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David Morrison's speech to mark the end of his term as Australian of the Year

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Speech by David Morrison, 2016 Australian of the Year

25 January 2017

2017 Australian of the Year Awards Finalists Luncheon


Note:  check against delivery


As I have done in every one of the two hundred speeches I have given during 2016 I will begin by making two acknowledgements. To the first people of this great continent, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, I offer my deep appreciation for your custodianship, over 50 thousand years, and for your essential stories that are the foundation to 50 millennia. These stories are, in part, your gift to us, contemporary Australians - migrants and refugees all - who have come to this island in search of a better life and to add their voice to the great Australian narrative. 

I pay my enduring respect to your elders past, present and future.

I also acknowledge and offer my respects to the victims and survivors of domestic violence in this Country.  There are so many great social causes but surely how we fashion a world safer for our sons, and especially our daughters, should stand in the very first tier of our life’s purpose. 

After all, don't we define our lives most by the legacy we leave to others? 

It has been a remarkable year for me and I want to thank everyone who has given me the opportunity to be involved with so many wonderful Australians. 

Over a long military career I saw first hand the extraordinary contributions made by our service men and women, here in this country and in so many places around the world. In my acceptance speech a year ago, I used the words contained within our Army’s contract with the nation. 

I said “I am an Australian soldier - always”. This last year has given me so many opportunities to reflect, again, on what our soldiers, sailors, airmen and women do in our name, and to speak with pride about their service.

But the year has provided more, at a deeply personal level.  I have met and spoken with thousands of Australians, in every State and Territory during 2016: from the board rooms of some of our great corporate institutions, to state schools, to iconic institutions like Legacy and the Salvation Army, to organisations focussed on building diversity or reducing the alarming levels of domestic violence. I have seen, every day, what makes us great. 

And its not rhetoric or bumper sticker slogans. 

Rather it is the unseen, quietly heroic work of millions of our fellow citizens who, seeking no recognition for what they do, provide the glue to hold our social fabric together. Charities, philanthropic organisations, those in genuine public service like our military, our police, our emergency services, and so many men and women who care for others because that is the right way to live a life. 

Now as we all know, we are not living in Camelot and we never will. Levels of domestic violence are truly staggering; we still have a gender pay gap across all areas of our workforce that is surely unacceptable to any person of conscience; we have, still, intangible barriers that deny too many people the chance to reach their potential based on the most questionable of criteria - their gender, their age, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation or whether they are judged able bodied or right minded. But my conclusion after this personally tumultuous year is that we are making progress. 

Its never fast or far reaching enough, but it is being made. 

The award of Australian of the Year is not without its critics. That’s understandable and to be expected in a robust democracy such as ours. But I think it is one of the ways we, as citizens of this great country can, for a moment or hopefully longer, focus on what makes us who we are. To all those, over decades, who have been nominated, or selected at state or national level - congratulations again and thank you for all that you have given to our communities and our nation. To the 2017 nominees well done on being here and I am sure that you will use the recognition to continue to make a difference. 

In closing, I would like to share with you my concluding remarks at the commemorative address I gave at the Dawn Service, at our Australian War Memorial in 2015, the centenary of the Gallipoli landings. Being there on that Canberra morning remains one of my life’s great memories, and the words, hopefully, convey all that I feel as I end my tenure are Australian of the Year. I said:

“As a serving soldier there is a long line of servicemen and women  that connects me to those who stormed ashore 100 years ago. That line is formed by names such as Villers-Bretennoux, Tobruk, El Alamein, Kokoda, Kapyong, Long Tan, Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is made whole by the names on the roll of honour of our War Memorial - over 100 000 of our fellow citizens who in the ultimate act put service before self in our Nation’s name.

And there is a line, too, that connects all of us to those who lived in this Country 100 years ago.  It is formed by the lives and hopes  of millions of Australians who have lived since then. It is given physical substance in the architecture of our cities and the agricultural endeavours of our pioneers.  It is a line made more whole by our recognition of the first people of this land and our sorrow for their treatment. It is a line given colour and vibrancy by our cultural richness and diversity, drawn as it is from migrants from all corners of our world. It is a line rooted in our freedom of expression and of belief, and the affirmation of our democratic nation state.

We are defined, at least in part, by our act of remembrance. It makes us who we are and reminds us of who we can be - if not one people then unified all the same, sharing human weaknesses but strong and resolute in the face of an unknown future, a people of our own time reaching back one hundred years but always looking forward.”

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute, in my imperfect way, to that future. Prosper mightily because when you do, so do we all.