Unrepresentative, uncaring, unchanged

by Denis Moriarty, Our Community Group Managing Director

Yesterday, I received an email from our friends at Honour a Woman urging the Federal Government to introduce gender targets into the Australian honours system.

I couldn't agree more.

It's almost certain that this Friday's Australia Day Honours list will leave us disappointed. Yet again, the government will fail Australian women. Yet again, we will see far more men than women recognised for their contributions to the Australian community, despite the efforts of women across each state and territory.

I wrote about the Council for the Order of Australia two years ago, and not much has changed since then. The Council is still male, pale, and stale, as are those they award. The Council, and the ministers who selected them, continue to push the same insolent arguments for keeping the system unequal:

  • Men can represent women as well as women can. I don't think you'll find too many women making this argument. Only six of the nineteen Council members are women. This imbalance in representation must be addressed. Women don't demand equal representation for the fuzzy warm feeling it provides; they demand it because it has real implications for the way a governing body performs its role.

  • If we want more women on the Honour roll, it's up to the community to nominate more women. It's important that we nominate more women, but this is not the only way forward. Encouraging the community to nominate more women does nothing to address the systemic problem of male bias on the Council that makes the awards.

  • Women who are nominated are more likely to receive an award than men who are nominated. That's true, but it's not the whole story. Women are consistently missing out on the highest honours, and are being awarded at lower levels. For three out of the past 20 years, no woman received an AC, the highest honour. None, zero. It's shameful to see some of the men awarded AC stacked up against the women that get an AO or AM.

Men need to step back to let women step in. It's an insult to everything Australia has achieved in gender equality to say that the Honours system, the Council, and the men sitting on it should be exempt.

Given the glacial speed at which government works, if we want to see change, we must take action.

We can nominate women. Starve the excuses by flooding the Council's offices with nominations for women. The nomination process is a mess of detailed questions, but Honour A Woman will help you tackle it. So will the free booklet Advancing Women: Women and the Order of Australia that we produced with Women's Leadership Institute of Australia.

You should also put pressure on ministers at the state and federal level. They are the ones who appoint the state and territory representatives on the Council. Write to them, call them, stand at their offices and tell them to make the change - we want women on the Council and we want women awarded fairly. Australia deserves it.