Last week news broke that controversial tennis great, Margaret Court would be elevated to a Companion of the Order (AC) “for eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or humanity at large”– the nation’s highest honour.
It was a perplexing moment. Not least because of Court’s hugely outdated and damaging public views about homosexuality and the transgender community, but also because the former athlete has already been recognised (several times over) for her contribution to sport.
What rationale then was there to go an additional step further? Why did the Australia Day council — selected by the Governor General and the Prime Minister– feel compelled to stamp this stake in the ground?
The answer’s simple: political agenda fuelled by a shared ideology.
Court’s homophobic views spurred by her Pentecostal faith aren’t ones that are shared by the majority of Australians but they are shared by certain members of the government.
Indeed, in former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s recently released memoir he recalls Scott Morrison‘s visceral dismay when the ‘yes vote’ passed for marriage equality.
“Scott was utterly deflated. He couldn’t believe his own electorate had voted ‘yes,’” Turnbull wrote.
“‘I don’t feel this is the country that I grew up in anymore’, [Morrison] allegedly complained.
While political memoirs undoubtedly present a single perspective and should thus be read and taken with a grain of salt, this recollection is hardly surprising. Morrison who, like Court, is of Pentecostal Christian faith, has never shied from sharing this as the centre of his politics.
He has previously invited camera crews to film him worshipping at his church Horizon in Southern Sydney, and in his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008 he described Hillsong Church leader Brian Houston as a “mentor” in his pursuit to share “the immutable truths and principles of the Christian faith”.
Morrison tried to suggest he had no insight into the selection process of the honours last week.
“I can’t comment on an award that’s done through an independent process that hasn’t been announced,” Morrison told reporters in Brisbane.
“This is a completely independent set of processes. It is an announcement that will be announced on that day. It is a system that recognises the full spectrum of individuals across this country.”
But this assertion is patently false.
While Morrison may not have had direct word that Court would be recognised, he did know and approve the council who puts forth the recommendations to the Governor General. The council has 19 members, who are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister. The current chair is Shane Stone; a former Country Liberal Minister.
Ultimately Margaret Court’s latest honour proves a broken system. One in which rich, white, Christian privilege prevails at the decision making table.
But while Labor leader Anthony Albanese was right in identifying that this decision had zero to do with the sporting prowess of Court and everything to do with ideological agenda, the move was ultimately politically dense.
Australians are, on the whole, united when it comes to inclusivity. As our population grows, religion becomes more and more obsolete. We have been a secular country since federation, but this is becoming truer by the second.
Divisive views like Margaret Court’s and certain members of our largely white, Christian and male government hold little sway in today’s society.
Canberra doctor Clara Tuck Meng Soo was also recognised in the honours’ list but chose to hand back her OAM in protest against Court’s award.
“I do not want to be seen as supporting the values that the Council for the Order of Australia seem to be supporting with this promotion of Mrs Margaret Court,” she said.
Dr Soo, who received her honour in 2016 for her work as a medical practitioner with LGBT people and those with HIV and drug dependencies became one of the first GPs in Australia to undergo gender transition.
“I have both professional experience as well as lived experience of the communities that Mrs Margaret Court makes these derogatory and hurtful remarks about,” she told the ABC.
“She says that she has a right to free speech, and I’m not saying she can’t say what she believes in, but she’s using her position as a public figure to promote her views and I think that such behaviour should not be encouraged.
“By elevating her, the Council for the Order of Australia is actually sending a message that they condone and support such behaviour.”
She’s absolutely right. The message is loud and clear… but it’s falling on deaf and defiant ears. Australians aren’t riding with the carefully curated religious agenda that is so desperately being pedalled by some of our leaders.
And Scott Morrison might want to take note of that or face the consequences of being perceived as a leader out of touch and out of depth.