Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 08, 2023


Mabil, Mr A.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (16:28): I move:

That this council—

1. Congratulates Awer Mabil, professional soccer player and co-founder of not-for-profit organisation Barefoot to Boots on his 2023 Young Australian of the Year award;

2. Highlights the outstanding contribution he makes to ensure refugees in-country, living in camps and their neighbouring host communities, are supported; and

3. Recognises the positive contribution that refugees make to Australia.

Awer Mabil's story is an extraordinary one, but like a lot of young people his story is still being written. Born to South Sudanese parents in a north-western Kenyan refugee camp, which housed over 190,000 refugees, Awer grew up in the refugee camp until the age of 10 when he, along with his family, settled in Australia, in Adelaide.

It was in the northern suburbs of Adelaide that Awer started playing for St Augustine's, Playford City and Salisbury East Soccer Clubs, where he was scouted to join Campbelltown City Soccer Club. Making his debut for Campbelltown City's Red Devils in 2012, his speed and skills were evident and he ended up being picked up by Adelaide United, where his soccer career flourished. It was in the lead-up to the World Cup last year that Awer found even more fans, scoring a penalty to secure a place in the Qatar World Cup in November 2022.

But it is for his work off the field that he has been recognised, founding Barefoot to Boots with fellow refugee Awer Bul, and lobbyist and philanthropist Ian Smith. Awer and Ian Smith met while Awer was playing as a teenager for Adelaide United, of which Smith was a board member. Barefoot to Boots is a charity very close to Awer's heart. It supports refugees living in camps and their neighbouring host communities. Founded in 2015, the charity strives to ensure the refugee environment is more sustainable, more stimulating and accommodating for its residents, and to enlighten refugees' lives where they need it most.

According to its website, Barefoot to Boots returns to Kakuma at least once a year and has, since its beginning, visited camps in Uganda, Turkiye and Lebanon. There is a huge need for equipment that this charity delivers, and it is very much appreciated. Barefoot to Boots has donated more than 2,000 kilograms of football boots and uniforms. Seeing footage of soccer matches played in these camps, it is also not uncommon to see many players sporting Australian football shirts.

But more than football, the camp, and surrounding host neighbourhoods, have also benefited from incubators, ultrasounds, laptops—through a partnership with my former employer Deloitte—and books. It is also involved in improving the lives of women in the camps, providing sanitary products to young girls and continuing their education and participation in sport.

The success of Awer, a refugee settling in Adelaide, Australia, and giving back to his community halfway around the world whilst having a successful football career that is only growing, is but one example of the positive contribution refugees make to this great country. The waves of migration during and following world wars, the Vietnamese coming through, Italians and other groups of migrants, whether they be escaping wars, famine or political instability in their home country, are all part of what makes Australia such a successful multicultural country.

Australia is richer for Awer Mabil, and I am proud that South Australia—after welcoming him at the age of 10—can now claim him as the Young Australian of the Year for 2023. For Awer, this is only the start. I look forward to seeing all the things he will achieve in football but, most importantly, as a role model for refugees settling in Australia and around the world. I commend the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.