Australia Day awards deserve better than this


This whole awards business needs a bit of a rethink.

This year, Australia Day saw another 837 gongs handed out in the various categories: Five Companions of the General Division of the Order of Australia, or ACs to give the short form, were conferred. Then 59 Officers in the general division (AO), 224 members of the general division (AM) and 549 medal of the Order of Australia (OAMs).

That's a sackful of gongs. And, no doubt the vast majority are well deserved. Awarded to people who do good, necessary work that no one else wants to do, well below the radar. Winning an award on Australia Day is the biggest recognition they will receive.

In many ways, they do represent the best the country has to offer. But not in all ways.

The continual awarding of medals to mediocre politicians undermines the value of the whole show. It happens year after year and it happens no matter whether Liberal or Labor happens to be in power.

It's almost like it's written into the contract - hang around parliament long enough and you'll be given a new shiny pin to stick onto your jacket. It's like being well paid to do the job isn't quite enough.

Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman received an honour this year. Picture: Annette Dew
Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman received an honour this year. Picture: Annette Dew

This year was no exception. There were three ex-premiers - Queensland's Campbell Newman, NSW's Barry O'Farrell and Victorian Ted Baillieu. Then we had Amanda Vanstone, a former immigration minister in John Howard's government.

Newman won one election in a landslide but was so bad at being premier he lost the next one. O'Farrell quit because he forgot someone gave him a $3,000 bottle of wine and Baillieu quit during a first term.

Vanstone left her 23-year parliamentary career in 2007 and landed on a feather-filled mattress as the country's ambassador to Italy. That, and an annual six-figure taxpayer-funded pension, is surely enough recognition for one lifetime.

But these former politicians are only the latest in a long line.

Every prime minister is awarded the top gong at some point. As sure as lies follow Trump, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison will one day be expressing their gratitude to the people of Australia for such a wonderful honour.

Abbott's only regret will be that he won't be awarded one of those knighthoods he so successfully introduced a few years back so he could give one to the notoriously unrewarded and unrecognised His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Extra Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.

But Abbott will no doubt one day join Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, John Howard, Bob Hawke, Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam, John Gorton and all the rest in becoming an AC.

Bettina Arndt, who has defended paedophiles, received an Australia Day honour this year. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Bettina Arndt, who has defended paedophiles, received an Australia Day honour this year. Picture: Jonathan Ng

Of course, there is one name missing from that list of PMs with ACs: Paul Keating. Keating had the dignity to turn down the AC when it was his turn.

"I have long held the view that the principal role of any system of national honours should be to reward those whose outstanding work in any capacity has been largely unrecognised by the broader Australian community,'' Keating said.

"For my part, I could have had no greater honour in my life than to have been prime minister of Australia, and that is sufficient public recognition for me."

Any awards list has the capacity to stir up controversy. Look at the Oscars any year. But when they are used for political ends it sullies the good intent. Aside from the handing out honours to old pollies, this year's awards also featured a recognition for paedophile defender and men's rights activist Bettina Arndt for service to gender equity. Which is odd, but perhaps a bigger recognition that some men still like to use women to do their dirty work.

The Australia Day awards deserve better. Keep politicians and politics out of it. You can throw judges in there as well. Concentrate on the previously unrewarded.

Those whose day jobs don't come with a need for publicity.

Michael McGuire is a columnist for the Adelaide Advertiser.