The human rights advocate, who was named NSW Australian of the Year for his surgical innovations and humanitarian work, said he hoped the devastation being wrought by the bushfire crisis would be a catalyst for change.
He called for an end to political shortsightedness and rejected the argument that Australia was doing enough because it contributed less to global emissions than developing nations.
“It’s very easy to say China and India are the biggest polluters, but that’s not good enough – because they will continue to be polluters,” Professor Al Muderis said.
“If we don’t cut our emissions, they will never cut their emissions.”
He said the Morrison government should “revisit the idea of having nuclear power”, saying an atomic plant could be built to power the desalination plant needed to secure the nation’s water supply and safeguard against drought – a project that would create jobs while lowering emissions.
“It’s not about shifting away from coal, it’s about utilising energy,” he said.
“We are facing difficult times, but I think it’s not too late.
“We can save the world and save the environment and we can reduce the emission fuels from flights and cars and industry and everyone should be responsible, starting from the simple household in our house – turn off the lights if you don’t need them.”
A number of finalists were delayed while travelling to Canberra for Australian of the Year duties on Thursday when flights were grounded due to a bushfire near the capital’s airport, which Professor Al Muderis described as “mother nature” demonstrating her “anger”.
“We had to disembark from the plane and we had to come by bus to Canberra. A lot of people were diverted to Melbourne and returned to Sydney,” he said.
International climate and marine science researcher Jess Melbourne-Thomas, who is Tasmanian Australian of the Year, backed Professor Al Muderis.
“I know climate change is a real threat for Australia and that’s played out this season in many ways,” Dr Melbourne-Thomas said.
She said she hoped to use her platform to help everyday Australians to “understand what’s happening and what they are able to do to respond to this challenge”.
Professor Al Muderis, Dr James Muecke and Dr Melbourne-Thomas will be vying for the title of Australian of the Year against fellow finalists Archie Roach (Victoria), Rachel Downie (Queensland), Annie Fogarty (WA), Katrina Fanning (ACT) and Dr Geoffrey Thompson (NT).
The winner will be announced at a gala dinner in Canberra on Saturday night.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.