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‘Selflessness, commitment and dedication’: Community sector celebrated in honours list

26 January 2021 at 5:00 am
Wendy Williams
Over 43 per cent of the 2021 awards are for outstanding service or achievement in the community, in a year when the Honours List has courted controversy

Wendy Williams | 26 January 2021 at 5:00 am


‘Selflessness, commitment and dedication’: Community sector celebrated in honours list
26 January 2021 at 5:00 am

Over 43 per cent of the 2021 awards are for outstanding service or achievement in the community, in a year when the Honours List has courted controversy

Hundreds of people from the community sector are being celebrated for their outstanding service and exceptional achievements as part of the Australia Day 2021 Honours List.

More than 43 per cent of the 844 Australians recognised this year were for outstanding service or achievement in the community.

In announcing the list on Tuesday, Governor-General David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) said the individuals being celebrated had come from “all parts of our great nation and have served the community in almost every way conceivable”. 

“They’re diverse and unique but there are some common characteristics, including selflessness, commitment and dedication,” Hurley said.

Among those named, Sam Mostyn was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to business and sustainability, and to the community, through seminal contributions to a range of organisations, and to women.

She told Pro Bono News she was both surprised and honoured to be included, but that she wears these things “fairly uncomfortably”.

“I don’t think any of us do the work that we do for the purpose of being acknowledged, we just do the work,” Mostyn said. 

“So whilst this is a lovely honour, I am more focused on getting the impact in the fields I do and ensuring that we continue to respect and honour those people who really do give most of their lives, particularly for civil society and the not for profit sector, to the work they do.”

National co-chair of Anti Poverty Week Professor Eileen Baldry was also appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia, as was Emeritus Professor Andrew Markus, the principal researcher of the Mapping Social Cohesion Project.

Other sector figures making the list include Brave Foundation founder and CEO Bernadette Black; The Snow Foundation CEO Georgina Byron; Shake It Up Australia Foundation chair and CEO Clyde Campbell; Edge of Nowhere Foundation founding chair Caroline De Mori; Reimagine Australia chief executive Yvonne Keane; philanthropists George and Joan Lefroy; Anne Macarthur OAM; Philip Mayers; the Inaugural National Children’s Commissioner and former ACOSS CEO Megan Mitchell; and Professor John Thwaites, who were all appointed Members of the Order of Australia (AM).

Tanya Barden, Angel Dixon, Lisa Kingman, Wendy Lewis, Mary Jo McVeigh, Amanda Mandie, Ray Smythe and Alistair Urquhart were among those awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

Other well known names in this year’s list include former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (AC), former SA premier Jay Weatherill (AO) and Young Australian of the Year 2019 Danzal Baker, known professionally as Baker Boy (OAM).

Awards court controversy

However this year’s awards have not been without controversy.

On Friday it was revealed – ahead of Tuesday’s official announcement – that former tennis player Margaret Court AO MBE would be recognised with Australia’s highest honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia.

The news was met with significant backlash due to Court’s views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

When asked about the honour in a press conference, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said “calling out bigotry is always important”.

“I don’t give out those gongs. That’s not a matter for me; that’s for others. You might want to speak to them about why they think those views, which are disgraceful, hurtful and cost lives, should be honoured,” he said.



Rosie Thomas OAM, cofounder and co-CEO of PROJECT ROCKIT, took to Twitter saying as a queer person and an anti-bullying activist, “but mostly as a decent human being”, it made her ashamed to be an OAM. 



It has been reported that Canberra doctor, Clara Tuck Meng Soo, has handed back her Order of Australia Medal in protest.

A need for greater diversity

There have also been calls for greater diversity in the awards.

This year women made up just 37 per cent of award recipients.

A Herald/Age break-down of all Order of Australia recipients between 1975 and 2016 revealed 70 per cent were male.

Women have also tended to be given the lower-level honours, while the higher awards tend to go to the rich, male and powerful.

There is also a distinction between those in business and politics and those in the community sector.

Over the 45 year history of the award, no one in the “Multicultural” or “Disabled” fields of endeavour have been made members of the AC.

Mostyn said it saddened her that a number of great people who have volunteered for their entire lives and done incredible things for their community, remain unacknowledged in the formal way in which these honours systems work. 

“I think we are a better country than sometimes the awards suggest. We have it in ourselves to put more work into the acknowledgement of people who do so much heavy lifting in the community,” she said.

“I hate the idea that there is a level of service that isn’t honoured in a higher award, with that sort of distinction where people who are in business or politics or are highly connected make it into the more senior awards.”

The governor-general said he was determined to make sure that the Order of Australia reflects the diversity and breadth of our community. 

“More needs to be done to achieve gender parity and increase diversity in other areas,” he said. 

“Over the last 12 months I’ve initiated various initiatives in this regard to encourage people and organisations to nominate individuals they think are worthy.

“The Order of Australia belongs to all Australians – my strong message to the community is that if you know someone that is worthy, take the time to nominate them.”


You can find a full list of this year’s awards here.

Anyone can nominate any Australian for an award in the Order of Australia. If you know someone worthy, nominate them now at

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.


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