The Voice to Parliament was front and centre of Professor Tom Calma's acceptance speech as the Senior Australian of the Year on Wednesday night.
And rightly so, as the 69-year-old Kungarakan Elder was a co-chair of the Senior Advisory Group of the Indigenous Voice Co-Design. He has also spent his lifetime working with First Nations and Torres Strait Islander people.
"Australia has only ever known a system where Indigenous peoples are treated as problems to be solved, not as partners and active participants in determining their destiny," he said.
"Australians have only ever known a system of consistent policy failure and poor outcomes for First Nations peoples."
The human rights and social justice campaigner has worked for more than 45 years at local, community, state and international levels championing the rights, responsibilities and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
He co-founded the Aboriginal Task Force in Darwin in 1980 and was a senior advisor for Indigenous affairs to former Minister for Indigenous Affairs Philip Ruddock.
His call for Australia to address the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people was the catalyst for the Close the Gap campaign in 2006.
Professor Calma was instrumental in establishing the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples; has led the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program since 2014; has co-chaired Reconciliation Australia for more than a decade; and was chosen to deliver a formal response to the National Apology in 2008.
He is Chancellor of the University of Canberra and last year became the first Indigenous Australian inducted as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
Accepting the award from prime minister Anthony Albanese, Professor Calma wasted no time in using his new title to spread his message.
"As Senior Australian of the Year and a member of the Council of Elders for Aged Care, I want to particularly address senior Australians because you are the demographic being targeted with misinformation by pundits who are either ill-informed or have malicious intent regarding the voice," he said.
Professor Calma said Australians would be asked in the Voice to Parliament referendum to consider if there should be a First Nations voice in the constitution. He said without a formal process to provide advice to the parliament, "policies are too often made for First Nations peoples rather than with us".
"Enshrinement will mean our fate will no longer be determined by the whims of politics and ever-changing governments," he said. "ThevVoice is not about special rights for First peoples. All Australians will remain equal in the eyes of the law."
Professor Calma stressed that the voice can't hinder parliamentary processes or make laws, but "permanent change that is not party politically driven is needed to deliver better outcomes for First Nations peoples and all Australians".
Fellow co-chair of the Senior Advisory Group of the Indigenous Voice Co-Design, Professor Marcia Langton, said Professor Calma has put his voice and himself at the gates confronting Indigenous Australians for decades.
"His passion for this country and for the marginalised peoples of this country is unwavering to this day," she said. "These issues consume his mind like few other Australians.
"A man of Tom Calma's calibre must be celebrated by all Australians for his service to improve the lives of many people around this country."
Australian of the Year
Body image activist, director, writer and speaker, Taryn Brumfitt, of Adelaide, is the 2023 Australian of the Year.
She leads the Body Image Movement that teaches people to love and appreciate their bodies.
Her 2016 documentary Embrace tackled the issue of women's body loathing and her own path to body acceptance. It was seen by millions of people in 190 countries and is available on Netflix.
She released a documentary, Embrace Kids, in September 2022 that aims to teach children aged nine to 14 to move, nourish, respect and appreciate what their bodies can do. Taryn collaborated with body image expert Dr Zali Yager to create an Embrace Kids companion parenting book and they have also created the Embrace Hub - a free, research-based resource for teachers, parents, children and communities on fostering body positivity.
"We weren't born into the world hating our bodies; this is something the world has taught us," she said in accepting her award.
"Australia, it is not our life's purpose to be at war with our body.
"Collectively we are facing some of the most challenging environmental, humanitarian and social issues of our time. What if instead of spending our days consumed by hating our bodies, we could invest our time together to solve these challenges."
Young Australian of the Year
Australian Socceroo and co-founder of Barefoot to Boots, Awer Mabil, of Adelaide, is the Young Australian of the Year.
Awer was unable to attend the presentation in Canberra due to team commitments in Europe. His mother Agot Dau Atem and uncle Michael Matiop Dau Atem accepted the award on his behalf.
Barefoot to Boots aims for better health, education, policies and gender equality for refugees. Awer's unique way of celebrating a goal is a message to those struggling with their mental health: you are not alone and you can speak up.
He grew up in a Kenyan refugee camp after his family fled civil war in Sudan, before coming to Australia at age 10. The Socceroo's sister died in a car accident in 2019. It is his experience of hard times, the memory of his sister and the knowledge that young people see him as a role model that drives him to perform. It's what he does that the 27-year-old wants to be known for, not his background.
Australia's Local Hero
Founder of Turbans 4 Australia, Amar Singh, of Sydney, is Australia's Local Hero.
Twenty years ago, Amar founded a charity after experiencing racial slurs and insults because of his Sikh turban and beard. He wanted to show people they didn't need to be afraid and so began helping struggling Australians.
Every week, Turbans 4 Australia packages and distributes up to 450 food and grocery hampers to people experiencing food insecurity in Western Sydney.
The group also raises awareness and funds for important causes while promoting multiculturalism and religious tolerance. But the organisation is best known around Australia for transporting emergency goods to those in need since 2015.
Turbans 4 Australia has delivered hay to farmers experiencing drought; supplies to flood victims in Lismore and bushfire-impacted people on the South Coast; food hampers to the isolated and vulnerable during COVID-19 lockdowns; and supplies to the Salvation Army in central Queensland in the devastating wake of Cyclone Marcia.
National Australia Day Council chair Danielle Roche congratulated the award recipients.
"The 2023 Australians of the Year are great examples of the Australian spirit," she said. "Their courage, determination and fearlessness are an inspiration to us all.
"Individually brilliant, Taryn, Tom, Awer and Amar share a common bond - using their life experience as a power for good, helping others around them and making the world a better place.
"These are an extraordinary group of Australians of whom we can all be incredibly proud."