The 36-year-old founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia is Queensland’s 2021 Australian of Year.
Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM is senior resident at the Gold Coast University Hospital, a recent law graduate as well as the doctor for the Gold Coast Titans physical disability rugby league team.
Dr Palipana has built an international profile through his speeches with TEDx talks and has contributed immensely to spinal research in Australia.
He was named by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at a special presentation on Tuesday night, ahead of the national Australia Day awards in January.
“Dr Dinesh Palipana knows no barriers,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Tuesday night.
“He is a truly inspiring person and a much-deserved recipient of the Queensland Australian of the Year Award.”
Dr Palipana is the first quadriplegic medical graduate and medical intern in Queensland.
“As co-founder of Doctors with Disabilities Australia, he helped create national policies for inclusivity in medical education and employment,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“He speaks, writes and advocates for the equitable treatment of people with a disability and has contributed significantly to the advancement of treating spinal cord injuries and restoring functions for people with paralysis.”
Dr Palipana was seriously injured in a car crash on Brisbane’s Gateway Bridge in 2010 that robbed him of the use of his legs and left him with limited use of his arms.
In 2019 he began research on equipment that could – in the future – help people with disabilities walk, or even ride a bike again.
Dr Palipana and fellow researchers are working on a BioSpine which reads brain patterns, bypasses the spine and sends sends electric signals to a patient’s legs.
Torres Strait Islander elder Aunty McRose Elu was named Queensland’s Senior Australian of the Year for her community advocacy and work in climate change management.
She negotiated 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 been drawing global attention to the impact of climate change on the Torres Strait, including speaking at the United Nations and to business and political leaders.
Brothers Daniel, 24, and William Clark, 22, were named Queensland’s Young Australians of the Year for their work and fundraising efforts to protect endangered orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra.
Since 2008, they have highlighted the species’ plight and raised more than $900,000 to help protect the animals.
The funds have supported orangutan care centres and enabled investment in veterinary equipment.
Together they have also sponsored more than 50,000 hectares of orangutan habitat and adopted more than 100 animals.
Natasha Johnston, 47, the founder and director of Drought Angels, a group which supports drought-stricken Queensland and New South Wales’ families, was named Queensland’s Local Hero.
Drought Angels is described as a “personalised lifeline for farmers”, who often don’t reach out for help.
“Natasha’s work plays a vital role in reducing rates of depression and suicide, as well as helping to keep farmers on their land,” the judges said.
National Australia Day Council chief executive Karlie Brand congratulated the Queensland award recipients.
“The contributions of the 2021 QLD Australians of the Year are inspirational,” Ms Brand said.