Standing up for Canberra

ACT Australian of the Year Awards 2014

On 4 November I had the pleasure of attending the ACT Australian of the Year Awards ceremony at the beautiful National Arboretum and I wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge the wonderful Canberrans who were announced as the ACT national finalists for 2014.

The ACT's National Finalist Australian of the Year 2014 is Dr Zsuzsoka Kecskes, who is a neonatal specialist. Through the inspiring work of Dr Kecskes, babies born prematurely in Canberra are getting a better start in life. She has pioneered the development of the international award-winning Neonatal Intensive Care Unit CAM, or NICUCAM, project—a web-based service that enables parents and families to watch their babies when they are unable to be at the hospital. The unit is the first of its kind in Australia. As Clinical Director of Neonatology, Dr Kecskes was already an influential academic and practitioner when she embarked on a four-year project to design and develop a world-class neonatal intensive care unit at Canberra's new Centenary Hospital for Women and Children. Dr Kecskes consulted and collaborated with families who had experienced neonatal care at the hospital to develop a family-friendly, baby-focused facility. Today, the unit provides critical care and support for hundreds of families each year. Dr Kecskes has been recognised for her work into perinatal asphyxia and her research continues to inform best-practice treatment of newborn babies in Australia and around the world.

The ACT's National Finalist Senior Australian of the Year 2014 is Graham Walker, who is a veterans campaigner. Graham's 21 years in the Australian Regular Army included active service during the Indonesian Confrontation and the Vietnam War. He was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. After retiring from the Army in the early 1980s, Graham shifted his focus to the domestic battleground of returned service men and women. In his work with the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia, Graham has assisted thousands of veterans to receive their entitlements, advised governments, authored research and campaigned for the official history of agent orange to be rewritten.

Passionate about music and the arts, Graham has acted as a military and curatorial adviser on projects ranging from Bryce Courtenay novels and David Williamson plays to music video clips, museum exhibitions, theatrical dance productions and the Australian TV miniseries Vietnam. Graham's outstanding contributions have carved out a wellrespected place in Australian history and will ensure that the Vietnam veterans' story is faithfully captured in arts and culture for future generations.

The ACT's National Finalist Young Australian of the Year 2014 is Huy Nguyen, a disability advocate and extraordinary young man. A humanitarian engineer, an advocate for people with disability, an entrepreneur, a traveller and a portrait artist, Huy was born in Vietnam and contracted polio when he was 18 months old. Since then he has used a wheelchair to get around. His own physical challenges have given him a unique perspective when approaching real-world engineering problems, and he lectures engineering students on the importance of inclusive design.

Huy is passionate about international development work, has facilitated disability programs in the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste, and is the founder of a social enterprise called Enable Development, which brings together passionate professionals to tackle the challenges of disability in our global community. Huy is also the founder of EnableCanberra, an online resource which helps people with access needs to plan their visits to Canberra's national institutions. Huy understands that physical environments can exclude people, and he is determined to play his part in breaking down the barriers to a more inclusive society.

The ACT's National Finalist Australia's Local Hero 2014 is Patricia Mowbray OAM, who is a disability champion. Few people have the compassion and commitment to adopt one child with special needs, much less four. But for Patricia, her chosen career in disability has become her life's work. After training as a special education teacher, Trish and her husband Glenn learned they could not have children biologically and decided to offer their love to a child with a disability. The couple adopted Luke, who was born with Down syndrome, and Trish gave up full-time work to care for their new son. Shortly after, they added to the brood with Peter and Paul, who also have Down syndrome, and Emmalee, who had a medical condition which has since been resolved. Along with raising her children, Trish has worked as a volunteer in various community organisations, and more recently as a disability projects officer. While she admits life has its challenging moments, Trish says her children have taught her patience, resilience and to focus on their unique gifts. I congratulate all 12 finalists.

Download a copy of this speech.