Meet our Australian of the Year finalists

The 2017 Australian of the Year Awards will be announced on Wednesday, January 25, in The Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra.

Find out about the 2017 Australian of the Year finalists.

Alan Tongue.

Alan Tongue.

Alan Tongue - NRL champion turned youth mentor and educator (ACT)

After a stellar sporting career, Alan Tongue understands how to demand and inspire greatness in others. Since retiring from football in 2011, Alan began applying his talents to help young people at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre make the most of the cards they’d been dealt.

Alan created the Aspire program to rehabilitate young people and equip them with life skills to make positive choices. The program has since expanded to include prisoners at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, and disengaged youth in Canberra’s schools. Determined to tackle family violence, Alan travels throughout the ACT and NSW to educate football players and High School students about how they can eradicate family violence, and he is partnering with Barnardos to teach young people how to build healthy and respectful relationships.

A friendly face at the Early Morning Centre for homeless people, Alan regularly serves breakfast to help some of the community’s most vulnerable. Post-retirement, Alan’s status as a Canberra legend continues to grow.

Andrea Mason.

Andrea Mason.

Andrea Mason - Indigenous leader and Business Woman of the Year, 2016 (NT)

Working across a 350,000 square kilometre stretch of central Australia, Andrea Mason is helping Indigenous women to raise strong, healthy children. As the Chief Executive Officer of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women's Council, Andrea brings together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal thinking to create employment, support health and wellbeing, and tackle domestic violence and other social challenges.

With deep respect for local language, law and culture, Andrea is leading innovative social enterprises, such as the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, building micro businesses, teaching valuable employment skills, and melding traditional healers with the best of western medicine to maximise healing and well-being. She is determined to help children and young people realise the same aspirations as their urban counterparts.

A high achiever, Andrea has been awarded 2016 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year.  She is also the first Indigenous Australian woman to lead a political party, after the Family First Party chose her as its national leader in 2004. Today, Andrea's commitment, compassion and drive to support families in the vast NPY region is indefatigable.

Andrew Forrest.

Andrew Forrest.

Andrew Forrest - Philanthropist and anti-slavery advocate (WA)

With self-made wealth, Andrew Forrest drives hands-on philanthropy, supporting Australian initiatives for some 250 community strengthening causes. He is the first Australasian to pledge to give away the overwhelming majority of his wealth. Never daunted by the scale of challenge, Andrew devotes his relentless energy to society's most vulnerable, tirelessly working to highlight Australia’s Indigenous disparity and drawing attention to and liberating 45.8 million people trapped in modern slavery around the world.

His highly successful Fortescue Metals Group is one of Australia's largest engagers of Aboriginal businesses and Aboriginal employment. Andrew publicly encourages 'honest failure' as key to any country's success and humility as crucial to sustainable leadership. He promotes that he failed his way to success and encourages us all to stay above the politics of small thinking.

Andrew wrote ‘Creating Parity’ for Prime Minister and Cabinet, served on the Global Citizenship Commission to refresh the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the United Nations, and is widely considered as one of Australia’s greatest philanthropists, business leaders and change agents.

Deng Adut.

Deng Adut.

Deng Adut – Child soldier turned successful lawyer (NSW)

At the age of six, Deng Adut was snatched from his mother and forced to fight in the war that eventually split his homeland of Sudan. Denied the right to a childhood and the right to an education, Deng was eventually smuggled out of Sudan into Kenya before making it to Australia in 1998.

Deng’s life journey has taken him from an illiterate child soldier to a criminal lawyer making a difference in Western Sydney. His remarkable story has spread around the world, and has inspired millions of people, thanks to a viral video made by his alma mater, Western Sydney University.

Now studying for a second Master’s degree, Deng co-founded AC Law Group and fights for members of the Sudanese community from his home in Blacktown. While his life is now a long way from the privations of his childhood, Deng inspires others with his story of triumph over tragedy, and of the contributions that refugees can make to Australia’s rich community.

Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim.

Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim.

Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim - Biomedical scientist treating spinal cord injuries (QLD)

An inspirational scientist and international leader in stem cell research, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim has given hope to thousands of Australians with spinal cord injuries. A global authority on the human sense of smell and the biology of nasal cells, Alan led the world’s first clinical trial using these cells in spinal cord injury.

In 2014, Alan’s research helped play a central role in the world’s first successful restoration of mobility in a quadriplegic man. As the director of the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research for a decade, Alan’s research has championed the use of stem cells to understand the biological bases of brain disorders and diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia.

Alan’s pioneering work has led to collaborations with teams of health professionals who are translating his research into clinical practice. He has laid the foundation for the next generation of researchers and demonstrated the value of inquiry, persistence and empathy.

Kate Swaffer.

Kate Swaffer.

Kate Swaffer - Author and advocate for living beyond dementia (SA)

A humanitarian, advocate and activist for people with dementia, Kate Swaffer was diagnosed with the disease in 2008, just before her 50th birthday. Refusing to be defeated by the diagnosis, Kate has helped redefine the way the world views dementia and has driven improvements to services and outcomes for the 354,000 Australians currently diagnosed.

Since then, Kate has completed three degrees and is currently undertaking her PhD. As Chair, CEO and Co-founder of Dementia Alliance International, Kate is a voice for the 47.5 million people worldwide living with dementia. She sits on numerous committees and councils, and was the first person with dementia to be a keynote speaker at a World Health Organisation conference.

An accomplished author and poet, Kate has written a number of books and articles, including “What the hell happened to my brain: Living beyond dementia”. Teaching others they can live with dementia, not only die from dementia is what really motivates her to have become the catalyst for major change in the dementia sector. By transforming tragedy into triumph, Kate is changing society for the better and showing others how to lead remarkable lives despite the obstacles.

Paris Aristotle AM.

Paris Aristotle AM.

Paris Aristotle AM - Refugee, torture and trauma rehabilitation advocate (VIC)

A tireless advocate for asylum seekers and refugees, Paris Aristotle has made an enormous contribution by helping countless people rebuild their lives in Australia. In 1987, Paris established the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, also known as Foundation House.

As its Chief Executive Officer, Paris has built a national network of torture and trauma services, supporting people with counselling, advocacy, education, information and complementary therapies. Leading a team of more than 200 staff, Paris has helped refugees recover from unspeakable trauma, and to rebuild their lives. For more than two decades, Paris has also advised both sides of politics on refugee and asylum seeker policy, and multicultural affairs.

He has worked closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the field of refugee resettlement. Currently the Chair of two federal government councils, Paris has demonstrated patience, personal integrity and practical skill as he navigates what is often an ethical and political minefield.

Rosalie Martin.

Rosalie Martin.

Rosalie Martin - Speech pathologist working to rehabilitate people in the Justice System (TAS)

Helping prisoners crack the code of reading, speech pathologist Rosalie Martin has developed a unique approach to literacy. For three years, Rosie has visited Tasmania’s Risdon Prison as a volunteer to deliver Just Sentences, a pilot project that is achieving astounding results.

With specialist knowledge in the acquisition of language, and in the processing and production of speech sounds, Rosie is able to uncover hidden literacy problems and tackle them head on. As a result, many of the people in her program have learned to read in a matter of months, and Rosie is showing how many lives, currently on hold in prison, could be transformed.

The founding speech pathologist of Chatter Matters Tasmania – a charity building awareness and skill in human communication – Rosie also runs her own private practice specialising in services for children with autism spectrum disorder. With patience and persistence, Rosie is helping others to open new doors and explore new worlds.

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