OSCAR winning actor Geoffrey Rush has been named Australian of they Year, beating Sunshine Coast child safety campaigners Bruce and Denise Morcombe.
Bruce and Denise were considered hot favourites for the award following their tireless work educating children about predators following the alleged abduction and murder of their son Daniel.
But PM Julia Gillard bypassed the Queenslanders for Mr Rush in an awards ceremony in Canberra tonight.
Mr Morcombe had earlier downplayed their chances of winning, despite bookies having the couple as favourites.
Mrs Morcombe told local radio this morning that regardless of the outcome they would continue their work as Queensland child safety ambassadors.
Mr Rush, who was born in Toowoomba, worked for 40 years as an actor, being awarded an Oscar, a Tony and an Emmy.
The 60-year-old was Victoria's nomination for Australian of the Year.
His award recognises his achievements on screen and stage and his commitment to Australian arts. He has also mentored young artists.
Mr Rush, whose mother lives on the Sunshine Coast, said he was proud to be an Australian.
"I am sure my colleagues will see this as a national endorsement in our story of creativity," he said.
He said he hoped to see the arts world get bigger and more inclusive.
The Morcombes told the Daily they were simply privileged to be "rubbing shoulders" with such amazing people and to be nominated for such a prestigious award.
"We hope (being nominated) will open some doors and it'll take the child safety message to a national stage," Mr Morcombe said.
"There's a lot of respect for people who win this award. We've met a lot of the past winners. There's a lot of incredible Australians with a rich history on the list of past winners.
"There's a great friendly spirit here so we've been soaking up the energy and positive thoughts."
The Morcombe said they were emotional and nervous as the awards were handed down ahead of the announcement in their own category.
"It's good to get recognition for what we've done in the last seven to eight years," Mrs Morcombe said.
"It's been a good experience being here and meeting such lovely people."
Mrs Morcombe said they looked forward to rolling out the Daniel Morcombe curriculum, touring schools and rolling out some new programs for the Daniel Morcombe Foundation in 2012.
"We've started booking schools in already from the end of next week," she said.
"We'll continue spreading our child safety messages and rolling out some more programs including internet safety," Mr Morcombe said.
The Morcombes met Prime Minister Julia Gillard at a morning tea and Governor General Quentin Bryce at a barbecue.
They also spent some time talking Quentin Bryce's husband Michael who was among SES volunteers who searched for Daniel soon after he went missing.
"(Quentin) carries herself very eloquently. She's a great person to have as the cultural leader of our country," Mr Morcombe said.
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