‘With regret, I have decided to reverse my decision to accept my appointment as an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia’.
So began the words of a strong message sent by local journalist Kerry O’Brien in an email to Paul Singer, the Governor-General’s secretary, last Saturday.
Mr O’Brien had previously accepted the award, but the news that tennis legend Margaret Court would receive an Order of Australia, an announcement that shocked many Australians, was enough to make him change his mind.
Eroding hard-fought gains of the LGBTQ+ community
‘I believe the decision to award Australia’s highest honour to Margaret Court may serve to erode the hard-fought gains made over decades in reducing the impact of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community — discrimination that has caused immense pain to untold people and destroyed lives.
‘I am declining my award in support of Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo, who is handing back the Order of Australia she received [in 2016] for her work with the LGBTQ+ community and HIV sufferers, in protest. To me Dr Took Meng Soo epitomises the true spirit of the Order of Australia. Her actions speak volumes as to why the Court award is so wrong.’
Court’s hurtful and divisive criticisms
Mr O’Brien said he believes that although Margaret Court was a great tennis player who thrilled most Australians (including himself) in her tennis years, ‘her hurtful and divisive criticisms relating to the fundamental rights of the LGBTQ+ community are clearly repugnant to many Australians.
‘I believe the decision to present her with this award was deeply insensitive and must undermine community respect for awards that were created to celebrate a true spirit of community, not divide it.’
Mr O’Brien said he had already given several media outlets interviews regarding his award, under embargo, but he would be informing those outlets that his comments were now out of date.
The last line of the email to Paul Singer said: ‘Please pass on my regrets to the Governor-General. I am conscious that there are many well-meaning people involved in the Order of Australia process, but there has to be something fundamentally wrong with a system that can produce such a deeply insensitive and divisive decision.’