Rosie Batty named 2015 Australian of the Year Australian Year

For the first time in the history of the Australian of the Year Awards, women have taken out the top honours in all four award categories.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott with all four winners of top Australia Day Awards in Canberra on Sunday. Photo: Facebook

Prime Minister Tony Abbott with all four winners of top Australia Day Awards in Canberra on Sunday. Photo: Facebook

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the recipients of the 2015 Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year and Australia’s Local Hero on Sunday in a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra.

Since 1960 only twelve women have been named Australian of the Year including singer Judith Durham who was a member of the group The Seekers who won the award.

The Chairman of the National Australia Day Council, Ben Roberts-Smith VC, MG, said in a statement that it is a great moment in the 55-year-history of these Awards to honour four women.

“Rosie, Jackie, Drisana and Juliette remind us of the many ways in which women contribute to our nation – that women are a force for change, a voice for rights, influencers, educators and the heart of our communities.

“Most of all, they are admired and respected by their fellow Australians – they are people we can be proud of and look to as examples of the good in us all.”

Australian of the Year

Rosie Batty has been named 2015 Australian of the Year after rising above devastating personal tragedy to fight domestic violence, following the murder of her son Luke.

Australian of the Year: Rosie Batty.

Australian of the Year: Rosie Batty.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the 52-year-old Victorian has won the respect and hearts of Australians for the strength of character she has shown since Luke, 11, was killed by his father at a cricket ground in Melbourne almost a year ago.

“Rosie’s story jolted Australia into recognising that family violence can happen to anyone and she has given voice to many thousands of victims of domestic violence who had until then remained unheard,” Mr Abbott said on Sunday.

Her courage and willingness to speak out will make Australia a far better and safer place, he said.

The Victorian mother started 2014 with her 11-year-old son Luke.

But on February 12, Luke was publicly murdered during training at a Melbourne cricket ground by his father.

Labelled the most “remarkable victim” Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Ken Ley had ever met, Ms Batty began speaking out about domestic violence in the wake of Luke’s death. She wants an overhaul of both the system and our attitudes.

Ms Batty’s ability to channel her grief into campaigning to stop domestic violence is the reason she’s 2015 Australian of the Year.

“Being a mother was the most fulfilling role I’ve ever had in my life,” she said.

Ms Batty dedicated the award to her son at a ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra.

“Family violence may happen behind closed doors but it needs to be brought out from these shadows and into broad daylight” she reminded.

Senior Australian of the Year

Senior Australian of the Year Jackie French.

Senior Australian of the Year Jackie French.

Author Jackie French believes a book can change a child’s life, give them the power to dream and to change the world for the better. The Australian classic The Magic Pudding inspired her childhood life and dreams, she says.

Her passion for telling stories and tireless advocacy for children with learning difficulties has made her 2015 Senior Australian of the Year. Overcoming dyslexia herself, French believes in the transformational power of storytelling in the lives of young Australians.

“A book can change the world,” she said.

“Every book a child reads creates new neurons in that child’s brain,” she told the crowd on the lawns of Parliament House on Sunday as she received her award.

“If you want intelligent children give them a book. If you want more intelligent children give them more books.”

The 61-year-old from NSW was living in a shed when she wrote her first children’s book in 1991. She’s now published 140 books, for both adults and children, in 32 languages and received more than 60 literary prizes for children’s classics such as Diary of a Wombat.

As the current national Children’s Laureate, French is travelling the country to promote literacy. She is also passionate about the conservation of wildlife and is a director of The Wombat Foundation which raises funds for research into the preservation of the endangered northern hairy nosed wombat.

Young Australian of the Year

Drisana Levitzke-Gray can’t hear but it’s obvious she wants to be heard.

The 21-year-old has travelled the world advocating for deaf rights and pushing for deaf children to have access to Auslan – the sign language of the Australian deaf community – from birth.

Young Australian of the Year Drisana Levitzke-Gray. Photo by Matt Bedford

Young Australian of the Year Drisana Levitzke-Gray. Photo by Matt Bedford

Last year, she became the first Auslan user to be accepted into jury duty. Her number wasn’t called from the ballot but she believes she’s paved the way for other deaf Australians to fulfil their civic duty.

Now Ms Levitzke-Gray can add the title of 2015 Young Australian of the Year to her already extensive resume.

In accepting the award at a ceremony at Parliament House, the 21-year-old thanked the deaf community for their support. “It’s the deaf community that gives me the drive and the passion,” she said, before encouraging the crowd to all learn Auslan.

Ms Levitzke-Gray is the fifth generation of her family to be born deaf and has deaf parents. She was given access to Auslan as her first language. “It’s a human right for deaf children to be able to access their language,” she said. “When you delay that language, they have a delay in cognitive abilities.”

“I consider myself quite an intelligent person and it’s sad for me to see other deaf children who don’t have those opportunities because they’re denied a language at birth.” Ms Levitzke-Gray dreams that all children will one day have Auslan from the day they’re born and to spread the message “it is OK to be deaf”.

“We need the support of the Australian government to ensure that deaf children have access to Auslan,” she said.

Ms Levitzke-Gray beat out other indigenous NBA basketball player Patrick Mills along with business mentor Adam Mostogl, community leader Chantal Ober, film maker Genevieve Clay-Smith, environmental activist Thomas King and engineer and social advocate Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

Last year’s Young Australian of the Year, paralympian Jacqueline Freney was at the Parliament House ceremony to hand over her title to Ms Levitzke-Gray.

Local Hero

Juliette Wright with PM Abbott at the ceremony on Sunday.

Juliette Wright with PM Abbott at the ceremony on Sunday.

Local Hero Juliette Wright’s initiative made a big difference alleviating poverty and distributing goods to the needy during the Queensland floods.

Ms Wright founded GIVIT, in 2009, a website that allows people to safely donate goods and connect to those who are most in need. It was used heavily after the 2011 floods.

More than 126,000 items have been gifted through the site including more than 30,000 given to those affected by Queensland’s devastating floods.

Accepting the award on Sunday, Ms Wright said the beauty of GIVIT was that it allows every Australian to be a local hero.

“The simple act of giving … builds a bridge between the haves and the have nots,” she told the crowd in Canberra.

GIVIT ensures local donors give to vulnerable local residents within their community with the aim of changing the face of how society helps its most vulnerable and marginalised people.

The 41-year-old Queenslander from Camp Mountain, northwest of Brisbane, has just launched GIVIT Kids, a safe online platform for children to give new or pre-loved belongings. She urged parents on Sunday to teach their children about giving.

People on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra on Sunday. Photo- Rohan Thomson

People on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra on Sunday. Photo- Rohan Thomson

Rosie Batty, Jackie French, Drisana Levitzke-Gray and Juliette Wright will take part in Australia Day activities by attending the National Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony in Canberra tomorrow morning and will attend various functions in Melbourne and Sydney in the afternoon and evening.

Last year’s winner, Adam Goodes, used his final speech to urge Australians to support the push for constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians.

“I ask every Australian to think about what the Australian constitutional exclusion says to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians – to see our vast and inspiting history in this land not mentioned in the official picture like that ,” Mr Goodes said earlier today.loc