In a year that has brought the renewed onslaught of Ebola, the rise of Islamic State in the Middle East and a Prime Minister seemingly eager to lead us bare-chested and beaming into World War III, it’s hard to remember the things that have inspired us in 2014. But for every vapid celebrity, for every sleazy politician, for every Taylor Swift song that follows us wherever we go, there’s been someone, somewhere, working to make their own little corner of the world a better place. Here to blow gently on that little ember of idealism that still clings to even the most jaded of our readers, Crikey has put together our list of contenders for the coveted Person of the Year award for 2014.

Vote here to elect the 2014 Crikey Person of the Year.

Karl Stefanovic

Karl Stefanovic has gone through something of a metamorphosis this year. Having shed his protective outer layer of good-natured buffoonery (if not his suit), Stefanovic has emerged a new man, lean and hungry for conservative blood. Goals kicked include sending a powerful (aromatically speaking) feminist message to his viewers, disposing of a particularly feral animal on live TV and being the first to inform Clive Palmer to his face that he had, in fact, lost the plot. If you haven’t spent the last few weeks pretending to have always had a soft spot for him, now would be a good time to start.

Stella Young

“I am not a snowflake. I am not a sweet, infantilising symbol of fragility and life. I am a strong, fierce, flawed adult woman. I plan to remain that way, in life and in death.” Stella Young told it straight. A fierce proponent of a society that would not inflict disability on top of any impairments caused by birth or accident, Stella fought for widespread social change with burning intelligence and wit. She will be missed.

Rosie Batty

After her former partner broke an intervention order and murdered her 11-year-old son during cricket practice, Rosie Batty began a campaign against domestic violence that earned her a well-deserved place as 2014’s Victorian of the Year. It takes true courage and compassion to turn personal tragedy into the drive to help other people living in fear of their lives and the lives of their children.

Sheik Umar Khan

Sierra Leone’s top doctor in the fight against the Ebola outbreak, Dr Sheik Khan, died in quarantine after treating over 100 men, women and children dying from the virus. In our rush to urge the West to take action against international tragedies, we sometimes forget the people within those communities working to fix the problem — even at the cost of their lives.

Freya Newman

Remember that time when Tony Abbott was confronted with pretty damn convincing evidence that he’d used his political influence to get his daughter a secret $60,000 scholarship to a prestigious design school? And how she then got a job there with no formal description or clear duties? If you’re feeling outraged about the whole affair, don’t worry: the guilty party has been hauled before the courts to answer for heinous breach of authority. Yes, Freya Newman, the whistleblower who drew the media’s attention to Abbott’s special treatment, was struck with the full force of a system designed to entrench power firmly where it belongs: with those who already have it. Freya, if you’re ever looking for a place that appreciates a bit of well-deserved shit-stirring, drop us a line. Maybe wait til that good behaviour bond is up, though.

Sarah Ferguson

Sarah Ferguson’s ability to turn 7.30 interviews into brutally dispassionate autopsies earned her a place in our hearts just as much as on Coalition dartboards. Watching Ferguson surreptitiously pick bits of Joe Hockey out of her teeth after a devastating interview following the May budget is a sight that will stay with us at Crikey for years to come, but a quick look at the notches on her flensing knife reveals that Julie Bishop is not the only person feeling lonely in cabinet right about now. Legend has it that Ferguson has sworn a blood oath not to rest until she has Clive Palmer strapped to an operating table, but then, you always remember the one who got away.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, the “People’s Pope”, is owed a massive debt by the Catholic Church (one of the more tasteful Donatellos should just about do it). The Argentinian pastor’s efforts to improve the standing of homosexuals and divorcees in the Church as well as his scathing criticism of the unbridled economic greed embraced by some of his conservative followers has, finally, made it cool to be Catholic again. Mind you, when your predecessor is known mainly for a) being a Nazi b) looking uncomfortably like Emperor Palpatine and c) potentially covering up thousands of cases of institutionalised child sex abuse (Merry Christmas, everyone!), you don’t need to know a Guelph from a Ghibelline to see he’d end up bigger than Jesus.

Jeff Morris

Commonwealth Bank whistleblower Jeff Morris paid a heavy price for exposing the misconduct of the bank’s financial planning arm six years ago. Breaking his silence this year, Morris spoke about the harsh toll his actions had taken on his family and his own wellbeing. His passion for reform in our major financial institutions also gave producers at ABC’s Four Corners the chance to use a title they’ve no doubt had in their pocket for years — “Banking Bad”. Whether Morris is offsetting his media appearances by driving around the outback in a motor home cooking high-quality meth is, at press time, uncertain.

Peter Greste

Australian journalist Peter Greste’s trial and subsequent imprisonment at the hands of the Egyptian courts for his work with Al Jazeera was a brutal reminder of just how much we take the freedom of our press for granted. Unfortunately, that same liberty is slowly grinding Greste out of the public eye in favour of the next distant injustice. As tempting as it is to keep things light for Christmas, the price of Greste’s bravery is not something we can afford to forget.

Julie Bishop

Our new Foreign Minister has no need of Mandarin — that cool, blowtorch stare is the same in every language. Despite being known before the election primarily for her ability to crush garden gnomes with the sheer force of her disdain, Julie Bishop has risen high in the public’s estimation after her deft handling of the chaos following the downing of flight MH17. Bishop’s calm, capable presence on the world stage has been a welcome change from an uninspiring domestic performance from both major parties. But then, you’d write that too if she were standing right behind you.

Also rans: Gail Kelly, David Thodey, Ian Young, Jacqui Lambie, Bureau of Meteorology climate scientists, William Pooley, Scott Ludlam, Mark Scott, Barack Obama, Adam Goodes, Allan Hogan, James Foley and Gough Whitlam.