The Order of Australia is the principal and most prestigious means of recognising outstanding members of the community at a national level and nominations are encouraged from all members of the Australian public. Anyone can nominate a member of the community for recognition through the Order. The Order of Australia was established in 1975 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Prior to 1975 Australians were recognised under the British honours system, also known as Imperial awards.
The Order of Australia has four levels and two Divisions (General and Military):
- Companion of the Order (AC)
- Officer of the Order (AO)
- Member of the Order (AM)
- Medal of the Order (OAM)
The Governor-General approves appointments and awards in the General Division on the recommendation of the Council of the Order of Australia and in the Military Division on the recommendation of the Minister for Defence.
The Queen is the Sovereign Head of the Order of Australia. The Governor-General is the Principal Companion and, as Chancellor, is charged with the administration of the Order. In practice, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General serves as the Secretary of the Order of Australia.
The Order operates on the principles of independence and freedom from political patronage.
Council for the Order of Australia
The Council for the Order of Australia is an independent body that considers nominations for appointments and awards in the General Division of the Order and makes recommendations to the Governor-General.
There are 19 members including representatives of each state and territory, public office holders (ex-officio) and community representatives. The community representatives on the Council are appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
The Council meets twice a year, usually in February and August, to consider whether each nominee in the Order of Australia has:
- demonstrated achievement at a high level
- made a contribution over and above what might be reasonably expected through paid employment, or
- made a voluntary contribution to the community which stands out from other volunteers.
As necessary, the Council develops policies to assist in maintaining the integrity of the process. Outcomes of a Principles, Practices and Protocols meeting held by the Council on 9 February 2012 can be found through this link: Outcomes.
Excluding honorary appointments or awards, in any calendar year the quotas for each level are:
- Companion of the Order – 35
- Officer of the Order – 140
- Member of the Order – 365
- Medal of the Order – no quota limitation
Honorary appointments in the Order of Australia may be made to people who are non-citizens of Australia and have given extraordinary service to Australia or humanity at large. Posthumous awards can be made only in cases where the nominee was alive at the time the nomination was received by the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat.
Knights and Dames
From 1976 to 1986 there was provision for the appointment of Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia. Removal of this provision did not affect pre-existing appointments. In 2014 the provision to appoint Knights and Dames was restored, and it was removed in November 2015.
Philosophy underlying the Order of Australia
The purpose of the Order of Australia is to recognise, by national honour, those who have made outstanding contributions that benefit their communities, and ultimately our country.
The second purpose of the Order of Australia is that it serves to define, encourage and reinforce community standards, national aspirations and ideals by acknowledging actions and achievement and thereby identifying role models at all levels and in all spheres of the community.
While endeavour may have been sustained over many years, in essence, membership of the Order of Australia is not an award for long service but for outstanding service.
Awards and appointments in the Order of Australia are publicly announced on Australia Day (26 January) and The Queen’s Birthday public holiday (June), on this website and publicly announced through the media. Publication of the list is also notified in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.
Recipients are invited to a ceremony at Government House in the state or territory in which they reside, where they are presented with their award in the Order of Australia by either the Governor General or State Governor or the Administrator of the Northern Territory (dependent on location and level of award).
Investitures take place twice a year, usually in April and September.
Nominations are generally processed in order of receipt and the nomination process can take between 18 months and two years.
When a nomination is received by the Secretariat, it is registered and an acknowledgement is sent to the nominator. Secretariat staff conduct research and contact referees suggested by the nominator and others sourced directly by the Secretariat. The purpose of the research is to:
- confirm information provided by the nominator; and
- provide additional information that may be relevant to the Council.
Referees are supplied with guidelines to assist them in providing useful comment.
Once research is completed, nominations are presented to the Council for consideration. Nomination papers are sent to all members of the Council before the meetings.
The outcome of the nomination can either be:
- an appointment or award recommended;
- no appointment or award recommended; or
- deferral of the nomination for consideration at a later meeting.
The Council makes recommendations to the Governor-General on appointments and awards at all levels. Prior to the Council recommending a nominee to the Governor-General a letter of approach is sent to establish whether the nominee would be willing to accept an award if offered one. Once the Governor-General has considered and approved those recommended for appointment or award in the Order, congratulatory letters are sent to successful recipients.
Important information about making a nomination
Anyone can nominate a member of the community for an award in the Order of Australia.
The nomination should include details of how the nominee has made a significant contribution to the community.
Contact details for the nominator (the person making the nomination), the nominee and referees who can directly comment on the nominee's contribution and achievements should be provided.
All nominations are confidential and the person being nominated should not be advised of the nomination or approached for information. The information on the nomination form is used only to assist the Council to assess the nominee.
If a nomination is unsuccessful, the nominee may be reconsidered after an interval of three years from the Council’s consideration of a previous nomination. A member of the Order of Australia may be considered for a promotion within the Order five years after the previous appointment or award.
In both instances a new nomination should be submitted.
However, if the Council deems that exceptional circumstances exist, it may consider nominations inside the periods prescribed above on a case by case basis.
Exceptional circumstances may include life threatening illness of the nominee or strong evidence of significant service not covered by the earlier nomination.
The Australian Honours and Awards Branch Report 2012-16 includes detailed statistics about the Order of Australia nominations and processes. It is available here.
If you have any further questions, or require guidance in the preparation of the nomination please contact the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat.