Governor-General David Hurley pushes for more diversity in national honours

Governor-General David Hurley at Government House in Canberra. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong.
Governor-General David Hurley at Government House in Canberra. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong.

Governor-General David Hurley is spearheading efforts to diversify Order of Australia recipients, saying the nation's honours lists should better represent women, multicultural communities and Indigenous people.

His office has started a push to build awareness of the honours system and broaden its nominations, amid criticisms the awards don't reflect the nation and are imbalanced towards men.

In a rare interview, the Governor-General told Australian Community Media the gender balance among Order of Australia recipients was improving but the system needed to better represent women.

The awards also did not reflect Australia's multicultural nature and Indigenous population, he said.

In the three years after 2016-17, the gender imbalance of Australia's honours recipients moved from 67 per cent to 59 per cent in favour of men.

"I've been very clear that although the trend in the number of women being represented is heading in the right direction, we're still not where we need to be," General Hurley said.

"We have to get people to nominate and get the ratios right.

"There's no set ratio but it needs to be better than it was. Down in the 20 per cent is not reflective of Australia and it's getting better.

"I'm confident over the next couple years it will improve even more so and we will reflect that aspect of Australia's demography more accurately."

General Hurley said his office was building awareness of the awards among multicultural groups, holding its first meeting with leaders in Darwin last week about the Order of Australia. He identified language barriers as one reason for low numbers of honours recipients with multicultural backgrounds.

"In the multicultural space, I think our inability to speak to people in their language is important, so again we're working on how we translate into the key languages that other government departments might use, like Social Services," he said.

The Governor-General's office is working with the public service to grow the number of Indigenous nominees and to build connections with First Nations communities.

Governor-General David Hurley wants to increase the diversity of people honoured through the Order of Australia system. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Governor-General David Hurley wants to increase the diversity of people honoured through the Order of Australia system. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"In the Indigenous space, it's a cultural issue as well I think, and some of the feedback I've had is 'well, we're more a collective in terms of community than individuals'," General Hurley said.

"And so we have to talk through 'OK, then how do we acknowledge individual work in that sort of environment?' So that's a philosophical sort of discussion we have to have in that space."

The Governor-General said he was also pushing for greater numbers of women nominees by approaching people who nominate and "constantly bringing this up as a speaking topic wherever I go".

"I know the governors and administrators do the same, and that's set into our program now," he said.

"We're not necessarily writing to them all the time but we follow up with phone calls how they're going."

However the Governor-General said he is not pushing for a review of the honours system, and that many of the themes in his discussions about change are similar to the 1995 report into Order of Australia honours.

"In my conversations with different people, organisations, I think I've got enough of a handle of the major changes that we need to make to put those into place," General Hurley said.

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His office is also embarking on changes to its technology improving how it tracks the diversity of nominees and to allow near-real time monitoring of numbers - changes the Governor-General said would improve how it manages the honours system.

"When I get a better data management system, I'll be able to ... actually speak to organisations or business sectors or industry sectors or whatever directly to say 'look, we're seeing the trend here, and either you're falling off the kerb or you're going well, we need you to think about this better'," General Hurley said.

"And I want to be able to get to a point of near-real time management of the system so I'm alive to what the trends are on a daily basis. The technology's there and we've got to use it."

He said his office is working to improve transparency through a publicity drive as it tries removing the "mystique" surrounding the honours system.

The office's push to reform the system is not an overhaul but a move to co-ordinate efforts already under way to diversify recipients.

General Hurley said the honours system must remain seen as the pre-eminent method for recognising achievements by Australians.

"Australians need to be aware of the system and the import of the system, and how they participate in the system," he said.

"They should have a reasonable understanding of how the system operates, where it's done and how are the decisions made. I want there to be an enormous respect for the order, and the people who are acknowledged by it."

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This story Governor-General pushes for more diversity in national honours first appeared on The Canberra Times.