Stephen M. Silverman
January 06, 2004 01:00 PM

He may have outraged child-welfare activists by recently balancing his 1-month-old son Bob in one arm as he fed a 13-foot crocodile, but “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin is still in the running for the title of Australian of the Year, say reports from Down Under.

Irwin, 40, has been nominated by his home state, Queensland, for the top national award, with State Premier Peter Beattie saying, according to the Associated Press: “He has been one of the best ambassadors for Queensland in the modern era. He is known internationally.”

The Australia Day Council, a non-governmental citizens group that promotes celebrations for the country’s Jan. 26 national day, decides upon the Australian of the Year award.

Meanwhile, on Monday’s “Today” show, Irwin snapped at host Matt Lauer for even suggesting he had put baby Bob in any danger. Irwin also attacked those who had expressed their outrage at his stunt.

“I applaud those people for thinking that. That’s saying everyone’s an expert, and that’s the democratic way,” said a sarcastic Irwin. “But … I am so hurt, and so sorry and in such pain that people were scared.”

Police have said Irwin will not be charged with violating any laws last Friday, but the Queensland Families Department said it was investigating the matter.

Still, the stunt apparently has had a resounding effect. Australia Day Council director Marjorie Turbayne said that while Irwin remains in the running, 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.”

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