Crisis leaders vie for Aussie of the Year

Rebecca GredleyAAP
Ex-chief medical officer Brendan Murphy is among the candidates to be 2021's Australian of the Year.
Camera IconEx-chief medical officer Brendan Murphy is among the candidates to be 2021's Australian of the Year.

The leaders who steered the nation through a health and bushfire crisis are the favourites to become 2021's Australian of the Year.

State and territory finalists for the Australian of the Year are in Canberra ahead of Monday's reveal, when they will find out who will be awarded the top honour.

While ACT Australian of the Year Professor Brendan Murphy and NSW Australian of the Year Shane Fitzsimmons are the favourites to win, they are vying for the gong against passionate campaigners and doctors.

Professor Murphy was chief health officer at the start of the coronavirus crisis and was pivotal in ensuring governments put health advice at the front and centre of the nation's response.

Being named Australian of the Year would mean recognition of the work done by health professionals and the public service throughout the pandemic, he said.

"I'm just a representative of a huge effort," Professor Murphy told AAP on Sunday.

"Everyone has pulled together and as a nation we've shown just how powerful we can be."

Like many Australians in NSW and the ACT, Professor Murphy bore witness to former Rural Fire Service boss Shane Fitzsimmons' leadership throughout last summer's deadly bushfires.

Mr Fitzsimmons now heads Resilience NSW, and says becoming Australian of the Year would be an opportunity to promote the importance of volunteers, mental health and community.

Ten firefighters died during the devastating fires, including seven in NSW.

Heartbreaking images of Mr Fitzsimmons awarding bravery and service awards to toddlers instead of their fathers were shared around the world.

"We owe it to all of them to make sure that as they grow up they know the only reason their dad is no longer with them is because they were heroes, out there making a difference in their community," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Coronavirus travel restrictions prevented Western Australia's Australian of the Year, the country's first Indigenous doctor Helen Milroy, from attending Canberra for the festivities.

The Northern Territory's Australian of the Year Wendy Page says the pandemic has put health education front and centre, which has helped in her goal of raising awareness of strongyloidiasis, a disease caused by roundworm.

Cases in Australia are primarily in Indigenous communities.

After losing a friend to the disease in 1999, Dr Page was driven to make it notifiable, meaning cases legally need to be reported to authorities.

Queensland's Australian of the Year Dinesh Palipana is the second person with quadriplegia to graduate as a doctor in Australia, and now advocates for doctors with disabilities.

South Australia's candidate for the top gong is Tanya Hosch, the AFL's general manager for inclusion and social policy.

She plans to raise awareness and campaign to raise Australia's age of criminal responsibility from 10 years old.

Tasmania's candidate is sexual assault survivor and advocate Grace Tame, who became the first woman in the state to be granted an exemption to speak publicly about her assault.

She is working to put more focus on education and prevention of child sexual abuse, particularly on grooming and the psychological manipulation of abuse.

Founder of the National Homeless Collective Donna Stolzenberg is Victoria's Australian of the Year, and she campaigns for better understanding that poverty is the main cause of homelessness.

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