Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday the honours system was a “completely independent process”.
“It’s a system that recognises Australians from right across the full spectrum of achievement in this country.”
Liberal MPs Jason Falinski, Trent Zimmerman and Tim Wilson and Labor MPs Chris Bowen and Linda Burney all flagged concerns about the current awards system on Saturday and suggested changes.
Mr Zimmerman, the member for North Sydney, welcomed the Governor-General’s call for the Australia Day awards to better reflect the broader community.
“Progress has been made but there is clearly more that can be done. As the process relies on the community nominating their heroes it is incumbent on all of us to think about great people who can be recognised through the honours system,” he said.
Mr Bowen, Labor’s health spokesman, said the Order of Australia should not be dominated by one particular profession, group of suburbs, gender or ethnicity but rather, reflect Australia in 2021.
“There are good Australians doing great work every day right around Australia in the community, and I don’t think that’s being reflected in the Order of Australia. I think the Governor-General has to his very great credit recognised that.”
Mr Wilson said the awards process should be changed because the current system is “a lost opportunity to incorporate Indigenous traditions into our shared culture”.
At present, recommendations on who should receive the award are made to the Governor-General by the Council for the Order of Australia. This body is separate to the executive arm of government.
An analysis by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age found that between 1975 and 2016, 70 per cent of people awarded were male and that women tended to receive lower level honours.
Mr Falinski, a Liberal MP, expressed some scepticism over reform because “every Governor-General in their term tries to fix the system or to mend the system so that it works better”.
He acknowledged there were people in his community who missed out, but said that “I’m not sure that this system can be fixed”.
“I’m just not sure that this system has ever actually operated the way it should be.”
Ms Burney was far more blunt in her assessment of who has received awards: “I know nothing of the panel. Perhaps it needs to be more public about who makes these decisions. But I do agree with David Hurley, who is a very decent person, that the Australia Day honours should better reflect what and who we are as Australians. And it doesn’t, and it should”.
Mrs Court’s sister, June Shanahan, said on Saturday the criticism of her sister was unfair.
“She does Australia proud with her tennis and she worked hard to get where she got to,” Mrs Shanahan said.
Mrs Court told Nine News on Friday that people should be able to separate her religious beliefs from her sporting achievements.
“Over the years I’ve had so much criticism that it doesn’t really affect me. I call them blessed because I pray for them and I pray for my nation,” she said.
“I run a church and I teach what The Bible says and that’s my beliefs and I stand by that.“
James Massola is political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and The
Sunday Age, based in Canberra. He was previously south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta, and chief political correspondent.