Every Australia Day and Queen’s Birthday, the Howard Government announces another batch of gongs which are uncritically celebrated by the mainstream media.

Major Liberal Party donors are regularly rewarded yet no-one ever makes the proper connection or investigates the process.

When the PM gave his secretary, Barbara Williams, an AO in 2004 this wasn’t even pointed out, although the citation referred to “service to the community through support to the executive function of government at Commonwealth and State levels”.

Another favourite was failed businessman and former WA Liberal Party president Denis Horgan. He was gonged in 2001 “for services to tourism” when the collapse of Barrack Mines in the early 1990s cost state-owned banks more than $100 million.

The latest edition of legendary British magazine Private Eye has shown the way on gong coverage with most of the first page of news devoted to pointing out some interesting connections in the latest New Year’s honours. Here’s the sort of things you would never read in the Australian press:

The most glaring reward for failure was the OBE for former chief executive of the Atomic Energy Authority, Dipesh Shah, who resigned from the nuclear site operator after the Health and Safety Executive described his behaviour as “clearly unacceptable”.

Stef Stefanou, managing director of construction company John Doyle, was one of the business leaders who wrote to the Financial Times backing Tony Blair in 2005. He has given 33,000 pounds to Labour since 2003. Stefanou was awarded an OBE for “services to the construction industry”. This year John Doyle was fined 250,000 pounds after a foreman was crushed by falling wood on one of their sites.

We’ll bring you plenty of preview coverage leading into Australia Day and hopefully jolt the jackals into casting a more critical eye. One annoying feature of the gongs is that they come only five days before the release of the 2005-06 political donations figures on 1 February. There is undoubtedly a connection between gongs and donations but no one in Australia has ever done a proper analysis.

We’ll have another go so send in your thoughts to [email protected].

Peter Fray

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