Pioneering South Australian eye surgeon Dr James Muecke has been named the 2020 Australian of the Year.
The announcement was made on Saturday night at the National Arboretum in Canberra.
Dr Muecke, 56, was nominated for his work preventing blindness, and founding a social impact organisation called Sight for All. His focus is on the spiralling epidemic of blindness caused by type 2 diabetes. It impacts one in 10 Australians and is the fastest growing cause of vision loss in Aboriginal people, and the sixth-biggest killer in Australia.
In accepting the award, he said it was an honour.
"What a tremendous honour to be named Australian of the Year 2020 - such an auspicious year for eyesight," Dr Muecke said.
He said type 2 diabetes was "a looming catastrophe for our health system".
"As an eye surgeon, I often see patients at the end stage of their diabetes, when it's too late to save their sight. What saddens me greatly is that, much of the time, such complications are avoidable, whether through lifestyle changes or more disciplined health checks," Dr Muecke said.
"My mission this year is to get back to the root cause of this disease and prevent what will otherwise be our nation's health catastrophe. This year, I want to challenge our perception of sugar, our relationship with sugar, and the impact that it has on the development of diabetes."
Dr Muecke said his goal is to build greater awareness of the detrimental role sugar plays.
"It's as toxic and addictive as nicotine, and should be treated by consumers, businesses and governments as such."
But before he got too far into his speech, Dr Muecke said he'd have 12 months to talk about his work.
"So tonight, firstly, I'd like to acknowledge our most recent catastrophe and recognise the thousands of Aussies who are experiencing such difficult times right now," he said.
"The uncompromising bushfires that have swept through our country have left widespread disruption and heartbreak in their wake, and few of us remain untouched."
He said too many people lost their lives, and the devastation to landscape and wildlife "is beyond belief".
"During this turmoil, we've seen the best in human nature and have witnessed the true Aussie spirit rise - proud, and unrelenting. It's heart-warming to see the outpouring of goodwill when generosity from the public and the selfless acts of bravery from our courageous firefighters and emergency services. In my eyes, these Aussies are our heroes, and I applaud their sacrifice and unwavering commitment. Whilst I've not been fighting fires, I humbly accept this award and, with it, my role to contribute to this great country."
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to the stage at the beginning of the event on Saturday night, he also recognised the enormous contribution of volunteers in responding to the devastating fires over the past months.
"Normally at this event, we look to our nominees as reminders of lives and of service over self," Mr Morrison said.
"Generosity over selfishness. And a willingness to show courage in the face of adversity. But tonight, we need no reminder because beyond these walls, to the south, to the north, to the east and the west... thousands of volunteers are fighting fires and reminding us about what it means to be a citizen of this great nation. 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, of sweat."
Mr Morrison it had been a summer of good deeds, great sacrifice and terrible loss.
"Through this long summer, we have seen the unquenchable spirit of Australians. Australians rallying to each other, be they family, friends, or indeed strangers."
"So tonight, I say to all the heroes - not just of the bushfires, but of the floods a year ago and of our terrible drought that has ravaged our country - you are all Australians of the Year."
The official Australia Day Honours list in 2020 recognises 837 outstanding and inspirational Australians.
There were five people appointed Companions of the Order, 59 appointed Officers of the Order, 224 appointed Members of the Order, and 549 OAM Medals awarded.
Women made up 41.6 per cent of awardees.
Almost 45 per cent of awards, 375 in total, were for outstanding service or achievement in the community.
- Australian Community Media, publisher of The Canberra Times, is a proud supporter and corporate partner of the Australian of the Year Awards.