Gold Coaster Dr Dinesh Palipana named Qld Australian of the Year

Inspiring Gold Coaster Dinesh Palipana, the state’s first quadriplegic doctor, has been named Queensland’s Australian of the Year for 2021.

The doctors with disabilities advocate was awarded the honour at a special ceremony at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on Tuesday night.

Doctor Palipana is a senior resident doctor at Gold Coast University Hospital, and a qualified lawyer.


Despite facing numerous barriers, he became the first quadriplegic medical graduate and medical intern in Queensland and has worked with the Australian Medical Association to create first-of-kind national policies for inclusivity in medical education and employment.

The 36-year-old has also contributed significantly to scientific advances in treating spinal cord injury and restoring function to people with paralysis, while his national and global impact has been recognised with numerous awards, including Junior Doctor of the Year and the Order of Australia.

Doctor Palipana says he’s hoping to inspire change in the medical field.

“We brought about changes into medical education, Covid-19 has been a really big issue for people with disabilities.

“And we’ve been able to do some work to make sure that people are treated equitably during Covid-19 as well.

“So I’ve been able to work with some amazing people to bring about some changes,” Dr Palipana said.

The Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says Doctor Palipana knows no barriers.

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

“Dr Palipana was the first quadriplegic medical graduate and medical intern in Queensland and was also recently admitted as a lawyer.

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

“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,” the Premier said.

Doctor Palipana was in good company at the awards ceremony overnight, with Advocate for Torres Strait communities and climate change, Aunty McRose Elu, named the Queensland Senior Australian of the Year.

At 75-years-old, 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.

Brothers Daniel and William Clarke, aged just 24 and 22, took out the Queensland Young Australian of the Year category for their conservation efforts for the critically endangered orangutan populations in Borneo and Sumatra.

Since 2008, the pair have highlighted the species’ plight and raised more than $900,000 to help protect the animals, with the funds supporting orangutan care centres by building new holding enclosures and enabling investment in veterinary equipment.

While Founder and Director of Drought Angels, Natasha Johnston, was named Queensland’s Local Hero for her work in delivering care packages and financial assistance to thousands of drought-stricken farming families across Queensland and New South Wales.

Natasha and her friend Nicki Blackwell were inspired to help after hearing stories of farmers struggling to put food on the table.

After loading a ute with supplies to take to one family in 2014, they soon started responding to calls for assistance from other families in urgent need and it took off from there.

National Australia Day Council CEO Karlie Brand praised the 2021 Queensland Australian of the Year recipients, describing them as inspirational.

“Their dedication to making a difference for others, leading the way for change and helping those in need is to be respected and admired,” Ms Brand said.

The Queensland award recipients will join those from the other states and territories for the national awards, which will take place on 25 January next year.

For more information on the Australian of the Year Awards, click here.