The Malaysian native has scooped this year’s New Australian of the Year award for his community-building work.
“It is exceptional to see the former international students who have stayed on to contribute so much to our society”
Alongside his mentor, Lee helped get The Couch off the ground and become a meeting point for 80-100 students per night, four nights a week, offering meals and run by volunteers.
A dance group is another example of his innovative approach to enabling international students to integrate, explained Wesa Chau, chair of the New Australian of the Year panel.
“Gary is not your typical advocate, he is incredibly creative and an expert in social media,” said Chau. “He started PoisE’n Bollypop, a dance group that is used as a platform to connect younger people, where they share their passion together while building an understanding of harmony and acceptance of differences.”
The New Australian of the Year award was introduced in 2014 on Australia Day and recognises the contributions of migrants and refugees within Australia. The award is open to any new Australian who excels in any field, academia, business, community, sports and many other categories.
Gary has championed other programmes which address the well-being of the international students including Essendon Football Club GLoBALL Program, EDGE and the International Student Leaders’ Program, all of which focus on the well-being of international students in Australia.
He told The PIE News, “It is a great honour to be placed in such distinguished ranks as those of the past recipients. This award demonstrates that migrants, including international students have skills, cultural perspectives and a strong desire to contribute economically, politically and socially to grow Australia’s strength and affluence.”
Lee currently works as the International Student and Youth Project Officer at Melbourne City Council. He is also the Council Officer for the Lord Mayor’s Student Welcome events, where he started as a volunteer in 2006.
Norman Kennedy, chair of the Australian Day Council, added, “It is exceptional to see the former international students who have stayed on to become an Australian citizen to contribute so much to our society.”