Australia has more than 600,000 community groups of vastly differing sizes and shapes, groups that provide a voice to advocate for someone or some issue.
Amongst these community groups a number of strong leaders, and potential strong leaders, are helping to influence positive change across Australia.
Advocacy can take many forms - you could be lobbying for new lights at the local football ground, opposing a war, planting more trees to aid sustainability; the examples are endless.
The methods of advocating may have changed (not to mention the issues), but the importance of the task remains.
Imagine if women had no right to equal pay for work of equal value.
Up until the late 1960s it was commonplace to believe that it was a man's responsibility to work and provide for a family, while a woman's main responsibility was in the home. Women's work was correspondingly poorly paid and poorly valued. With the revival of the women's movement in the early '70s came the campaign to break down the traditional view of a woman's role and achieve equal pay for women. A test case mounted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions eventually resulted in an overturning of the 25% discrepancy in pay rates between men and women in favour of equal pay for work of equal value.
Imagine if guns were allowed to proliferate in Australia.
Following the devastating Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in 1996, which cost the lives of 35 people, the Howard Government led the states to unite to remove semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns and rifles from civilian possession. In the years before the reforms, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the decade since, Australia has been free of fatal mass shootings, and has experienced accelerated declines in firearm deaths, including suicides and homicides.
Imagine if HIV infection rates were allowed to soar in Australia.
In 1986 the Australian gay community successfully advocated for a revolutionary approach to the prevention of HIV/AIDS: funds for gay groups to run innovative and preventative community education programs to promote safe sex. The result is an Australia with one of the lowest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world.
Imagine an Australia where Aboriginal Australians have no land rights at all.
For 200 years, the Indigenous people of Australia suffered under the legal reality of terra nullius - an assumption that before white settlement, Australia belonged to no-one. That was until Eddie Mabo, David Passi and James Rice brought a test case to determine the legal rights of Indigenous Australians to use and occupy land on the islands of Mer (Murray Island), Dauar and Waier in the Torres Strait, which were annexed to the state of Queensland in 1879. After a decade of litigation, the Mabo case resulted in a High Court ruling that rejected terra nullius and finally recognised native title for Indigenous Australians.
Imagine an Australia where smoking is associated with the glamour of sports.
In 1988 the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) began to replace tobacco sponsorship of sports and arts using a dedicated tobacco tax as replacement funds - this was a world first. By 1991 most sports and all arts were tobacco free. In 1992 VicHealth, with the Cancer Council of Victoria, the National Heart Foundation and most importantly thousands of sports and arts groups around Australia, successfully lobbied the Federal Government to ban tobacco sponsorship from sports and arts completely and Australia was the first country in the world to achieve this feat (Formula One Grand Prix excepted).
Imagine if people with disabilities still lived behind the walls of institutions.
Up until the 1980s most people with disabilities lived in institutions for the disabled. These institutions were similar to prisons - there was no right to privacy, no right to eat and sleep when you wanted to, no right to go out and come back. Inmates were locked behind institutional walls for life. In the late 1970s the disability rights movement began in Australia - a movement by and for people with disabilities themselves. The first goal was to break down the walls of institutions and secure for people with disabilities the right to live in the community and take part in community life - to be educated in mainstream schools, to work alongside the rest of the community, to play sport and take part in recreation and community life, to have the same opportunities as other Australians. Eventually the worst of the institutional walls came down, though there is still some way to go in achieving full integration and rights for people with disabilities.
Imagine an Australia where car-related injuries and fatalities are considered an unavoidable part of everyday life.
Advocacy for seat belt legislation was initiated in the late 1960s by Australia emergency doctors who noted that seatbelt wearers were less likely to be seriously injured in collisions. Compulsory seatbelt laws, accompanied by a community education campaign, were introduced in Victoria in 1970, followed by the rest of Australia and then other countries during the 1970s and 1980s - a move that has resulted in dramatic reductions in death and injuries caused by car accidents. Speed, drink-driving and other car-safety messages have had similar results in recent years.
Imagine if mining were allowed to take precedence over health and world heritage.
In 1998 the Mirrar people called on activists to come from around Australia and the world to block the construction of the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine, which was to have been built on land belonging to the Mirrar Aboriginal people - land that was surrounded by the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park. Over the next eight months, more than 400 people were arrested as the campaign raged. Continual lobbying, in conjunction with falling uranium prices, brought the project to an eventual halt. In 2003, rehabilitation works began at the site, while in 2005, the traditional owners were granted veto rights over future development of Jabilika.
Imagine an Australia where citizens are locked up in overseas jails with no charge and no prospect of release.
David Hicks, an Australian citizen, was captured by Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan in 2001, and held by the United States Government for more than five years. After extensive advocacy led by his father Terry Hicks and his legal counsel Major Michael Mori, on March 26, 2007 Hicks was finally brought to trial and offered a deal which saw him enter a guilty plea to the charge of providing material support for terrorism. Hicks was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, with all but nine months suspended. The majority of his term is being served in an Australian prison.