AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR JAMES MUECKE
The 2020 Australian of the Year, Dr James Muecke wants to put the fight against diabetes on the national agenda.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the top honour for the South Australian eye surgeon at a ceremony at Canberra's National Arboretum on Saturday night.
Awards also went to Queensland tennis sensation Ash Barty (Young Australian), WA obstetrics specialist Professor John Newnham (Senior Australian) and NSW youth advocate Bernie Shakeshaft (Local Hero).
With smoke from nearby bushfires in the air outside the ceremony venue, Mr Morrison paid tribute to all those involved in tackling the emergency or impacted by it.
"They - like the nominees here tonight - are demonstrating to us that our national story is one of great achievement, but also of pain, of effort, sweat," he said.
"You are all Australians of the year."
At a function with the award nominees at The Lodge earlier in the day, the prime minister became emotional when referring to his late father, John.
"He loved Australia and he'd love you all because you have been building the country he loved," he said.
Dr Muecke founded Sight For All, an organisation dedicated to fighting all causes of blindness with projects in Aboriginal and mainstream Australian communities, Asia and Africa.
With diabetes becoming the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in Australia, he will spend much of his time in the public spotlight this year talking up how to tackle what he describes as a "looming catastrophe".
Some of the solutions include a sugar tax, better food labelling and restrictions on advertising, especially during children's TV viewing times.
"People are going blind and losing vision, what we need to do is go right back to beginning and say what is causing this?"
Barty was presented with her award in Melbourne by 2002 Australian of the Year Pat Rafter.
She was in the Victorian capital attempting to become the first home-grown Australian Open singles winner since Chris O'Neil in 1978.
The 23-year old tennis world No.1 who has also played Big Bash League cricket, serves as the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia.
"All of my values that I've lived by and try to live by every single day, regardless of whether it's in sport ... all come from mum and dad," the ever-humble Barty said after receiving her award.
Perth-based Professor Newnham, 67, is recognised as one of the world's leading authorities in the prevention of pre-term birth, the single greatest cause of death and disability in children up to five years of age.
In 1989 he founded and led the pioneering Raine Study, the world's first and most enduring pregnancy-focused lifetime cohort project.
"It is now time for prevention of pre-term birth to become a national priority for Australia."
Mr Shakeshaft took out the Local Hero award for his work with disadvantaged youth in the NSW regional city of Armidale, through the BackTrack Youth Works program.
"To our Aussie kids doin' it tough - hang on, don't give up, help's on the way," he said.
As this year marks 60 years of the Australian of the Year Awards program, many former award recipients were in the audience including Rosie Batty, Ita Buttrose, Robert de Castella and Dawn Fraser.