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Australia Day Honours? Give them the Gong!

January 25, 2012 – 9:54 pm10 Comments

By Larry Stillman
As my wife knows, one of my most vivid and recurring dreams involves members of the Royal Family and Princess Anne’s ruby lips.

And purely by chance – or is it destiny? – because of a cousin’s marriage to a relative (by marriage) of a member of the Windsor clan, I can lay claim that but for certain legal impediments such as the Act of Settlement (1701), if all members of the royal family and their descendants and relatives by marriage to the nth degree were wiped out, I too could be King. I know it works because when I last visited Spencer House in London, I said, “I am related to the Queen by marriage you know,” in a not so particularly quiet way to my friend. The serious reaction of the ladies at the postcard till was immediate.

Now stop laughing. This is serious. I am concerned about ‘the aristocratic embrace’, that odious habit of loving a couple of letters after your name to set you apart from the hoi polloi and impress the impressionable.

Rather than honouring those rare and society-changing individuals who deserve special public recognition that might only occur once in a generation (John Monash, Weary Dunlop, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Eddie Mabo), the honours lists continue to be a vehicle for snobbery, status games, political payback, and a means of working over other people about how important you are with that little badge on your bespoke golf jacket.

I say this in part because I know how easy it is to play the nomination honours game if you are rich, well-connected, or know how to write a nomination letter. As part of a political payback game, I’ve been involved in a successful nomination. Others have observed how the honours list overwhelmingly reflects a particularly heterogeneous group: either the old WASP elite or others who have become part of the dominant elite, though of course there are exceptions. The Jewish elite have played this status game to the core.

Out of the eight people named as key commitee  or staff members of AIJAC on their website, five have some form of Australian honour. Likewise, of the 28 or so members of the ECAJ Executive, including life members, 18, that is nearly 65% have an Australian honour. The Zionist Federation of Australia lists no honours but that is fitting, because they are on about Israel, not about Australia, I suppose.

By way of comparison, according to the ACTU website, none of the members of their executive have a gong (or they keep it quiet), despite the important role they play in Australian life.  Of the 12  members of the Federation of the Ethnic Communities Council of Australia only 2 are named as having an honour.  If we look at another specific community, of the 20 or so members of the Greek Orthodox Community of Victoria board, none is named as having a gong. And even that bastion of the elite, Geelong Grammar, does not mention that any of the members of its school council have an honour.

Now what is going on here?

Even accounting for false modesty on elite organisations like Grammar who don’t add the sacred letters after people’s names, there appears to be massive gradeflation and a bit of a nomination industry at the top end of the Jewish community. I am sure it is happening elsewhere but it is harder to reveal through the internet. Perhaps spotting lapel pins at in the Long Room at the MCG would be a good comparative test.

I think it is time to rethink the abuse of the honours system.  Other than having me as King (yechi ha-melech! we would cry), we need something much more restricted, which is not open to game-playing.

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