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Australian of the Year preview

This evening, John Winston Howard will announce this year's Australian of the Year, to be chosen from the eight state and territory finalists. This is my third annual preview of the award, see my previous entries in 2005 and 2006.

I got the winner wrong on both previous occasions, let's see if I can make it a hat-trick.

Of the eight, there are four outstanding candidates, any one of which I would be happy to see win.

New South Wales is represented by Tim Flannery, environmentalist, historian, author, and in my view Australia's leading contemporary intellectual. He caused some palpitations last year when he implied that there might be an argument for nuclear power as a solution to global warming, though the case he presented was unconvincing. I was impressed by his courage in at least thinking out loud.

Western Australia's representatives are the Nobel Prize laureates in medicine for 2005, Barry Marshall and Robin Warren. In quieter years they'd be a shoe-in.

Of no less significance than the Nobel Prize is the Fields Medal in mathematics. One of the four winners of the prize in 2006 was South Australia's nominee, Professor Terence Tao. (But why does such a brilliant academic compose his web-page with MS Word 11?)

The ACT has nominated Michael Milton, who at the Salt Lake City Paralympics in 2002 won all four gold medals in his category in alpine ski-ing and was, later that year, named World Sportsperson of the Year With A Disability. (He lost a leg to cancer when he was nine.)

I'm going for Terry Tao, though in any other year I'd be cheering for Tim Flannery. Marshall and Warren have compelling credentials, however the award has gone to medical scientists in three of the past four years. Milton would be an outstanding choice as well, and is the only sportsperson in the final eight. No paralympian has ever won AOTY, while Pat Rafter in 2002 was the last non-cricketing sportsperson to win the award.

Thanks for coming: Philip Wollen (philanthropic humanitarian, Victoria), David Conry (Youngcare founder, Queensland), John Tooth (dementia care pioneer, Tasmania), Raymatta Marika (teacher and linguist, Northern Territory).

I make no recommendation for Senior Australian of the Year, but please let it not be Elisabeth Murdoch (mother of Rupie). New South Wales' nominee for Young Australian of the Year, Iktimal Hage-Ali, was forced to withdraw after committing the heinous crime of Being Interviewed By Police While Muslim.