Advisory committee member Magda Szubanski awarded an honorary doctorate

Magda Szubanski AO has received an honorary Doctor of Letters from UNSW Sydney, in recognition of outstanding achievements in the performing arts, and eminent service to society by advancing important causes.

The actor, author and activist said it was heart-warming to be acknowledged in this way.

“I am deeply honoured to be acknowledged in this way and look forward to working with UNSW to help find creative ways to keep Australia the humane, safe and decent nation that my parents brought me to over 50 years ago,” Szubanski said.

One of Australia’s most beloved actors, Szubanski is known to many Australians as Sharon Strzelecki in the sitcom Kath & Kim, Esme Hoggett in the Oscar nominated film Babe, and its sequel, Babe: Pig and the City.   

In 2012, she came out on national TV, and has been an active campaigner for LGBTIQA rights since. She is patron of youth organisations Twenty10 and the Pinnacle Foundation, and spoke at rallies, on TV programs and lobbied politicians as a campaigner for marriage equality. She is a recipient of Liberty Victoria’s Voltaire Award for free speech.

In 2015, Szubanski’s memoir Reckoning was released to universal acclaim. An examination of the impacts of intergenerational trauma and the migrant experience as well as her own journey to self-acceptance as a lesbian, the book received numerous awards including the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year in 2016.

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs conferred the honorary doctorate in a ceremony on Tuesday, 10 September.

In a speech following the conferral, Szubanski spoke about the dark side of social media – the preferred method of democratic participation for US President Donald Trump – and how it is “being gamed by bad faith participants to derail and destroy any attempt at reasonable discussion and debate”.

Szubanski is also currently contributing to UNSW Sydney by serving on the advisory committee of the Australian Human Rights Institute.

The Institute’s Director, Scientia Professor Louise Chappell, said Szubanski’s huge popularity and familiarity to Australians made her a powerful vehicle for advocacy.

“Magda has a deeply-held commitment to equality and is driven to use her talents to contribute to a fairer world,” Professor Chappell said. “Our Institute’s search for solutions to human rights challenges is enriched by Magda’s creativity and humour, which is helpful when looking at issues that can seem intractable.”

Other well-known Australians to have received an honorary Doctor of Letters from UNSW Sydney in recent years include footballer Adam Goodes, author Thomas Keneally, journalist Stan Grant and philanthropist John Kaldor.