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Opening of The Order of Australia Association National Conference, Geelong VIC


I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wadawurrung People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today. 

  • Major General Barry Nunn AO RFD ED (Retd), National Chairman, The Order of Australia Association
  • Ms Helene Bender AM, Chair, Victoria Branch, The Order of Australia Association
  • Members of the Conference Committee, The Order of Australia Association
  • Board Members, Branch Directors and Members of The Order of Australia Association
  • Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning. It is terrific to be here with you.

When the Organising Committee reached out to my Office with an invitation for this event there was no hesitation in accepting.

First, because the opportunity to spend time and celebrate with people who have been recognised in the Order of Australia is never to be missed. As I say during Investiture ceremonies at Government House, the achievements and service of recipients in the Order of Australia are an inspiration for our community. It is uplifting to be around people who have worked hard to have an impact at the local, national and international level.

Second, because I value the work of The Order of Australia Association and greatly appreciate the work you do in our communities and your custodianship of the Order.

Your membership of the Association tells me a lot about you; most importantly that you haven’t stopped working. You’re still giving back, you’re still looking out for other people, and you’re still making a difference in our community.

It reinforces in me that recognition in the Order of Australia isn’t an end point. People don’t spend their careers or adult lives working to win a medal — they work to make an impact, to improve things and to help those around them.

The theme of the conference, ‘Working together — building the future’, encapsulates that spirit perfectly.

I’d like to co-opt the theme because I think it captures perfectly our collective efforts as custodians of the Order. We are working together and building the future of the Order of Australia.

I’m pleased to say that we are working together more closely than ever before.

I value the partnership between my Office and the Association. I know that there is collaboration across a number of endeavours and I’m confident that the close cooperation will only go from strength to strength. 

You are the boots on the ground and people of influence in your communities. My Office stands ready to support your work in any way we can. Conversely, we greatly appreciate the Association’s input and advice into our own work.

To the second part of the theme, ‘building the future’ — when I say we are building the future of the Order I want to be clear that is to strengthen it even further.

The work we are doing to improve awareness and encourage more people from more parts of our community to engage with the Order will ensure it continues to be — and continues to be perceived as — our pre-eminent means of national recognition. It is about the integrity of the honours system.

The great strength of our system is that anyone, no matter who they are, where they are from or what field they have contributed to can be recognised if they are nominated and the independent Council considers that the impact they have had is worthy of recognition. 

That egalitarian design principle is a defining characteristic. We should cherish it and celebrate it.

We should also work to ensure it is hardwired into the administration of the Order. 

Ours is a bottom-up system that relies on nominations. That’s a very Australian approach. It isn’t me or the Council or anyone else reaching down and saying, ‘Let’s give so and so a medal’. For everyone recognised, someone has taken the time to put them forward.

That means that the equality of design can only be reflected in outcome if there is equal awareness, understanding and ability to access.

I’m pleased to say — without breaking our own embargo — that The King’s Birthday Honours List will be the most diverse in the Order’s history.

That is something to be celebrated. It is also a prompt to double down and keep working to get more nominations for more people from more parts of our community into the system.

There has been some impressive progress over the last year. 

Regarding awareness of the Order, more people than ever before are seeing, hearing and reading about the types of people recognised in the Order. We’re also telling more and different stories, including talking to people who have nominated others to share their motivation and experience.  We’re working with diverse organisations, including FECCA, multicultural councils and many more, to reach new audiences.

Many of you will have seen the community service announcements on SBS and National Indigenous Television and the 30-minute television special hosted by Ray Martin AM on Channel 7. 

In relation to transparency, we’ve begun a regular series of live webinars — taking people’s questions and making our team available to provide guidance. We’re making more information public about how the process works.

We’ve also worked closely with the Australian Bureau of Statistics to improve the accessibility and usability of the nomination form and create better guidance than has ever been available.

In relation to diversity, we are working closely with organisations to encourage them to consider nominating outstanding people as part of their regular operations. This will normalise recognition as part of day-to-day business and allow these groups to take responsibility for nominating outstanding people in their fields of endeavour.

Importantly, none of this work changes the fundamental process. Each nomination is researched, independent referee comments sought, and each is considered carefully by the Council. We are maintaining the rigour of the process so that the ongoing integrity of outcomes is assured.

Finally, we’ve invested in a new system. This new back end will make the nomination and sounding processes easier for the user and give us access to contemporaneous, detailed data to inform outreach efforts.

There’s a lot going on and I’m really only scratching the surface.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am enormously optimistic about the future of this country. 

People sometimes tell me I see things through rose-coloured glasses. I do not.

Day in, day out, Linda and I have the enormous privilege of meeting Australians from all walks of life.

We spend time with them when they’ve been knocked down to their knees — by fire, flood or any other disaster. We talk with people doing it tough. I’m not blind to that. 

We also see the good.

Our volunteers who are the foundation of our community. Industry and enterprise that is meeting challenges and creating future opportunities. Young people who are civic minded and want to make the world a better place. Citizens new and old, bound by shared values, who are selfless and community minded. 

It is inspiring and uplifting. 

The Order of Australia celebrates the very best of that. 

Collectively, recipients speak to who we are and the country we will be into the future. 

It is an Order that I am enormously proud to be part of.

I thank you for all that you do as members of the Association and in your communities.