ACT News


Capital's high achievers in line for top honours

Former diplomat and human rights and social justice campaigner Dr Tom Calma is the ACT finalist in the Australian of the Year Award, up against other contenders including media figure Ita Buttrose, businessman Kerry Stokes and advertising supremo Harold Mitchell.

''It's a good recognition of everyone that's walked with me. This is not something that is done by individuals,'' Dr Calma said.

A former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner and race discrimination commissioner, Dr Calma was asked on Thursday for his opinion on Aborigine Nova Peris being parachuted in as Labor's candidate for the Senate in the Northern Territory. Dr Calma said he had no views on the political machinations but believed Ms Peris was up to the job.

''I think as a person, as an individual, Nova's very well-qualified to understand issues facing Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people and territorians,'' he said. Dr Calma, 59, of Chapman, said if selected he would use being Australian of the Year to promote Canberra's centenary and encourage people to visit the national capital. He also wants to ensure the issues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are fairly represented.

''We want to push people of all political persuasions to understand that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to work in partnership with them. We don't want to be continually dictated as to how our lives are run,'' he said.

Former chief scientist and chief of CSIRO Plant Industry and CSIRO fellow Dr Jim Peacock is the ACT finalist in the Senior Australian of the Year category. Dr Peacock, 75, said his grandchildren thought he'd been nominated because he was ''the oldest person in the ACT''.


His work has included the development of insect-resistant cotton and the establishment of the Discovery Centre in Canberra.

''It's very exciting to get this recognition, particularly because in my fields, science research and education, they're often fields that don't attract the recognition from the general public as much as sport and other things,'' he said.

Dr Peacock said he would continue to try to improve science education in schools, including in remote indigenous communities.

''I have strong feelings about helping Australia with my science and that's been with me since the earliest times in my research career and why I stayed in Australia, although I've had other opportunities,'' he said.

As executive director of UN Women Australia, Julie McKay, 29, is the ACT finalist for Young Australian of The Year. She is part of a global United Nations campaign to improve the lives of the millions of women who struggle against poverty, violence and discrimination. Originally from Brisbane and once headed down the path to be a banker, Ms McKay followed her true passion to work for non-government organisations since moving to Canberra in 2005.

She credits mentors who took a risk on her, a family focused on education and even a background in debating for helping her build confidence early in her career.

Ms McKay said she hoped the outcome of her selection was to encourage even one young woman to reconsider if she was actually engaged in work she loved rather than what she felt expected to do.

The ACT's finalist as Australia's Local Hero, Francis Owusu, will also be the subject of a film commissioned by the Commonwealth Bank celebrating a finalist from each state or territory.

Mr Owusu runs Kulture Break, a program teaching dance to 500 students a week and encouraging a positive culture among young people. He was born in Canberra, spent his early years in Geelong and moved back when he was 15, attending St Edmund's College.

''When I came to Canberra I was very shy and I didn't know anybody and it was a bit tough for me. But then I got involved in the Rock Eisteddfod and I was part of the first year that did dance at the school and I went from being looked down on to looked up to. We came second in the ACT in the Eisteddfod that year - 1991. That changed the culture of the school and my life,'' he said.

Kulture Break is also about building self-esteem. ''I thought about what dance had done for me and I wanted my life to be about more than me and reach out to young people who felt they didn't belong and use my skills in schools,'' he said.

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