Dr John Falzon's contribution to social work has been recognised with a nomination for the Human Rights Medal.
Dr Falzon – St Vincent de Paul Society national chief executive – was the only Canberran to be one of four finalists for the prestigious award.
The passionate advocate of social justice and equality said of his selection for the medal: "It's very kind of people to have taken this trouble to nominate me and to support me in this way but my only desire is to be faithful to the people that I'm here to stand in solidarity with," he said.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has awarded the prestigious medal since 1987 to recognise leaders in human rights, social justice and equality within the country.
Dr Falzon – who had been acting on behalf of more than 60,000 members and volunteers the since 2006 – said he was no stranger to issues facing marginalised Australians.
"I grew up in a working-class migrant family in Sydney [which] was a formative influence for me, always being imbued with a sense of social justice and of understanding the realities of class and inequality," he said
He said he had experienced a certain level of prejudice as a new Australian when he was a child, it had been insignificant compared with that experienced by indigenous Australians and asylum seekers.
Dr Falzon, who specialises in sociology, theology and politics, said he believed in a hands-on approach to community development through involvement and practical work.
One of the big problems facing Australians is unemployment and underemployment, according to Dr Falzon.
He said inequality was growing but awareness in these issues was also growing, and he was "filled with hope" for the future.
"All services that exist are extremely important but the sad reality is rather than expanding and investing in these social services [such as] housing, health and education, we're seeing a trend cutting social expenditure and that's sad," he said
"The values that I was taught was that we should work with each other, it reminds me of the Brazilian indigenous saying: 'When we dream alone it is only a dream but when we dream together it is the beginning of reality'.'"
The 2014 Human Rights Medal will be awarded on December 10.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the awards were on December 15.
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