Australian of the Year finalists honoured

Andrew Brown |

Yvonne and Benny Mills say it’s bittersweet their son cannot celebrate in person being named as a finalist for Australian of the Year.

But while basketball star and ACT finalist Patty Mills is in the US doing many of the things which earned him the nomination, his parents say they’re more than proud represent him back home in Canberra.

“He’s showing his heart and compassion for others, and that’s what we’re proud of, and he’s inspiring others, too,” Yvonne said on Monday.

“He is busy doing what he does best, and then inspiring others to do their best, that’s what his message has been,” Benny said.

The NBA player and Olympic bronze medallist was nominated not only for his achievements on the court, but his work off it, including using sport to create opportunities for Indigenous youth.

He is one of eight finalists for this year’s Australian of the Year award, and while Mills is on the other side of the world, his parents said they were honoured to act as his proxy during the commemorations.

Mills was not the only one absent as finalists gathered in Canberra on Monday for festivities marking the awards.

COVID border closures have prevented Western Australia’s nominee, cyber safety educator and campaigner Paul Litherland, from attending, while Victoria’s nominee Dylan Alcott is in the middle of competing in his final Australian Open.

Tasmanian nominee Craig Leeson, who was honoured for his documentary and charity work helping to phase out single-use plastics, said while it was normally film that delivered his message of sustainability, the Australian of the Year award allowed it to travel further.

“This gives us an opportunity to have that platform and reach a whole new audience of people,” he told AAP.

“To be able to spend a few days with people who are effecting change, it gives you great optimism for some of the biggest issues facing Australia.”

Northern Territory nominee Leanne Liddle has been the driving force behind the territory’s Aboriginal Justice Agreement, which aims to reduce the rate of imprisonment and improve justice outcomes for Indigenous people.

She said the award nomination was much more than a recognition of years of work.

“For me, it actually represents all those people that put their investment in me, and they’ve been paid with this reward at the end of the day,” she said.

“I’ve been really grateful for all the people that have given me the opportunities and put me out front and pushed me to be out of my comfort zone.”

Other finalists for this year’s awards include domestic violence campaigners Lloyd and Sue Clarke from Queensland, NSW waste research scientist Professor Veena Sahajwalla and vaccination researcher Professor Helen Marshall from South Australia.

The Australian of the Year awards will be presented during a ceremony at the National Arboretum in Canberra on Tuesday night.