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Public health champion honoured with Order of Australia

Media release

Curtin University’s Emeritus John Curtin Distinguished Professor Colin Binns has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday 2021 Honours List, earning the prestigious Order of Australia.

Professor Colin Binns AO

Professor Binns was honoured for his remarkable service to medical research, tertiary education, public health policy and human nutrition.

Curtin Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne said Professor Binns was a very deserving recipient of the Order of Australia, which recognises outstanding and meritorious service.

“Professor Binns has made a major contribution to nutrition and public health in Australia and the Asia Pacific region over his illustrious career,” Professor Hayne said.

“He was appointed as our very first Head of the School of Public Health, a position he held for 21 years, and was the founder of Curtin’s Health Service. He was also the inaugural head of the renowned National Drug Research Institute based at Curtin.

“Throughout his working and academic life, Professor Binns’ motto of “science, compassion and education” has seen him apply the principles of public health with an emphasis on achieving practical outcomes that benefit people. It is this commitment to improving the health and lives of others that makes him an exemplary recipient of the Order of Australia.”

Professor Binns has had a major interest in public health nutrition and has been instrumental in the development of every set of Dietary Guidelines in Australia since 1979, including for infants, children, adults and older Australians.

He has also been at the forefront of research and policy around breastfeeding and his international research on the topic has been published across more than 620 academic papers, books and chapters.

Professor Binns said he was delighted to be recognised in this year’s Honours List.

“I have always sought to promote the best of science in relation to nutrition, health and other aspects of public health and am truly humbled by this honour,” Professor Binns said.

“I believe because medical practitioners and researchers are seeking to help people, we must always show compassion, especially to those less fortunate members of our society, in Australia and around our region.”

After a life-changing experience volunteering as the only doctor looking after around 50,000 very ill people in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Professor Binns said he knew he had to do something.

“Many children with infectious diseases did not recover. It took some time for me to understand that malnutrition in children was the underlying cause of infection disease and death,” Professor Binns said.

“I was awarded a scholarship to Harvard University where I studied nutrition and public health then returned to PNG to implement what I had learned, before returning to Australia and embarking on a career at Curtin to teach, research and promote the importance of nutrition in achieving good health for all.”

Soon after arriving home, Professor Binns was appointed to the Nutrition Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council. For his contribution to nutrition and public health, he was also awarded Senior Australian of the Year (WA) in 2004 and was awarded an honorary PhD from Inje University, Korea, for public health research in Asia.

Professor Binns’ current research projects include a major NHMRC sponsored study of mothers and infants in Vietnam in association with the Hanoi University of Public Health and the Quinns Infant Feeding Study. He has participated in many research projects on infant feeding, nutrition and cancer in China, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, PNG, Indonesia and Kenya.  He has more than 50 years of experience in general practice and is still working two to three sessions per week. He is also the editor in Chief of the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health.