When the Australian Honours System, the Order of Australia, was instituted it was supposed to put an end to the shameful politicisation (and in some cases corruption) of honours and awards that had become part and parcel of the Imperial Honours System.

And for around 30 years awards under the Order of Australia banner were largely bipartisan… with about an equal representation of Coalition and Labor, and even Minor Party, former politicians, officials, and even benefactors.

The awards are supposedly determined by the Council of the Order of Australia, an “independent” body (appointed by the Prime Minister of the day, ho hum), without any political interference. But there is actually some “balance’ in that each Premier and Chief Minister has a representative on the Council – and all the Premiers and Chief Ministers are Labor.

That makes it even harder to explain, let alone justify, the quite blatant political bias that stands out like elephant’s nuts in the 2005 Australia Day Honours List published overnight.

I have trawled through the list down to the AMs and I cannot find one Labor, Democrat or Green ex-pollie, or even hanger on, who has made it.

But how’s this for Howard favourites, ex-coalition pollies, party hacks and retainers, all honoured today.

Jeffrey Kennett and Tim Fischer get the highest honour (AC), but surely there is some ex-Labor pollie worthy of the same? Just to keep it nice and balanced.

But when you get down to the AOs and the AMs its really quite appalling.

And the two that stand out are the AO awarded to the former Liberal Party Federal Director, Lynton Crosby, and the much lower AM given to the discredited, if not disgraced, former Minister for Coal (and Howard flatmate), The Honourable W R Parer.

At least the Crosby award does not even pretend it is for community service and he won’t have much time to celebrate given the pressure he is under in the UK now he has apparently told “the other Howard” he is running for a respectable second in the upcoming UK polls.

But former Senator Parer was exposed while he was Federal Resources Minister for massive conflicts of interests… but he survived for a couple of years because the Ministerial Code of Conduct had become redundant. But what “service to the community” is there to justify even the relatively lowly AM he has been given?

But the list of Liberal/National cronies does not end there. The Honourable Bruce Chamberlain, former President of the Victorian Upper House; Gary Nehl, former Nationals Federal MP; Joan Sheldon, former Queensland Liberals State Leader; Gary Sturgess, former Greiner Government head kicker; John Kearney, QC, failed Liberal Party Gold Coast candidate; Professor Harry Edwards, former MP for Berowra; and Ms Nicky Downer, wife of the Foreign Minister and failed Liberal Leader.

Now some will argue that’s not many in a list of 500 or so awards handed out today – but I cannot find one, not even one, political type allied with the non-Coalition forces.

Surely, the “independent” Council of the Order of Australia would have noticed this glaring bias? Or are names “inserted” after the Council has made its “recommendations” to the Governor General?

The other question that needs to be answered is where were the State Government representatives when the list was being drawn up? Perhaps their political masters, the Premiers (and Chief Ministers), should ask this question as well.

If the Federal Government wants to return to the old days when you got knighthoods etc if you were a media baron (Sir Frank Packer, Sir Phillip Jones, Sir Warwick Fairfax. Sir Reginald Leonard), a Race Club Chairman (Sir James Carr, Sir Clyde Kennedy, Sir Chester Manifold or Sir Ross Grey Smith), a Liberal Party/National Party President (Sir Robert Southey, Sir John Atwill, Sir Robert Sparkes) or a Liberal Party matriarch (Dame Beryl Beaurepaire), then it should abandon the pretence that the awards are “independent” and “bi partisan”.

And the under representation of women in the awards continues……..barely one third of the latest batch have gone to women.

That’s been the subject of complaint for years, but nothing has happened to put some gender balance into it.

But perhaps the Chairman of the Council of the Order of Australia (impossible to find out who it is from the Government House/Honours and Awards website – at last report it was Sir James Gobbo, former Governor of Victoria) might care to explain how such a blatantly biased list was allowed to get through?

The community standing of the Order of Australia has never been especially high. Today it has just sunk a little further.

Peter Fray

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