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Australian of the Year set to be announced

The nation’s Australian of the Year for 2021 is set to be crowned, with health and firefighting leaders favourites for the top gong.

State and territory finalists will find out on Monday evening at an event in Canberra who will be named Australian of the Year.

ACT Australian of the Year Professor Brendan Murphy and his NSW counterpart Shane Fitzsimmons are the favourites, but they are vying for the gong against passionate campaigners and doctors from across the nation.

The winner will take on the mantle from 2020’s Australian of the Year, eye surgeon James Muecke.

The win would be poetic pandemic timing for Professor Murphy, as Monday marks one year since Australia recorded its first coronavirus case.

As the nation’s chief medical officer the 65-year-old was pivotal in ensuring governments put health advice front and centre of the response.

Being named Australian of the Year would mean recognition of the work done by health professionals and the public service throughout the pandemic, he told AAP.

“Everyone has pulled together and as a nation we’ve shown just how powerful we can be.”

Like many Australians, Professor Murphy bore witness to former Rural Fire Service boss Shane Fitzsimmons’ leadership throughout last summer’s deadly bushfires.

Heartbreaking images of Mr Fitzsimmons, whose own dad died battling an out-of-control fire, awarding bravery and service awards to toddlers instead of their fathers were shared around the world.

“We owe it to all of them to make sure that as they grow up they know the only reason their dad is no longer with them is because they were heroes,” he said.

Mr Fitzsimmons now heads Resilience NSW, and says becoming Australian of the Year would be an opportunity to promote the importance of volunteers, mental health and community.

The Northern Territory’s finalist Wendy Page says the pandemic has put health education front and centre, helping her goal of raising awareness of strongyloidiasis, a disease caused by roundworm.

Queensland’s Australian of the Year Dinesh Palipana was in a car accident that left him with spinal cord injuries. He went on to co-found Doctors with Disabilities Australia and create policies for inclusivity in medical education and employment.

South Australia’s candidate for the top gong is Tanya Hosch, the AFL’s general manager for inclusion and social policy, a passionate Indigenous-rights advocate.

Representing Tasmania is sexual assault survivor and advocate Grace Tame, who became the first woman in the state granted an exemption to speak publicly about her experience.

Founder of the National Homeless Collective Donna Stolzenberg is Victoria’s Australian of the Year, working to better educate the public on homelessness.

Coronavirus restrictions prevented Western Australia’s Australian of the Year, the country’s first Indigenous doctor Helen Milroy, from attending Canberra for the festivities.

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