Address to the Multicultural Women’s Reference Group about the Order of Australia, Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.
Thank you for the very warm welcome. Linda and I are delighted to be here.
Thank you for being here to discuss this particular issue.
Let me get straight to the point.
Often when schoolchildren bump into the Governor-General they ask, ‘What do you do?’
When I answer, I talk about my constitutional, ceremonial and Commander-in-Chief responsibilities and about my community engagement.
There’s one important job woven into each of those.
The Governor-General is the Chancellor of the Order of Australia.
The Order of Australia is the pre-eminent means by which we recognise contributions of Australians to Australians in all walks of life.
The system was introduced in 1975 to replace the previous system – the Imperial System.
In 1975 the government of the day determined that we would be better off having our own system – it’s been running for nearly 50 years.
It’s a very important system with one very important characteristic.
It is bottom up. People in Australia are recognised in the Order of Australia because they are nominated by their peers.
This is not a system where I sit in Canberra or the Prime Minister sits in Canberra or the Premier or Governors or Administrators in the states or territories sits there and says, ‘So and so is doing a great job I’m going to give them a medal’.
Our system is dependent on people being nominated by members of the community. That’s the only way to get into the system.
One of the statistics within the historic performance of the Order of Australia that is very poor is the recognition of women in the system.
We’re working to correct that and the numbers are improving but that has to be sustained.
Secondly, we’re very poor in recognising the contribution of Indigenous people. Again, we’re working to broaden our outreach.
And, thirdly, we are underrepresented in the multicultural communities of Australia. Some come through but, again, given the number of people that migrated to Australia, live here and make a valuable contribution, they’re underrepresented.
What we want to do is to delve into the different communities that make up Australia, identify people that serve that community in a way that binds the community to Australia. What have they contributed to their community and how have they helped people be successful in Australia and help them bind to Australia.
You know who they are. I need you to go into your communities and nominate them. They cannot be recognised if they’re not nominated.
Let me give some examples as to why this is important.
As you know, over the last 18 months Australia has been hit by a number of disasters – flood, drought, bushfires and then the pandemic, cyclones, floods …
Linda and I, since we’ve been able to travel again, have visited many communities where we see a real richness of spirit.
I’m very optimistic about Australia. Why? Because of the people I’ve seen – the quality of people like you sitting here and your leadership. You are fine examples of what occurs in our country every day.
Many of those who have helped our communities over the last two years are starting to be recognised in the Order of Australia – we’ll see more in the future lists – but they can’t be in the list unless they’re nominated.
It’s important that we reach in to your communities and beyond.
If the system does not reflect your contribution to Australia then the system is in deficit. It must include all Australians.
Every list should reflect who we are as a very diverse, multicultural country.
I’m here today to say please help me in addressing a shortfall.
I need you to be active. I know you are leaders in your community and I know you know the people we’re looking for.
It gives me great pleasure when I’m at Government House and I see the variety of names and faces that come through the door to be recognised.
I know the strength of a multicultural Australia - because it built Australia in the 50s and 60s. I know exactly what we’re doing now is helping build the Australia of the future.
Without your support we cannot improve the system and I cannot make the Order of Australia reflect who we are.
Thank you for your leadership and for being part of this group.