Olympic event, but the Australian event putting fences up and responsible for putting together a team of some 3,000-plus volunteers rolling up 700km of burnt fencing from the Victorian bushfires, and building with that team over 500km of fences for the farm properties which have been affected.

That’s taken a little time, but I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it before the nation’s media so that each of these stories could be summarised, albeit briefly, because the few words I’ve used to summarise each person’s achievements are simply a short hand description of what has taken years, decades, and in many cases entire lifetimes to shape and form and to bring into being.

But the spirit that animates Australia, this spirit of the ‘can do’, this spirit of the ‘fair go’, is writ large in each and every one of these stories, of your lives, which I have read out just now, and that is why you are here, because Australia Day committees across our country, in our six states and our two territories, have reflected long and hard on literally hundreds and thousands of nominations from across the country and concluded that these achievements, your achievements, are worthy of our nation’s recognition.

So as we approach Australia Day 2010, let’s celebrate.

This sense of determination and resilience that we have as Australians is well captured in our national anthem. It’s well symbolised in our Australian flag, our national flag which we celebrate under for Australia Day today and into the future.

This is a great day. Enjoy it. Enjoy being with us here at The Lodge in Canberra. Enjoy also the fact that your achievements inspire many others to follow in your path.

Therese and I honour each and every one of you as Australia’s achievers of 2010.

I thank you.

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