Canberra Citizen of the Year 2014 Speech

Professor Chris Parish

Delivered at the Ainslie Football Club, 12 March 2014

This year marks the 38th year of the Canberra Citizen of the Year, since it was introduced by The Canberra Times in 1977. It's been 25 years since the ACT Government took over the running of this award on the granting of self government.

As you look back over those 24 years the Canberran of the year reads as a civic honours list - citizens whose contributions have been recognised by peers, by friends, by admirers for the work they do every day – we’ve celebrated

  • Artists
  • Scout leaders
  • Dancers
  • Journalists
  • Medical practitioners
  • Business people
  • Community workers
  • Police
  • Nurses
  • Volunteers
  • Indigenous leaders
  • Religious leaders and
  • Community organisations.

This diversity in roles itself recognises the wide range of talent, commitment and contribution made by so many people over the last quarter of a century.

Today, the 2014 Canberran of the Year is recognised for their contribution to science and research.

In our 101st year, as we build up our reputation as a university city with a knowledge based economy it is fitting to award this year’s honor to a person who has dedicated more than 40yr of their career to research here in Canberra as part of the world renowned research institution the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

It is my great honour and privilege to announce that the 2014 Canberran of the Year is...

Professor Chris Parish.


Professor Christopher Parish is a cancer scientist and also the Director of the John Curtin School of Medical Research after serving as the Head of the Division of Immunology and Genetics within the JCSMR at the Australian National University.

Chris came to Canberra in 1969 to pursue post doctoral studies at JCSMR. He left briefly to study overseas but word has it – he believed that the quality of research was much better in Canberra than Oxford and so he returned here and made Canberra his home.

During his 40 year research career, Professor Chris Parish is a scientist who has made important contributions to the study of immunity, as the first person in the early 70′s to demonstrate that cell mediated immunity and anti- body formation are mutually antagonistic response. This phenomenon known as ‘immune deviation’ – has been recognised as playing a critical role in the development of auto immune disease and in resistance or susceptibility to different infections.

He has also made a major contribution to the development of novel therapeutic anti-cancer agents through his investigation of the role of heparan sulfate, an anionic carbohydrate, in cell migration and invasion. These studies have led to the development of the anti-cancer drug PI-88 that inhibit inflammation, tumour metastasis – which is currently undergoing successful Phase 3  trials in human cancer patients. He has also partnered with another researcher Dr Simeon-ovic to apply some of this research to Type 1 diabetes.

Professor Parish is scientist who is known almost as well as his research for his ability to be able to commercialise his discoveries – with an outstanding vision for developing commercial outcomes of his research, as evidenced by 21 international patents in addition to his more than 250 scientific papers

Four Biotechnology companies have been built up with the assistance of Professor Parish and his research programmes,

Professor Parish is a Board member of the John Curtin Medical Research Foundation which seeks to promote medical research and has only recently been established by a leading group of ANU academic’s and community members. This foundation seeks to raise money to support various ground breaking research projects at the ANU.

I have had the absolute fortune of meeting with Professor Parish on several occasions. The most memorable for me (apart from a dinner I shared with him and his fabulous wife ……. At the Sarah Grace Foundation ball ) was when Professor Parish came and met with me, along with another of  our fabulous cancer specialists in Canberra Professor Robin Stuart Harris back in 2012 to pitch to me an idea to of a Centenary Chair in Cancer Research at the ANU. It was a brazen, unsolicited approach – but the passion and forcefulness of the arguments put to me that day remain with me.

This project will allow the recruitment of a researcher of the highest calibre to come to Canberra along with a dedicated team of researchers to support the professor to work at the school. 

The rest of this story is history as many will know that the ANU and the ACT Government have joined together to establish the Centenary Chair in Cancer Research and I have no doubt that this partnership will deliver great things for Canberra, ANU, JCSMR, and to offer continued hope to the 1300 Canberrans, 115,000 Australians and 14 million  people diagnosed each year with cancer worldwide..

Scientists are driven by a hunger to understand the world around them – how everything works that way, why it occurs that way , why certain outcomes happen and when we are talking about diseases like cancer – how to stop particular things happening. This is what drives Chris in his work – how his research discoveries can translate into improving human health, and we are lucky to have him working in Canberra.

Chris Parish, a Canberran, a husband and father, a friend to many, an avid bush walker (where else would you live for that hobby) a world renowned scientist, a contributor, a teacher, a researcher, a mentor.

I am very proud to offer you this title today Chris – in recognition of the hours, days, months, years spent in your lab – strengthening the reputation of one of Australians leading universities and premier medical research facilitates.

Thank you for your contribution in making this city what it is today.

Ladies and gentlemen please welcome – the 2014 Canberran of the Year – Professor Chris Parish.