Statement from the Official Secretary in response to media reporting on the Australian honours and awards system
31 January 2017

As Official Secretary to the Governor-General and Secretary to the Council for the Order of Australia I write to respond to today’s article “They are great Australians – so what’s the secret?” p.12, the Australian, Tuesday 31 January 2017.

The Australian honours and awards systems has existed in its current form for over 40 years. The process is necessarily confidential (to protect the privacy and dignity of the individuals involved), and operates independently of government and free from political interference. For these same reasons the Office can not publicly discuss individual nominations. The Council for the Order of Australia is Chaired by Sir Angus Houston, and comprises unpaid community members from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines as well as representatives from each of the states and territories. It is the federal government of the day, and state and territory governments who recommend members of the Council for appointment. The Council’s role is to consider nominations and make recommendations to the Governor-General who is Chancellor of the Order. Of course, as members of the public might expect nominations are generally considered for all former Prime Ministers once they cease in office, and a nomination is received.

The Australian honours system benchmarks well against other systems around the world (including in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom). Since its inception, over one million Australians have been recognised for their extraordinary contributions to our nation in the Order of Australia and the many other meritorious, military, bravery and service categories. The Governor-General only ever acts on the advice of the Council with respect to honours and awards. A Governor-General him/herself would not play a part in any nomination. Of course, there is no right or entitlement to an award, hence there is no formal appeals process. Nominations may be resubmitted after a period of 3-years has elapsed or there are other exceptional circumstances.

The Council is only able to consider nominations that come before it from the community. Whilst we would all wish it were otherwise, the number of nominations for, and from, women is lower than it ought to be. There is no bias on the Council’s part, nominations for women are statistically more successful than those for men. The challenge is really one for our society to contemplate how and why more women are not nominated and recognised for their contributions and achievement.

On a further matter, Bramston expresses a view that no politician should be considered for an award. This is directly at odds with a core principle of our Australian honours system that all Australians equally ought to be able to be considered for such recognition.

Government House has a policy of responding in a timely fashion to all media enquires. We regret that due to an administrative oversight the questions from Bramston were not actioned in a timely manner on Friday afternoon. His questions and our responses are now available on our website www.gg.gov.au.

We encourage anyone who knows a fellow Australian going beyond the call of duty to nominate them for recognition within our national honours and awards system.