Amid the growing politicisation of the Order of Australia awards, as revealed by Inq last week, Governor-General David Hurley has now made a rare public statement indicating he was open to seeing the awards system “evolve” to remain relevant to modern Australia.
“I am determined, across my term in office, to ensure that the Order of Australia is — and is perceived to be by the Australian public — the highest form of recognition of the efforts and achievements of Australians,” Hurley told The Australian today.
The governor-general’s comments come in the wake of Inq‘s coverage, which revealed a pattern of partisan political appointments over the last two years. His critical comments put him at odds with his own awards advisory body, the Council of the Order of Australia, which has continued to reject any criticism of the awards.
But an honour given to men’s rights commentator and culture war figure Bettina Arndt has raised ongoing questions about the council’s judgment, further threatening the credibility of the awards.
A spokesman for the Council of the Order of Australia has confirmed to Inq that the council is still “considering correspondence” in relation to Arndt’s appointment, five months on from this year’s Australia Day awards.
Arndt’s award “for significant service to the community as a social commentator, and to gender equity through advocacy for men” referred to a body of work stretching back 50 years, but it was a reference to her work in 2018 on the so-called “fake rape” university campus tour that provoked outrage — in particular, her claims of a “manufactured rape crisis” on campuses.
Soon after, Arndt offered public support for Queensland Police comments that a man who killed his partner and their children might have been “driven too far”. In the wake of that, all sides of politics bar One Nation called for Arndt to be stripped of her award.
But to cancel Arndt’s award — or not — takes the council into new territory. Over its 45-year history, the council has stripped awards from 46 people. In most cases it has been because of a criminal conviction or because a person lied about their achievements. No one has lost an award for expressing views which have caused public outrage or which run counter to accepted knowledge.
It would create another first: the council would have to concede its judgment is flawed because Arndt’s views are nothing new.
Here is a selection of names from the Order of Australia shame file.
Paul Wilson (removed 2017)
Once the media’s go-to criminologist, former Bond University academic Paul Wilson was convicted of child sex offences and sentenced to 18 months prison.
Warwick Watkins (removed 2016)
Watkins, the former chief executive of NSW’s Land and Property Management Authority, received a 12-month good behaviour bond for attempting to mislead the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The case stemmed from an ICAC investigation into the purchase of property at Currawong, Pittwater.
Bernadette McMenamin (removed 2016)
A prominent child protection campaigner, McMenamin pleaded guilty to charges of careless driving, driving under the influence of a drug and failing to report an accident after a car accident which led to the death of an elderly man. She was placed on an 18-month community correction order and banned from driving for six years.
Desmond John Jarvis (removed 2016)
Jarvis served six weeks in jail in early 2014 for indecently assaulting a schoolgirl in Tasmania in January 2013. Jarvis’ honour related to “service to the community of Westbury through church, sporting and community groups”.
Bede Long (removed 2015)
One of Australia’s leading Lions Club members, Long was convicted of indecently assaulting two funeral home staff — twice during funeral services. The Herald Sun reported that 72-year-old Long received a 10-month suspended jail sentence after being found guilty on four counts of indecent assault and one count of an indecent act.
Rolf Harris (removed 2015)
Entertainer and one-time icon Rolf Harris had a stunning fall from grace after being convicted in the UK of the sexual assault of four underage girls.
Eddie Obeid (removed 2014)
Former NSW Labor identity Eddie Obeid — whose political career was fostered by the newly honoured Graham Richardson AO — lost his award after he was found to have given misleading evidence to a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearing. Obeid got his award in 1984 for “services to ethnic welfare” during the Hawke government years.
John Maitland (removed 2014)
Former NSW mining union boss, John Maitland became a member of the order in 2010 during the Gillard-Rudd years for service to industrial relations in the mining sector. He too was later found to have given misleading evidence to the NSW ICAC.
Carin Clonda (removed 2013)
Clonda was awarded honours for services to squash but lost it all when a court found she had acted with “guile and deception” in business dealings with NSW Squash.
Clinton Condon (removed 2013)
Condon, a former Australian Wheat Board chairman, pleaded guilty to gaining financial advantage by deception and providing false or misleading information to auditors. He received a suspended prison sentence and was fined $12,000.
Ronald Papps (removed 2010)
A former race caller who was awarded honours for services to racing, Papps was given a suspended jail sentence for an incident assault in which he pushed a pillow over his wife’s face. He pleaded guilty to endangering life after a charge of attempted murder was dropped.
Marcus Einfeld (removed 2009)
Former NSW Supreme Court judge Marcus Einfeld was found guilty of perjury over a lousy $75 speeding ticket. He was sentenced to two years prison. He had received the award for service to international affairs and the promotion of human rights. He was president of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission for four years.
Steve Vizard (removed 2008)
Vizard had been the hottest thing on television but in 2005 he was fined $390,000 and banned from managing any corporation for 10 years after abusing his position as a Telstra director. He handed back his Order of Australia award, he said, out of respect for the honours system.
Brian Quinn (removed 1999)
In the early 1990s, Brian Quinn was arguably the most powerful executive in Australian retailing as chairman, chief executive and chief operating officer of the Coles Myer group. He was later found guilty of using company invoices to fund $4.5 million in renovations at his Templestowe home.
Alan Bond (removed 1997)
Australia’s biggest business fraudster, Bond was sentenced to seven years in prison for siphoning off more than a billion dollars from a company. Bond had been awarded his honour under the Hawke government.
Brian Burke (removed 1995)
The former Labor premier of WA, Burke was sentenced in 1997 to three years in prison for stealing $122,585 in campaign donations. The convictions were quashed on appeal but he was stripped of his honour in 1995.