It was a pared down field of just six recipients of the highest honour, the AC, on Australia Day and Janet Holmes a Court was the only business recipient.

Janet already had an AO and was a surprising choice given that her late husband Robert left WA taxpayers saddled with a $265 million loss from a disgraceful Brian Burke bail out of Bell Group.

Whilst Janet has done a lot of good work in the community, she sold all but 5% of John Holland to Leighton over the last few years and her wine and cattle interests remain relatively small.

One person who would look at Janet’s AC with some envy is former Commonwealth Bank CEO David Murray, who picked up a second division AO on Friday.

Murray transformed CBA from a sleepy government-owned bank to a $65 billion colossus over a 13 year term in charge. In terms of shareholder value he’s hard to go past and the two chairmen he worked with, Tim Besley and John Ralph, both picked up the AC during the Howard years.

Murray is now doing his bit for the government heading the Future Fund, yet still he failed to crack the exclusive list of 141 Howard AC recipients.

Whilst the practice seems to be not to give gongs to incumbent CEOs of major companies, no such policy exists for incumbent federal government department chiefs because Peter Costello’s Treasury secretary Ken Henry and the PM’s department head Peter Shergold, both collected the coveted AC on Friday.

Indeed, new Westpac chairman Ted Evans also has an AC, but that was for his role as Treasury Secretary in the 1990s.

There was the usual political bias in the awards. Despite being long retired, former Fraser Government minister Tony Staley picked up an AO, as did controversial former South Australian Premier John Olsen, although the ledger was squared by giving one to John Bannon, the Labor South Australian Premier who dropped $3 billion on the state bank.

However, the conservatives had a 5-1 advantage in the AO stakes given that former Queensland Premier Mike Ahern and Jeff Kennett’s Health Minister Rob Knowles were also gonged.

If mere state ministers are now in the frame, a future Rudd Government would have hundreds of gongs to dish out to their political mates.

Peter Fray

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