A 44% female record in Queen's Birthday Gongs is not good enough - Women's Agenda

A 44% female record in Queen’s Birthday Gongs is not good enough

Francis Adamson

It’s “positive progress” Governor-General David Hurley said on announcing that 44 per cent of those on the 2021 Queen’s Birthday Honours list are female.

It’s a record, he said. And it’s progress he’s determined to see continue.

It needs to continue, and the progress needs to speed up because 44 per cent is not good enough.

For one, women are deserving of at least 50% of these awards.

But the other important thing here is to consider how many women have been overlooked over the years, given that between 1975 and 2016, women made up just 30 per cent of these awards. It’s about time that those who missed out — and this is particularly true in the community division — finally get the gongs they deserved years ago.

And if we’re going to do that, then women should be far outnumbering men for a number of years while we catch-up on countering decades of imbalance.

Another point from Hurley’s announcement of the list was his comment that the list “speaks to who we are as a nation” and his direct comment that “there is diversity”. But a glance through the list, particularly when it comes to some of the more high profile individuals recognised, shows there is significantly more work to do on diversity that goes beyond gender.

Hurley said this work is happening, but how many years do we need to wait? “It is important that the Order of Australia represents the diversity and strength of Australia,” he said. “For this to happen we need to ensure outstanding women, members of our multicultural community and First Nations people are nominated by their peers in the community. I am prioritising increasing awareness of and engagement with the Order of Australia amongst groups that have been historically underrepresented.

“We are seeing positive progress and I am determined that it continues.”

Meanwhile and among all this, it’s important to remember what happened with the Australia Day Honours this year, when the ratio of women actually went backwards and down to 36,7 per cent. It’s far from a given that any progress made will consistently be achieved in the future.

What does it take to get more equal representation, and then step beyond that to see women dominate the list as men have done for so many years? We are repeatedly told these awards are based on merit and see a welcome focus on community achievement. But on that community element: when you see how women continue to take on the bulk of unpaid volunteer positions in schools, in sporting clubs, across various community organizations, it’s hard to understand how we could be lacking in any kind of talent or opportunity to finally get this work better and more fairly represented.

Today’s 44 per cent record follows the 41 per cent that was achieved in June 2020, when two of the three highest honours went to women. These records have been coming following significant efforts to get more women recognised, including the Honour a Woman movement that was formed in 2017 to address the documented imbalance. While Hurley’s own office say they have been putting in more work to achieve gender diversity, it’s interesting to see how a large push for this again came from women volunteering their time to change the ratio.

There were two women included among the five announced as recipients of the nation’s highest honour, Companions of the Order of Australia. They included Frances Adamson (pictured), the outgoing secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Barbara Baker, a Tasmanian judge.

Other high-profile appointments included former NSW judge Patricia Bergin (who also led the Crown Resorts’ inquiry), Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon and constitutional law expert Anne Twomey.

Acclaimed actress and director Leah Purcell was also recognised, for her service to the performing arts, First Nations youth and culture, and to women. 

One of the headline recipients of one of the awards is Peta Credlin, a controversial media commentator on Sky News. She received the award for her work with former Prime Mininster Tony Abbott, as his former chief of staff.

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