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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15632

Mr LEO McLEAY (10:28 PM) —I would like to raise some concerns I have with the new Sports Medal which has been announced by the Minister for Sport and Tourism, who I am glad to see is at the table. This medal is far from being the people's medal that the government claims it is. For those unfamiliar with the procedures, those outlined by the government allow only for approved sporting bodies and state, territory and federal MPs to nominate candidates for this medal. This is in direct contrast to our established system of honours, which allows any citizen to nominate a worthy recipient and that their nomination be determined independently by the Council of the Order of Australia, not by politicians. If the Sports Medal is added to our honours list as indicated in recent media reports, it will see our honours recipients picked by politicians, not by the community. I believe the addition of this medal to our honours list system in this form will undermine the independent, democratic Australian system established in 1975. This is perhaps the most cynically contrived photo opportunity yet engineered by the government.

However, the really slick cynical twist was added to this saga recently when the government sought approval from the Queen to include this medal in the honours list. I am not sure why there was a need to involve the Queen so publicly and directly in such an overtly political exercise. I remind members that, when the Australian honours were enacted in 1975, it was specifically done to ensure a community based nomination process and an independent selection process. Most specifically, the intention was to establish an Australian system which reflected our fair-go society.

The government of the day wanted to—and it was adopted and agreed to by both sides of parliament—do away with the old boys club tradition of the previous system. The old saying was: `If you got an OBE, that was another bugger's effort and, if you got a MBE, it was my bloody effort.' The Australian honours were about the community deciding that someone was deserving of some award. It was not politicians making that decision. I quote from the official Australian honours guidelines:

The most important difference between the Order of Australia and the British honours system (imperial awards) was the method of selecting recipients. Imperial awards were made on the recommendation of heads of governments ie politicians. While awards in the Order of Australia are made only on the recommendation of the Council of the Order of Australia. What this means is, although a politician in Australia can sponsor or nominate someone for an award in the Order of Australia—no politician decides that an award should be given—the independence of the council is paramount.

These new awards have to get a tick from the Prime Minister before the decision is finally made. According to the public statements and documents released by the government, nominations for this Sports Medal can be made only by sporting bodies and/or state, territory and federal MPs. The man or woman down the street cannot say that they think the great coach or great tennis player from their area should get a go. It is only if your local member of parliament says you are okay do you get a go. This is in direct contravention to the existing procedures under our Australian honours system, which allows an individual to nominate any worthy citizen and it is independently overseen by the Council of the Order of Australia.

By including this medal in our honours list, the government has deliberately or mischievously ignored the existing legislation enshrining our impartial process and returned to the old system where the politicians make the choice. That may suit the government, but I am sure it does not suit the Australian people. We should ensure in this year when young Australians are going for gold on their own hard work that any Australian can nominate a person for an Australian sports award—not some third-rate politician or some local councillor—and they should not have to get the tick from the Prime Minister to do it. If in this Olympic year ordinary Australians who have made the grade can get gold, the government should not be providing dross nominated by politicians. It is a disgrace and we should not be doing it.