Australian of the Year David Morrison has rejected claims that he turned his back on war veterans by failing to mention them in his acceptance speech.
David Morrison named 2016 Australian of the Year
The former Australian army chief has been given the top honour for his gender equality, diversity and inclusion work. (Video courtesy ABC News 24)
The former chief of army was named Australian of the Year this week for his work combating sexism in the military. In accepting the honour he nominated gender equality, domestic violence and the push for a republic as being among his priorities.
But war veterans are furious he failed to mention their plight and one has started an online petition calling for him to relinquish his new title.
Geoff Shafran's change.org petition had 1670 supporters on Saturday morning. Mr Shafran says hundreds of military personnel are among those who have signed up.
He says General Morrison demonstrated a lack of leadership by "failing to publicly champion the cause of physically and mentally disabled ADF personnel".
"In failing to take advantage of an opportunity such as your Australia Day acceptance speech to highlight their plight, you demonstrated that you are at the least naive and ignorant to their plight but given your position in the ADF it seems perhaps more evident you are lacking in courage, initiative, respect and teamwork," Mr Shafran says.
On Saturday General Morrison rejected Mr Shafran's claims.
"As the grandson and son of veterans and a veteran myself, I care deeply about issues affecting the veteran community," he said. "I have always supported the veteran community and I will continue to do so in my role as Australian of the Year."
Veteran support group Walking Wounded came out in support of General Morrison.
Ex-serviceman Brian Freeman, who worked under General Morrison at various times during his 20-year career, said he understood the concerns about the speech but the former army chief was being unfairly criticised.
"David has always had an open door policy with me and has been a solid supporter and advocate for Walking Wounded and families of the fallen," he said. "I have no doubt that David will continue to shine a spotlight on veterans over the coming twelve months in his newly appointed role, as he has done in the years leading up to this recognition."
The Defence Force Welfare Association has reportedly been inundated with concerns from members who are angry at General Morrison's approach.
Mr Morrison's appointment was also criticised as a "weak and conventional choice" by fellow finalist Catherine McGregor, a transgender woman who used to work with General Morrison. She later apologised for her comments.