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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 840


Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (12:59): A national honours system should reflect the values of that nation. It should celebrate the values that we hold dear as a country and the achievements of individual Australians in furtherance of these values. It should both reflect and represent the best of our nation. As Australia has changed over time, so too has the way that we recognise Australians for outstanding contributions to our nation. Reflecting the proud, independent nation that Australia had become, state and federal Labor governments ceased making recommendations for awards under the British imperial awards system in 1972, and the Whitlam government created the Australian honours system in 1975. That is why the public's reaction to the Abbott government's reinstatement of knights and dames was so strong: it is just not a reflection of who we are as a nation.

Since the creation of the modern Australian honours system, many great Australians have been recognised through these awards. However, the contributions of many other deserving recipients have been overlooked during this time. The primary purpose of the Order of Australia is:

… to recognise … those who have made outstanding contributions that benefit their communities, and ultimately our country.

That is all well and good, but the stated secondary purpose of the Order of Australia is:

… to define, encourage and reinforce community standards, national aspirations and ideals by acknowledging actions and achievement and thereby identifying role models at all levels and in all spheres of the community.

By this count, Australia's honours system is failing to deliver for our nation. The sad reality is that Australia's honours system continues to overlook important contributions to our communities and our nation as a whole made by women and people from minority backgrounds. Since the inception of our modern awards system in 1975, to date, women have been recipients of just 30.3 per cent of all Orders of Australia. This has barely improved in recent times. Between 2012 and 2016, women received just 31.4 per cent of awards. The problem is more acute at the top. Over the history of the awards, women have received barely 15 per cent of the ACs—the highest award—issued and not even 20 per cent of the AOs, the second highest.

This year's awards show only marginal progress. It is pleasing that 45 per cent of this year's ACs—five out of the 11 awards—were women, including our first female Prime Minister and a long-time resident of Melbourne's west, Julia Gillard. Only 35 per cent, however, of the 2017 honours list are women—just 252 women, barely half of the 475 men. This figure is up three per cent since 2016, but it is still a long way from equality. This is not just a selection problem but a problem of recognition that extends to individual nominations by the public. Indeed, just 320 women were nominated for the general division of the Order of Australia awards this year, in comparison with 651 men.

Does anyone still think this is about merit? Does anyone think that in 2017 men are making twice the contribution to our communities and our nation that women are? There is clearly something else at play here. Unfortunately the current model of community nomination is perpetuating the enduring inequality of recognition in our communities in our national awards. The Australian Honours and Awards Branch does not even collect data on the CALD, disability or ATSI status of recipients of these honours. The Governor-General's office indicates that, for orders, this information is not collected 'as it does not affect a person's eligibility for recognition in the Order of Australia'. Given the near ubiquity with which this information is collected across other government activities, this is peculiar indeed.

Collecting this information might provide those responsible for these awards with valuable information beyond the mere eligibility of an applicant. It might indicate that we need to do more work to promote and encourage nominations from CALD communities. You cannot improve what you do not measure. We do know that just 12 per cent of award recipients between 1975 and 2016 were Australians who were born overseas. Given that 28 per cent of the Australian resident population, not the citizen population, were born overseas, we should expect to see a similar underrepresentation on this front.

While in the past Australia has periodically sought to move our national award system away from the elitist and exclusive imperial awards of Great Britain, the Old Dart has, shamefully, moved ahead of us in creating a national award system that reflects a diverse modern nation. The United Kingdom's 2017 New Year's honours list was 'the most diverse ever'. Women received more than 50 per cent of the honours. People from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds picked up 9.3 per cent of the awards, and 8.5 per cent of the awards went to people with a disability. Unfortunately, knights and dames are not the only anachronism that has plagued Australian national awards in recent years. It is time that the recipients of Australia's honours looked like the nation that they came from.