Damm – what do you have to do to get yourself an Order Of Australia award or a similar gong, routinely distributed on Australia Day or the Queen’s Birthday weekend? This year I self-nominated again and even went to the trouble of including a ‘complimentary’ $50 note with my application. Only joking of course but it wouldn’t have been the first time a much sought after national honour was procured via a substantial amount of cash.
A scurrilous accusation some might say, but it’s widely rumoured that this was the norm in the days of demagogue ‘Sir’ Joh Bejelke-Peterson and NSW’s own ‘Sir’ Robert William Askin. A discreet paper bag full of cash under the desk and what a surprise and honour to find that you had just been knighted by Her Majesty the Queen. Whilst most of these instant aristocrats took their medals to the grave, there was the odd occasion when justice had its way and after being convicted of corruption they were forced to hand their knighthood back. Such was certainly the case with ‘Sir’ Terry Lewis, Joh’s wickedly corrupt chief of police, who suffered the indignity of being stripped of his bauble on the way to a considerable prison term.
One of the many legacies of the late Bob Hawke was the abolishment of knighthoods and damehoods in 1986 although in March 2014, in his now notorious ‘captain’s call’, they were reintroduced by Tony Abbott with Prince Phillip a surprise recipient, no doubt for his services to road safety.
Whilst knights and dames can now be appointed again it’s unlikely that the Morrison Government would make that move, preferring to issue the much more egalitarian Order Of Australia medals. Whilst anybody can be nominated it’s a usually predictable list of sporting and entertainment celebrities, former politicians, captains of industry, academics and community leaders who are bestowed with the gongs. In theory, if you are a tireless contributor to the good of this country you could be nominated and your nomination approved by the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat at Government House in Canberra.
In reality, many nobodies, who do amazing work for the community, are never nominated. Despite an open door policy where any Australian can be nominated and awarded for their service to the country, the medals are essentially elitist in that only a chosen few are recognised. Now doubt the Awards Secretariat do their best to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of this acknowledgement throughout the community. Yet the very nature of the system depends on well known and celebrated Australians, reaping all the kudos and publicity at the forefront of the gongs.
So will I be nominating myself again next year and enclosing a small financial inducement in the great tradition of Queensland’s once prolific brown paper bag? The answer is, of course, no. But I am considering a far more accessible award from the Hutt River Province, Australia’s oldest micronation in Western Australia. For the bargain price of $50 you can become an officer of the Illustrious Order of Merit and proudly run the letters OIOM after your name. I am led to believe that the late author Colleen McCullough was once made a Baroness of Hutt so it looks like you could be in good company, even though for $50 don’t expect an actual medal to hang around your neck.