South Australian Ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke has been named Australian of the Year for 2020.
The Adelaide eye surgeon was given the annual honour by Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a ceremony at the National Arboretum in Canberra tonight, marking the 60th anniversary of the prestigious awards.
Dr Muecke has dedicated his career to blindness prevention and ophthalmic research.
In 2000 he co-founded the Vision Myanmar program and Sight For All, an organisation that offers collaborative research, education and infrastructure support to fight blindness caused by preventable diseases.
With programs in Australia, Ethiopia and nine countries across Asia, Sight For All not only restores sight but alleviates poverty and improves the life expectancy of its patients.
Dr Muecke plans to spend much of his time in the public spotlight this year talking about how to tackle what he describes as a “looming catastrophe”, with diabetes becoming the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in Australia.
Some of the solutions include a sugar tax, better food labelling and restrictions on advertising, especially during children’s TV viewing times.
“People are going blind and losing vision, what we need to do is go right back to beginning and say what is causing this?”
Professor John Newman has also been named an Senior Australian of the Year 2020 for his work in obstetrics.
Professor Newnham is a renowned authority on the prevention of pre-term birth, the leading cause of death and disability in Australian children up to five years of age.
After leading the first study on the lifetime impacts of pregnancy, he developed a program that reduced the number of pre-term births in Western Australia by eight per cent.
Tennis World No.1 women’s singles player Ash Barty has received the award for Young Australian of the Year 2020, encouraging other young people to be “humble and respectful” and “have a crack” in pursing their goals.
The Ipswich-born tennis player has risen through the world rankings and inspired fans with her indefatigable tennis style. Her calm, good-humoured nature has also lifted her head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to accepting defeat with grace.
Bernie Shakeshaft has been recognised as Australian of the Year Local Hero.
Former Northern Territory jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft has helped more than 1000 of Australia’s most vulnerable children through his BackTrack Youth Works Program.
The program teaches young people the skills needed for life on a working property and is credited with helping decrease Armidale’s youth crime rate by more than 38 per cent.
“To our Aussie kids doin’ it tough – hang on, don’t give up, help’s on the way,” he said.
With smoke from nearby bushfires in the air outside the ceremony venue, Mr Morrison paid tribute to all those involved in tackling the emergency or impacted by it.
“They – like the nominees here tonight – are demonstrating to us that our national story is one of great achievement, but also of pain, of effort, sweat,” he said.
“You are all Australians of the year.”
As this year marks 60 years of the Australian of the Year Awards program, many former award recipients were in the audience including Rosie Batty, Ita Buttrose, Robert de Castella and Dawn Fraser.