Congratulations to winners of the NT Australian of the Year Awards and Top End NAIDOC Awards

10 November 2020

I rise to congratulate and acknowledge a number of Territorians who've been recognised through the Australian of the Year awards and the NAIDOC awards in the past week.

Dr Wendy Page was announced as the Northern Territory's 2020-21 Australian of the Year. Since a small but deadly parasite killed Wendy Page's friend and colleague in the East Arnhem Land community of Yirrkala in 1999, Dr Page has dedicated her life to eradicating the parasite and the tropical disease it causes: strongyloidiasis. Her friend and colleague, an Aboriginal health worker, passed away in Adelaide from the disease, a huge loss for her as a friend and for the health team. Wendy told the awards ceremony in Darwin last week:

Let her death not be in vain.

She's been a motivator, sitting on my shoulder saying 'We've got to do something about it'.

So Wendy is doing something about it. She's focused on eradicating the disease from remote communities and closing the gap.

Stuart McGrath was announced the Northern Territory Young Australian of the Year. Stuart was recognised for his efforts in improving the health of his home community of Galiwinku in East Arnhem Land. He's on track to become the first registered Yolngu nurse. When accepting his award, Stuart spoke about his experience with suicide from a young age, saying he saw suicide when he was 12 years old. He said:

I didn't even know what suicide was. And—

the death—

kept going on and on, with diabetes, cardiac disease and everything.

Yolngu people were dying at an unnecessary age, along with knowledge and wisdom … and that's what inspired me to get into health.

Miriam-Rose Baumann was awarded the Northern Territory Senior Australian of the Year award. Miriam-Rose, the Northern Territory's first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher, was recognised for her lifelong dedication to remote education. Dr Baumann comes from Nauiyu, Daly River. At the award ceremony, she said:

For so many years, we've always been getting teachers from down south to come up and work and live among us, to help us, and have their expertise.

And I said 'Look, we—

Indigenous people—

can do that too.'

It meant that we knew the kids better … and the families. So why not become a teacher as well?

We don't have to go when our contracts are finished.

Erica Gibson, a Katherine police sergeant trying to stamp out domestic violence, won the Northern Territory Local Hero award. She was lauded for her community work bettering the lives of girls and women as well as her long-term commitment to stamping out domestic violence. Erica has been in the NT Police Force for more than three decades. The four winners are eligible to be named the overall Australian of the Year at an awards ceremony here in Canberra in January.

Now to the NAIDOC award winners: I'd like to congratulation the Top End NAIDOC 2020 award winners who were presented with their awards at a ceremony on the weekend. The award for vocational educational and training was awarded to Jessica Bradley; the Lifetime Achievement award went to Leeanne Caton; Female Elder of the Year was awarded to Linda Jackson; Male Elder of the Year was awarded to Mr Halpin Hart; Youth of the Year was awarded to Sharna Alley and Mililma May, who organised the Black Lives Matter rally; Sports Person of the Year was awarded to Daniel Rioli; Artist of the Year was awarded to Rochelle Fejo; Person of the Year was awarded to Bronwyn Weber; Caring for Country was awarded to Ellie May Bradley; and Scholar of the Year was awarded to Christabel Stanislaus.

I would like to take a minute to talk about Leeanne Caton. I probably need more than a minute to talk about Leeanne Caton because she's an amazing woman! She was the winner of the NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement award—incredibly well deserved, Leeanne. Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese visited Darwin last week and was able to meet with Leeanne in her capacity as CEO of Aboriginal housing provider Yilli Rreung. Leanne is a Kalkadoon woman who grew up in Darwin and has family and cultural connections throughout the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. I've had the privilege of getting to know Leanne well over many, many years—decades, in fact—speaking alongside her at panel discussions and seeing firsthand the passion and commitment that Leanne brings to improving the lives of First Nations people. Leanne, you're certainly a force to be reckoned with. We're so lucky to have you in the Northern Territory doing the work that you do at Yilli Rreung. Under your leadership, Yilli Rreung has become a leading provider of affordable and community housing based in Darwin, in the Northern Territory. You and your staff deliver professional housing management, maintenance and construction services to the Top End community, manage the tenancies and municipal services of Indigenous communities and provide affordable housing to individuals and families who are disadvantaged in the mainstream housing market.

I would like to say to all the winners whose names I have read out tonight here in the Senate: congratulations to each of you. Congratulations also to the organisers of the Top End NAIDOC awards on hosting this successful event: Kathy Rayment, Joy Baird, Maisie Austin and Faye Parriman. More than 200 people attended the ceremony on Saturday night on Larrakia country. There were many events in the Northern Territory that I was sorry to miss this week, and that was certainly one of them. But I remember you here, as I stand on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country congratulating each and every one of you this NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC is a special week, and while it is usually in July and has been pushed back due to COVID, the Northern Territory is celebrating in style with a significant number of events taking place. I thank my staff in Darwin, who have attended NAIDOC events this week on my behalf, including at Bagot Community and at the Aboriginal Bush Traders this morning. They will attend more events in coming days, including the premiere of the amazing film I've yet to see but have heard so much about, High Ground. It's a frontier-era movie set in Arnhem Land in 1919. I hope that we will be able to host that movie here in Parliament House early next year.

A number of events are also taking place in Alice Springs, including the Tangentyere Artists exhibition on Saturday and community day on Friday. I greet everyone right across Australia, First Nations people wherever you and your families are, as we celebrate NAIDOC Week, Always Was, Always Will Be. It is a chance to bring about far greater unity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, Torres Strait Islanders and all those who call Australia home. That's what NAIDOC Week is about. It's an opportunity to get to know one another, to listen, to learn and hopefully to take away the lessons that can create for all of us a better chance in a better Australia.