Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin could be named Australian of the Year despite being lambasted at home and abroad for hand-feeding a giant reptile while holding his baby son.
Irwin, TV host of the Crocodile Hunter wildlife programme, has been nominated by his home state Queensland for the top national award.
State Premier Peter Beattie said he would not retract his nomination of Irwin even though welfare officers have yet to decide whether to take action against him.
“He has been one of the best ambassadors for Queensland in the modern era. He is known internationally,” Beattie said.
The celebrated animal lover fed a 13-foot croc while cradling his one-month baby, Robert, during a media event at his reptile park in Queensland.
Police have said Irwin will not be charged with violating any laws. But The Queensland Families Department said it was investigating the incident.
Some child welfare groups have accused Irwin of putting his son in danger. He has denied this and has suggested he would do the same again to educate his boy about crocs but with “no cameras around”.
The Australian of the Year award is decided by the Australia Day Council – a non-government citizens group that promotes celebrations for the country’s national day January 26.
Often the award goes to charity workers, academics or top athletes, such as Olympic gold medal runner Cathy Freeman or former tennis world number one Patrick Rafter.
Australia Day Council director Marjorie Turbayne said her group had yet to decide who would receive the 2004 prize.
While Irwin remains on the shortlist, she had deep personal misgivings.
“From my own personal point of view, and nothing to do with Australian of the Year, it’s not something that should be encouraged,” she told reporters. “He’s a very nice young man and I’m sure very caring about his family. But it’s a bit strange.”