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The Australian honours system consists of a number of orders, decorations, and medals through which the country's sovereign awards its citizens for actions or deeds that benefit the nation. Established in 1975 with the creation of the Order of Australia, the system's scope has grown since then and over time has replaced the Imperial/British honours system that previously applied to Australians. The system includes an array of awards, both civil and military, for gallantry, bravery, distinguished service, meritorious service, and long service. Various campaign and commemorative medals have also been struck. New honours can be awarded at any time, but conventionally most new honours are awarded on Australia Day (26 January) and on the Queen's Birthday (as observed in the eastern states, that is, on the second Monday in June) every year, when lists of new honours are published.
The Australian states and the Commonwealth of Australia originally used the Imperial honours system, also known as the British honours system. The creation in 1975 of the Australian Honours System saw Australian recommendations for the Imperial awards decline, with the last awards being gazetted in 1989. The Commonwealth of Australia ceased making recommendations for Imperial awards in 1983, with the last Queen's Birthday Australian Honours list submitted by Queensland and Tasmania in 1989. The Queen still confers upon Australians honours that emanate from her personally such as the Royal Victorian Order, apart from the Order of Australia. Only a handful of peerages and baronetcies were created for Australians. Some were in recognition of public services rendered in Britain rather than Australia. Hereditary peerages and baronetcies derive from Britain. There have never been Australian peerages or baronetcies created under the Australian Crown.
Individual Australian states, as well the Commonwealth Government, were full participants in the Imperial honours system. Originally there was bipartisan support, but Australian Labor Party (ALP) governments, both national and state, ceased making recommendations for Imperial awards – in particular, appointments to the Order of the British Empire mainly after 1972. During the Second World War, the Governor-General, on the advice of wartime Labor governments, made recommendations for gallantry awards, including eleven for the Victoria Cross. Appointments to the Order of the British Empire were for officers and men engaged in operational areas.
In 1975, the ALP (which had been out of power federally from 1949 until 1972) created the Australian Honours System. Recommendations were processed centrally, but State Governors still had the power, on the advice of their governments, to submit recommendations for Imperial awards. From 1975 until 1983, the Liberal Party was in power federally, under Malcolm Fraser and, although it retained the Australian Honours System, it reintroduced recommendations for meritorious Imperial awards, but not for Imperial awards for gallantry, bravery or distinguished service. Recommendations for Imperial awards by the Federal Government ceased with the election of the Hawke Labor Government in 1983. In 1989, the last two states to make Imperial recommendations were Queensland and Tasmania. The defeat of both governments at the polls that year marked the end of Australian recommendations for Imperial awards.
Following the UK New Year Honours List in 1990, which contained no Australian nominations for British honours, the Queen's Private Secretary, Sir William Heseltine, wrote to the Governor-General, saying "this seems a good moment to consider whether the time has not arrived for Australia, like Canada, to honour its citizens exclusively within its own system". There followed more than two years of negotiations with State governments before the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, made the announcement on 5 October 1992 that Australia would make no further recommendations for British honours. The Australian Order of Wear states that "all imperial British awards made to Australian citizens after 5 October 1992 are foreign awards and should be worn accordingly".
The Australian Honours System has followed United States rather than British practice in allowing for late awards years after an action that is being commended. More than one hundred late awards for the Second World War and Vietnam have been gazetted. In the British system, no Victoria Cross has been awarded more than six years after the action commended. The longest period between action and award of the US Medal of Honor is 137 years, when in January 2001 President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to descendants of a Civil War soldier. Although 'The Report of the inquiry into unresolved recognition for past acts of naval and military gallantry and valour' released in March 2013 did not recommend any belated Victoria Cross for Australia awards, it did recommend a Unit Citation for Gallantry to HMAS Yarra for February and March 1942. Similarly, Australian Bravery Awards have been gazetted years after the action being commended, including a Commendation for Brave Conduct awarded in 1987 to Robert Anderson for his courage in rescuing a child from a burning car at Kalgoorlie eight years earlier in 1979.
Australians become recipients of each of the 55 different types of Australian awards and honours through one of two separate processes; by nomination or by application.
There are two broad categories of honours and awards.
The Honours and the Awards in the Australian system are, and have been:
Note that awards of the British Empire/United Kingdom are now foreign awards.
The Australian Defence Force has a system of battle honours, theatre honours, honour titles and honour distinctions to recognise exemplary service by units (not individuals) in combat and combat-related roles. Normally, Defence Honours are not awarded below sub-unit level (an organisation normally commanded by a Major or equivalent). The recommendation for the award of battle honours, theatre honours, honour titles and honour distinctions is made by a Battle Honours Committee.
There are four categories of honours in the Defence system as follows:
It is common that units claim Honours from original units with a historical connection to a military predecessors of the current Unit. For example, 4th/3rd Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment which is a modern amalgamated unit, is entitled to the previous Honours of the 3rd Battalion, the 4th Battalion as well as the World War I Honours of the 3rd and 4th Battalions First Australian Imperial Force. The term Battle Honour can be used to denote both battle and theatre honours.
Historically the system was drawn from the British system adopted during World War I but has been modified since. A relatively recent change is the introduction of the Honours for recognition of outstanding service in dangerous operations short of declared theatres of war. Defence also has a process of Defence and Service Commendations and other honours including the Army Combat Badge and Infantry Combat Badge which are awarded by Army Headquarters.
The Order of Australia insignia were designed by Stuart Devlin in 1976. Devlin used the livery colours of the Australian Coat of Arms, gold and royal blue. He also translated an individual ball of wattle blossom into a simple convex golden disc with a rich texture of beads and radiating lines accentuating a ring of blue enamel representing the sea.
The disc is surmounted by an enamel Crown signifying the position of The Order of Australia as an Australian Royal Honour. The Sovereign is Head of the Order of Australia. The Governor-General is Principal Knight or Dame and Chancellor of the Order of Australia. The blue and gold theme is continued in the ribbon. Most of the insignia pieces are produced by the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. The actual pieces for the two Divisions of the Order are identical: it is only the ribbon which differentiates an award between the General and the Military Divisions. In the Military Division the ribbon is distinguished by the addition of a narrow gold band on each edge.
When established, only the grades of Member, Officer and Companion of the Order existed. In 1976, Malcolm Fraser recommended to Queen Elizabeth II the addition of the Medal and grade of Knight and Dame in the Order. The grade of Knight and Dame was removed on the advice of Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1986 without prejudice to any person who had been admitted to the Order at that grade. The grade of Knight and Dame was restored on the advice of Tony Abbott in March 2014. In November 2015, the Australian government announced that the Queen approved the Government's request to amend the Order's letters patent and cease awards in this class, after Cabinet agreed that the titles are no longer appropriate in the modern awards system. Currently there are four grades within the Order in both Military and General Divisions. People cannot be admitted to the Order posthumously; if a person is successfully nominated but dies prior to the scheduled announcement, the date of effect of the award is deemed to be a date before they died.
The Council for the Order of Australia makes recommendations to the Governor-General as to the appropriateness of a nominee to be admitted to the Order and at what grade. It is up to the Honours Secretariat to provide the council with as much fully verified information as is possible on each nominee so that appropriate consideration may be given to each case. This is a long process and up to eighteen months can elapse between the original submission and publication of a successful nomination.
Bold names are living recipients. These have included:
|Order of Australia||1975 – Elizabeth II||His Excellency General The Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, MC|
|Knights/(Dames) (AK/AD): Sir John Kerr (1976), Sir Robert Menzies (1976), Sir Colin Syme (1977), Sir Zelman Cowen (1977), Sir Macfarlane Burnet (1978), Dame Alexandra Hasluck (1978), Dame Enid Lyons (1980), Charles, Prince of Wales (1981), Sir Roden Cutler (1981), Sir Garfield Barwick (1981), Sir Charles Court (1982), Sir Ninian Stephen (1982), Sir Roy Wright (1983), Sir Gordon Jackson (1983), Dame Quentin Bryce (2014), Sir Peter Cosgrove (2014), Dame Marie Bashir (2014), Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (2015), Sir Angus Houston (2015)|
The Sovereign confers honours upon Australians in exercise of the Royal Prerogative (rather than through the government). Bold names are living recipients. These have included:
|The Most Noble Order of the Garter||1348 – Edward III||Honi soit qui mal y pense
Shame upon him who thinks evil upon it
|The 5th Duke of Abercorn|
|Knights/(Ladies) (KG/LG): Richard Casey, Baron Casey (1969), Sir Paul Hasluck (1979), Sir Ninian Stephen (1994)|
|The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle||1687 – James VII of Scotland
(James II of England)
|Nemo me impune lacessit
No one provokes me with impunity
|The 13th Earl of Airlie|
|Knights/(Ladies) (KT/LT): Sir Robert Menzies (1963)|
|Order of Merit||1902 – Edward VII||For Merit||Elizabeth II|
|Members (OM): Samuel Alexander (1930), Gilbert Murray (1941), Sir Macfarlane Burnet (1958), Sir Owen Dixon (1963), Howard Florey, Baron Florey (1965), Sir Sidney Nolan (1983), Dame Joan Sutherland (1991), Robert May, Baron May of Oxford (2002), John Howard (2012)|
|Royal Victorian Order||1896 – Queen Victoria||Victoria||The Princess Royal (Grand master)|
The 3rd Earl Peel (Chancellor)
| Knights/(Dames) Grand Cross (GCVO): Sir Paul Hasluck (1970), Sir John Kerr (1977), Sir Zelman Cowen (1980), Sir Ninian Stephen (1982), Sir William Heseltine (1990)|
Knights/(Dames) Commander (KCVO/DCVO): Sir Brudenell White (1920), Sir Bertram Mackennal (1921), Sir George Pearce (1927), Sir Leighton Bracegirdle (1947), Sir Frank Berryman (1954), Sir Eric Harrison (1954), Sir John Lavarack (1954), Sir John Northcott (1954), Sir Percy Spender (1957), Sir Robert Jackson (1962), Sir Roy Dowling (1963), Sir Eric Woodward (1963), Sir Murray Tyrrell (1968), Sir Roden Cutler (1970), Sir Alan Mansfield (1970), Sir Reg Pollard (1970), Sir Stanley Burbury (1977), Sir Colin Hannah (1977), Sir Douglas Nicholls (1977), Sir James Scholtens (1977), Sir Wallace Kyle (1977), Sir Henry Winneke (1977), Sir John Yocklunn (1977), Sir Keith Seaman (1981), Sir James Ramsay (1981), Sir David Smith (1990)
|Venerable Order of Saint John||Royal charter 1888 – Victoria||Pro fide and Pro utilitate hominum
For faithful and For utility of men
|The 2nd Duke of Gloucester|
|Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002)||Awarded by the Queen to living holders of the Victoria Cross (2) and George Cross (1)|
|Awarded to: Edward Kenna, Keith Payne, Michael Pratt|
|Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)||Awarded by the Queen to living holders of the Victoria Cross (1), Victoria Cross for Australia (3), George Cross (1) and the Cross of Valour (5)|
|Awarded to: Keith Payne, Mark Donaldson, Ben Roberts-Smith, Daniel Keighran, Michael Pratt, Darrell Tree, Victor Boscoe, Allan Sparkes, Timothy Britten, Richard Joyes|
Imperial honours awarded to Australians, if awarded since 5 October 1992, are no longer part of the Australian honours system, and are foreign awards. Bold names are living recipients.
Prior to 6 October 1992, such honours were part of the Australian system (and awards made prior to that date still retain legal recognition in Australia):
|Most Honourable Order of the Bath||1725 – George I||Tria iuncta in uno
Three joined in one
|The Prince of Wales (Grand master)|
Admiral The Lord Boyce (King-of-Arms)
|Knights/(Dames) Grand Cross (GCB): Sir George Reid (1916), Sir Isaac Isaacs (1937), Sir Arthur Longmore (1941), Sir Edmund Hudleston (1963), Sir Wallace Kyle (1966), Sir John Hackett (1967), Sir William Heseltine (1990)|
Knights/(Dames) Commander (KCB/DCB): Sir William Bridges (1915), Sir Neville Howse (1917), Sir Harry Chauvel (1918), Sir Talbot Hobbs (1918), Sir John Monash (1918), Sir John Gellibrand (1919), Sir Thomas Glasgow (1919), Sir Charles Rosenthal (1919), Sir Brudenell White (1927), Sir George Hyde (1934), Sir Julius Bruche (1935), Sir Douglas Evill (1940), Sir Arthur Coningham (1941), Sir Thomas Blamey (1942), Sir Leslie Morshead (1942), Sir Peter Drummond (1943)
|Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George||1818 – George IV||Auspicium melioris ævi
Token of a better age
|The 2nd Duke of Kent|
The Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (Chancellor)
|Knights/(Dames) Grand Cross (GCMG): Sir Henry Ayers (1894), Sir Frederick Darley (1901), Sir John Forrest (1901), Sir Edmund Barton (1902), Sir John Madden (1906), Sir George Reid (1911), Sir Joseph Cook (1918), Sir Harry Chauvel (1919), Sir John Monash (1919), Sir Isaac Isaacs (1932), Sir John Higgins (1934), Sir John Latham (1935), Sir William Irvine (1936), Sir Robert Garran (1937), Sir Earle Page (1938), Sir James Mitchell (1947), Sir William McKell (1951), Sir Owen Dixon (1954), Sir Thomas Playford (1957), Sir Arthur Fadden (1958), Sir Garfield Barwick (1965), Richard Casey, Baron Casey (1965), Sir Paul Hasluck (1969), Sir John McEwen (1971), Sir Henry Bolte (1978), Sir Robert Askin (1975), Sir John Kerr (1976), Sir Zelman Cowen (1977), Sir John Gorton (1977), Sir William McMahon (1977), Sir Harry Gibbs (1981), Sir Ninian Stephen (1982)|
|Most Excellent Order of the British Empire||1917 – George V||For God and the Empire||The 1st Duke of Edinburgh (Grand master)|
Admiral Sir Peter Abbott (King-of-Arms)
|Knights/Dames Grand Cross (GBE): Dame Flora Reid (1917), Sir Owen Cox (1920), Sir Thomas Robinson (1920), Dame Mary Hughes (1922), Dame Nellie Melba (1927), Sir Robert Gibson (1932), Sir Thomas Blamey (1943), Sir Douglas Evill (1946), Dame Pattie Menzies (1954), Dame Enid Lyons (1957)|
|Order of the Companions of Honour||1917 – George V||In action faithful and in honour clear||Elizabeth II|
|Companions (CH): Joseph Lyons (1936), Billy Hughes (1941), Sir Earle Page (1942), Richard Casey, Baron Casey (1944), Sir Robert Menzies (1951), Harold Holt (1967), Sir John McEwen (1969), Sir John Gorton (1971), Sir William McMahon (1972), Malcolm Fraser (1977), Doug Anthony (1981)|
|Knight Bachelor||Living Knights Bachelor: Sir Lenox Hewitt (1971), Sir Gustav Nossal (1977), Sir Roderick Carnegie (1978), Sir Arvi Parbo (1978), Sir Andrew Grimwade (1980), Sir William Cole (1981), Sir James Gobbo (1981), Sir James Hardy (1981), Sir William Kearney (1982), Sir Eric Neal (1982), Sir Frank Moore (1983), Sir Llewellyn Edwards (1984), Sir Graham McCamley (1986), Sir Leo Hielscher (1987), Sir Max Bingham (1988), Sir Clem Renouf (1988), Robert May, Baron May of Oxford (1996), Sir Peter Morris (1996), Sir Peter Barter (2001), Sir Rod Eddington (2005), Sir Marc Feldmann (2010), Sir Trevor Garland (2010), Sir David Higgins (2011), Sir Michael Hintze (2013), Sir Jonathan Mills (2013), Sir Chris Clarke (2015), Sir Lynton Crosby (2016), Sir Frank Lowy (2017) All other Knights Bachelor|
Specific foreign awards are not mentioned on the Order of Wear document – just the general comment that foreign awards appear after the awards mentioned.
A list of foreign honours commonly awarded to Australians appears at Australian Honours Order of Wearing#Foreign awards.
A list of foreign awards commonly awarded to Australians for campaign and peacekeeping service appears at Australian Campaign Medals#Foreign awards.
Permission for formal acceptance and wearing of foreign awards is given by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister or the Minister responsible for Australian honours.
Additional information regarding UN medals can be found on the Australian Defence Force website.