Tony Abbott has been given a Queen's Birthday honour for Indigenous service and border control

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's comments have been criticised as inaccurate. Source: AAP

This year's Queen's Birthday Honours List has been announced, with former prime minister Tony Abbott awarded the top honour of Companion of the Order of Australia.
Updated 07/06/2020
By Nick Baker
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Former prime minister Tony Abbott has been awarded a Queen's Birthday honour for, among other things, his contributions to Australia's Indigenous community and border control efforts while he was in office.

Governor-General David Hurley announced the names of 933 Australians who received different levels of honours on Sunday night. 

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"I’m very honoured to receive this award. I could not have done anything in life without the members and supporters of the Liberal Party and it’s them I want to recognise and thank today, and the broader Australian people who voted me in as PM and gave me the privilege of leading this great country," Mr Abbott tweeted on Monday morning.

"This award doesn’t mark the end of my public service, it’s just that it now takes a different form, and I wear a number of different uniforms to do it."

Mr Abbott was awarded the top honour of Companion of the Order of Australia for his "eminent service to the people and parliament of Australia, particularly as prime minister, and through significant contributions to trade, border control and to the Indigenous community".

Tony Abbott visiting the grave of land rights activist Eddie Mabo on Mer Island in the Torres Strait. Source: AAP

Mr Abbott's work in Indigenous affairs included spending a week each year running the government from a remote Indigenous community and later becoming Prime Minister Scott Morrison's special envoy on Indigenous affairs.

But the award comes just days after Mr Abbott said people should not attend a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney, held in solidarity with action in the United States and aiming to draw attention to the number of Indigenous people who have died in custody in Australia. 

"You can't go to the footy ... Why on earth should 10,000 people be allowed to make merry at the Town Hall steps?" he told 2GB on Friday. 

More than 20,000 people marched in Sydney on Saturday after the NSW Court of Appeal authorised the rally just minutes before it was due to start.

Tony Abbott in parliament. Source: AAP

Mr Abbott was also honoured for his contribution to the country's border control.

During his time in office, he was responsible for Operation Sovereign Borders, a "zero tolerance" approach to borders which includes the use of boat turnbacks, offshore processing and detention, as well as a no boat arrival resettlement in Australia policy that was initially announced by the previous Labor government.

The measures resulted in a dramatic drop in boat arrivals to Australia but have been strongly criticised by local and international human rights bodies.

While prime minister, Mr Abbott brought back the titles of knights and dames into the honours system and controversially awarded a knighthood to the Queen's husband, Prince Philip. The titles were later scrapped by his successor Malcolm Turnbull.

The Companion of the Order of Australia was awarded to two other people this round, chancellor of the University of Sydney, Belinda Hutchinson, and businesswoman Naomi Milgrom, whose private company ARJ Group Holdings owns women's fashion brands Sportsgirl and Sussan.

Several names in the immigration space also featured on the honours list, including Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs Michael Pezzullo and former prime minister John Howard's immigration minister, Philip Ruddock.

Other well-known recipients were former Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop, cricketer Michael Clarke and Indigenous professor Marcia Langton.

Former Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop also made the list. Source: AAP

Almost 40 per cent of awards were given for "outstanding service or achievement in the community".

"In this list we see all the positives that are in our community - we see the great ideas, we see the hard work, we see the love and compassion for fellow human beings - it's a microcosm of Australia," Governor-General Hurley said.

Gender gap continues

The Queen's Birthday honours are one of two annual honours lists, with the other on Australia Day.

This year, 41 per cent of recipients in the Queen's Birthday honours general division were women, once again prompting calls to achieve gender parity.

"We welcome the recent progress towards gender equality, but the results are not consistent nor sustained around Australia," director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Libby Lyons said ahead of the list being announced to the public.

Anthropologist and geographer Marcia Langton was among those honoured. Source: AAP

Victoria practically achieved gender parity, with 49.8 per cent of the 265 awards going to women, while Western Australia had the biggest gender gap, with only 28.8 per cent of the 52 awards going to women.

"If we're serious about improving gender equality, then it's necessary to set targets and measure and report on progress to achieve sustainable change," Ms Lyons said.

Anyone can nominate a member of the community for an award in the Order of Australia by filling out an online form and providing referees.

The nominations are then "assessed" by the Honours and Awards Secretariat before they are "considered" by the Council for the Order of Australia and then approved by the Governor-General.

There are several levels of the Order of Australia. Source: The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency and community movement Honour a Woman is pushing for all state and territory governments to develop and embed gender equality-focused nomination processes.

Victoria has such a system and as a result has increased the proportion of honours awarded to women from 35 per cent in the 2018 Australia Day Honours.

Governor-General Hurley said: "we are working hard to achieve parity between male and female nominations and to increase the diversity of nominations in other areas".

"There has been success recently, but that success has to be sustainable and that is one thing that I want to work on in my time."

In recent years, the inclusion of controversial Australians in honours lists, including Adelaide-born professor Adrian Cheok - a Fraser Anning candidate and sex robot advocate - and men's rights activist Bettina Ardnt, sparked calls to reform the system.