A Griffith University Health trained Emergency doctor who is also the Project Co-lead on the University’s innovative Biospine project has been awarded the title of 2021 Queensland Australian of the Year.

Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM was given the prestigious honour at a ceremony in Brisbane, ahead of the national Australia Day awards in January.

Dr Palipana on the set of ABC’s Q & A program this year, where he spoke about the challenges of being disabled, particularly in a pandemic.

In a year of pandemic, Dr Palipana has spread himself thin, working at Gold Coast University Hospital, leading globally relevant Griffith research into the rehabilitation of spinal injury patients, being admitted as a lawyer and developing a growing reputation for his advocacy in the area of disability.

As the state’s first quadriplegic medical graduate and intern he knows firsthand the multitude of challenges faced, challenges amplified during COVID.

His advocacy for equitable treatment for people with disabilities included presenting as a witness to the Disability Royal Commission.

“I hope that this incredible honour allows me the opportunity to give more back to our community,” he said.

“2020 has been a big year for the world. We’ve had a pandemic, big elections, and many wild things happening.

“Just like everyone, all this had an impact on my personal, professional, and academic life. Through having a spinal cord injury with impaired lung function, COVID-19 has been an all too real threat for me. For many things, like research, we’ve had to pivot. To adapt.

“Still, I count my blessings. I’ve been able to work to play a part in our community’s response to the pandemic. I’ve lived in a place that the virus hasn’t touched as much. I’ve had the opportunity to do some rewarding things.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk congratulated Dr Palipana on the achievement.

“Dr Dinesh Palipana knows no barriers,” the Premier said.

“He speaks, writes and advocates for the equitable treatment of people with a disability, and he has contributed significantly to the advancement of treating spinal cord injuries and restoring functions for people with paralysis.

“As co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, he helped create national policies for inclusivity in medical education and employment.

“He is a truly inspiring person and a much-deserved recipient of the Queensland Australian of the Year Award.”

Dr Dinesh Palipana and Biospine research partner Dr Claudio Pizzolato

As Co-lead of the Biospine Project being conducted from Griffith’s Gold Coast campus, Dr Palipana has also contributed significantly to scientific advances in treating spinal cord injury and restoring function to people with paralysis.

“Imagine using your mind to drive movement in your muscles despite previously insurmountable obstacles like quadriplegia,” Dr Palipana said.

“BioSpine puts together some of the most promising advances in human history for spinal cord injury.

“We are using thought control, electrical simulation, and drug therapy in an attempt to restore function in paralysis.”

His national and global impact has been recognised with numerous awards, including Junior Doctor of the Year and the Order of Australia.

Griffith well represented

The Queensland Senior Australian of the Year Award went to Torres Strait Islander Elder Aunty McRose Elu for her community advocacy and climate change work.

Aunty McRose Elu

Aunty McRose Elu is a life member of the Griffith University Council of Elders.

Focused on bringing about change to better the lives of children and families, McRose is committed to reconciliation and sharing the traditional practices of her people at local, state and federal levels.

She was instrumental in negotiations to legally recognise the traditional customary adoption practices of Torres Strait Islander families, which led to the introduction of a landmark Bill to the Queensland Parliament.

Since 1980, McRose has also been drawing global attention to the impact of climate change on the Torres Strait, including speaking at the UN and to business and political leaders.

McRose also provides essential translation for Torres Strait Islander communities to help them access services and lobbies for funding to support community capacity building.

Louise Hardman. Image courtesy of Plastic Collective

Griffith graduate Louise Hardman was also nominated as one of four NSW Local Heroes in the Australian of the Year awards.

Completing a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Education at Griffith in 2006, the founder of Plastic Collective Co is a leading plastic educator, zoologist and science teacher, regularly speaking at international conferences and events about the need to address the global plastic waste epidemic.

“We’ve got a fundamental flaw in our language; we’re calling it plastic waste,” Louise said.

“Every time we call it plastic waste, we don’t give it value. To change behaviours, we need to change the perceived value of materials.

“I call it resources; plastic resources.”

Louise’s Plastic Collective business is now global and helps the world’s most vulnerable and remote communities, whose lives and environments are being destroyed by plastic waste and where waste collection is mostly non-existent and plastic pollution isrampant.

For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards, visit www.australianoftheyear.org.au