2020 Honours list a sick joke

There are some moments in a country’s history when the bullshit becomes too much to bear. This year’s Queen’s Birthday (2020) Honours List is one such moment, where the entire apparatus of government and its lack of shame tip us over the edge.

The worst of it is that it devalues the award for those who really do go “above and beyond”. The most numerous recipients are volunteers, but their awards are ranked below those usually awarded to politicians and other party hacks. These people were actually paid to go to work. So, they get an award for doing their jobs.

Many of them then went on to lucrative careers elsewhere, usually set up by the Government they were a part of. Oh, and they never resign from Parliament until after their pensions are assured. Many of them also have skeletons in their closets, but that did not deter the Awards Council this year.

Who awards the awards?

The rot starts at the top. The person in charge of the Awards Council is Shane Stone, who was once the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. That is the most exalted position he ever attained, and his path to that position was colourful, as was his removal from office.

Mr Stone constantly clashed with Indigenous Territorians, challenging land claims in a bitter decade-long dispute that culminated in Mr Stone famously calling Yolngu leader and Australian of the Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu “just another whinging, whining, carping black”. In response, he was called a “redneck”. That term is difficult to fault.

Shane Stone is also a QC. That is because he appointed himself one when he was the Attorney General of the Northern Territory. His record in court was less than stellar up to that time, but there is nothing better than a self-recommendation. Ask Angus Taylor.

More recently, just before the 2019 election, Shane Stone was appointed to a position as the chief of a flood recovery body in Queensland. His full title: – Coordinator-General the Hon Shane L Stone AC QC. The position attracts a payment package similar to that paid to the Prime Minister. There was speculation that it formed part of the Morrison Government’s fire-sale of positions prior to the election. It looks like it was at the least fortuitous. It seems to be a lot of money. Labor suggested that it was another needless layer of bureaucracy, better handled at a state level.

Another, ex-officio member of the Awards Council is one Mathias Cormann. He is perhaps best remembered for ringing the CEO of a large travel company (Helloworld) to book international flights he was never billed for. That was within weeks of two Helloworld subsidiaries being awarded contracts to provide airline and hotel bookings for the Australian government worth about $1 billion in bookings over three years.

Mr Cormann is the Finance Minister, but he is very slack when it comes to paying personal bills, it seems. He paid for the holiday, after he was alerted by Fairfax Media. Considering how well he did in ringing the CEO to make his own booking, perhaps he could do it for the rest of the Government. And Mr Burnes, award around his neck, might even forget to bill the Government?

Who got the big awards?

Consider some of the names on the list: Tony Abbott, Mike Baird, Denis Napthine and former federal Liberal ministers Philip Ruddock and Bronwyn Bishop. The list also includes former Nationals senator Ron Boswell and one-time Liberal Party honorary treasurer Andrew Burnes, the chief executive of Helloworld Travel. (He is not so good at billing people.) All Coalition members, so they probably send each other Christmas cards. Or they could meet at church. Put it this way – they wouldn’t meet at a gay bar.

There is one Labor Party apparatchik, Graham Richardson. Including him in the list of recipients is almost awarding him ‘honorary Liberal’ status. He is certainly a man with a colourful past and many colourful friends. Some of them have been sent to jail, and there is surprise and wonder, in some circles, that he didn’t join them.

Why are the awards losing credibility?

Where to start with these awards? Abbott, for services to democracy, in destroying Turnbull’s leadership; for services to Parliament, for debasing it; for services to the indigenous community, for cutting indigenous funding to the bone; for being an embarrassment to the country for a quarter of a century, for eating an onion like an apple, for supporting George Pell? For opposing same-sex marriage? For wearing speedos! For ruining Australia’s response to climate change, and for sabotaging the renewable energy industry. For his misogyny? Remember Julia Gillard, and Gillian Triggs, and how atrociously he treated them, and their roles.

Bronwyn Bishop, for being hounded out of Parliament for fudging her entitlements? She went on to become a political commentator for Fox News. One can only hope she is better at that job than she was as Speaker of the House. She was certainly no Joan Child!

Philip Ruddock, for sustained acts of homophobia over a very long career? Or was it for his peerless report into religious freedoms in Australia? Arguably the most meaningless review in Parliamentary history. Or the fact that his own daughter shunned him for his abominable treatment of refugees? Was he Peter Dutton’s role model for a heartless xenophobe, before it was fashionable?

It is too tedious to recount the names and misdeeds of any more of the politician recipients, but suffice to say that the Australian public noticed. We all applaud the volunteers who really keep this country going as well as it does. So there is no excuse for the Awards Council to turn a blind eye, and a tin ear, to the degradation of the awards. What were they thinking?

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Mark Buckley is a writer based in regional Victoria. He has a particular interest in politics, history and ethics in public life. He blogs at www.askbucko.com

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