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The Australian of the Year, David Morrison, is a warrior for women.

Rosie Batty was always going to be a hard act to follow.

Her raw bravery, her fierce courage, her tears for the precious son she never got to see grow up. How lucky we were to have her as Australian of the Year for the past 12 months. A woman who has fought for the rights of other victims of domestic violence from the moment her personal tragedy thrust her into the spotlight and into our consciousness.

What Rosie did for women – all women – by speaking up and speaking out and refusing to be silenced by bullies like Mark Latham who felt threatened by her message is almost impossible to quantify.

As a country we owe her a great debt. She changed the conversation and gave a public face to what is a private,unseen, inescapable hell for hundreds of thousands of Australian women and children.

Big shoes. Who could fill them?

Today, David Morrison has been named Australian of the Year and it’s a great day for women.

david morrison australian of the year women

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You’ve heard the name but you can’t quite place him?

Here’s the cheatsheet version:

The former Lieutenant-General Morrison, now retired from the Army, was awarded the honour for his commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion.

His very public 2013 video message, ordering misbehaving troops to ‘get out’ if they couldn’t accept women as equals, went viral and he started a cultural shift which has changed Australia’s armed forces forever.

Since then, the number of women joining the army has grown by two per cent and the culture is more accepting of racial, ethnic and sexual diversity.

In 2014, David was invited to speak at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, sharing the stage with US Secretary of State John Kerry and actor and activist Angelina Jolie, and argued that militaries that exclude women ‘do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute’.

So for the second year in a row, women (and everyone who believes in equality and diversity) have a warrior in the highly public and symbolic role of Australian of the Year.

Some stone throwers will undoubtedly see a middle aged white man. I see a champion for women. A feminist in the true sense of the word – someone who believes women deserve equal human rights.

David Morrison doesn’t just believe this, he lives it.

His speech to the armed forces – written by his great friend, former army mate, fellow Australian of the Year nominee and transgender activist Cate McGregor and delivered via youtube  – was as significant for women as Julia Gillard’s speech about misogyny. It went viral too and deservedly so.

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Australia – hell, the world – needs more men like David Morrison. Men who will stand beside us and say ‘no, that’s not good enough’ and ‘no, that’s not ok’.

Last year my friend Wendy Squires wrote a newspaper column about the importance of men in the fight for gender equality. She detailed the actions of several men she knew who considered themselves feminists and walked their talk.

Unbelievably, she was viciously slammed for this positive sentiment by some women (on Twitter mainly) who ridiculed her for ‘pandering to men’ and railed against the very idea of men being relevant let alone welcome in any fight for equal rights. ‘Men are the problem, they can’t be part of the solution’, their argument went.

Oh bite me.

david morrison australian of the year women

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I’ve never understood women who refuse to allow men membership to some exclusive club called feminism. I’ve always been baffled by this idea that men are somehow irrelevant or counterproductive or worse, the enemy.

We need men. We need them beside us to call out inequality and sexism and sexual harassment and to help us redraw what’s OK when it comes to the treatment of women. They must be our allies because it’s something we can’t do alone.

White men ended apartheid in South Africa. Straight politicians hold the key to marriage equality. An overwhelming majority of men worldwide control legislation around reproductive choices.

Just because someone is not the same as you, it doesn’t mean they can’t advocate for you.

It was Liz Broderick, former Gender Discrimination Commissioner and a nominee for this year’s Australian Of The Year, who established Male Champions of Change, a group of male CEOs who pledged their support for gender equality. “To rely on women alone to change the status quo is quite an illogical approach,” she noted, describing the purpose of the group like this:  “We need more decent, powerful men to step up beside women in building a gender equal world.”

Yeah we do.

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The Australian of the Year has a megaphone and they have it for 12 months to spruik their cause to an attentive nation at events large and small, around the country, in the media and to individual members of the public. David Morrison has said he plans to use his time in the sun to continue Rosie Batty’s campaign to end the scourge of domestic violence while adding three more causes close to his heart:

  • Diversity of gender, sexuality and race
  • Gender equality including closing the pay gap
  • The need for an Australian head of state

I’m excited about the attention he’s going to bring to all of these issues. I’m proud to have him among the ranks of men and women who believe in equality and diversity. Because the more men with power, influence and status who can speak about these things, the more hearts, minds and fists they will be able to change.

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