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Insignia of a Knight/Dame of the Order of Australia
Insignia of a Knight/Dame of the Order of Australia

The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established on 14 February 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, to recognise Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service. Before the establishment of the order, Australian citizens received British honours.

The Queen of Australia is sovereign head of the order,[8] while the Governor-General of Australia is the principal companion/dame/knight (as relevant at the time) and chancellor of the order. The governor-general's official secretary, currently Paul Singer, is secretary of the order.

Levels of membership

The order is divided into a general and a military division. The five levels of appointment to the order in descending order of seniority have been:

Honorary awards at all levels may be made to deserving non-citizens – these awards are made additional to the quotas.


The badge of the Order of Australia is a convex disc (gold for AKs, ADs and ACs, gilt for AOs, AMs and OAMs) representing the Golden Wattle flower. At the centre is a ring, representing the sea, with the word 'Australia' below two branches of golden wattle. The whole disc is topped by the Crown of St Edward. The AC badge is decorated with citrines, blue enamelled ring, and enamelled crown. The AO badge is similar, without the citrines. For the AM badge, only the crown is enamelled, and the OAM badge is plain. The AK/AD badge is similar to that of the AC badge, but with the difference that it contains at the centre an enamelled disc bearing an image of the coat of arms of Australia.[1]

The star for knights and dames is a convex golden disc decorated with citrines, with a blue royally crowned inner disc bearing an image of the coat of arms of Australia.[1]

The ribbon of the order is blue with a central stripe of golden wattle flower designs; that of the military division has additional golden edge stripes. AKs,[1] male ACs and AOs wear their badges on a necklet; male AMs and OAMs wear them on a ribbon on the left chest. Women usually wear their badges on a bow on the left shoulder, although they may wear the same insignia as males if so desired.

A gold lapel pin for daily wear is issued with each badge of the order at the time of investiture; AK/AD[1] and AC lapel pins feature a citrine central jewel, AO and AM lapel pins have a blue enamelled centre and OAM lapel pins are plain.

The order's insignia was designed by Stuart Devlin.


The order currently consists of four levels (one discontinued) and the medal, in both general and military divisions. Since 2015, the knight/dame level has been discontinued on the advice of then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. Awards of knight and dame of the order have been made in the general division only.[4]

While state governors can present the officer and member level and the Medal of the Order of Australia to their respective state's residents, only the Queen of Australia or the governor-general can present the companion level (and previously also the knight/dame level).[12]

Award criteria in detail

The different levels of the order are awarded according to the recipients' levels of achievement:

  • General Division: "Extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or to humanity at large".
  • Military Division: Not awarded in the military division.

There was a quota of four per year, excluding honorary appointments. The Knight- and Damehoods were conferred from 1976 to 1983, and from 2014 to 2015, and thus are not currently awarded.[11]

  • General Division – 'Eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or to humanity at large'.
  • Military Division – 'Eminent service in duties of great responsibility'.

Excluding honorary appointments, until 2003, no more than 25 Companions were appointed in any calendar year. In 2003 this was increased to 30.[13] This was increased in 2016 to 35.[14]

  • General Division – 'Distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large'.
  • Military Division – 'Distinguished service in responsible positions'.

Prior to 2003, the quota was 100 Officers appointed in any calendar year. In 2003 this was increased to 125.[13] This was increased in 2016 to 140.[14]

  • General Division – 'Service in a particular locality or field of activity or to a particular group'.
  • Military Division – 'Exceptional service or performance of duty'.

Prior to 2003, the quota was 225 Members appointed in any calendar year. This was increased to 300 in 2003,[13] to 340 in 2016,[14] and to 365 in 2018.[15]

  • General Division – 'Service worthy of particular recognition'
  • Military Division – 'Meritorious service or performance of duty'.

There are no quota limits on awards of the Medal of the Order.

Nomination process

Since 1976 any person may nominate any Australian citizen for an award. The nominations are reviewed by the Council for the Order of Australia,[11] and then approved by the governor-general. The order is awarded on Australia Day and on the Queen's Birthday public holiday in June, when public announcements are made about new awards, on the occasion of a special announcement by the governor-general (usually honorary awards), and on the appointment of a new Governor-General.

People who are not Australian citizens may be awarded honorary membership of the order at all levels.

Appointments to the order are not made posthumously; however, if a nominee dies after accepting an appointment but before the relevant announcement date, the appointment stands and it is announced as having effect from no later than the date of the nominee's death.

Awardees may subsequently resign from the order, and also may have their award cancelled by the governor-general.[5]

Appointment process

A nomination for an Order of Australia award starts with an Australian citizen filling in a confidential form and submitting it to the honours secretariat at Government House in Canberra.[16][17] This form is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth).[18]

The nomination forms are given to the Council for the Order of Australia.[11] Who attends meetings of the council and reasoning as to why a nomination either did or did not result in an appointment is confidential.[19] The council makes recommendations to the governor-general, who presents the order's insignia to new appointees,[11] The council may also advise the governor-general to remove an individual from the order.[20][21]

Announcements of all awards, cancellations and resignations appear in the Commonwealth Gazette. People awarded honours have the option of not having the information appear on the "It's an Honour" website.[22]


The Order of Australia was established on 14 February 1975 by letters patent of Queen Elizabeth II of Australia, the Australian monarch, and countersigned by the Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam. The original order had three levels: Companion (AC), Officer (AO) and Member (AM) as well as two divisions: Civil Division and Military Division. At the time it was also announced that Australian prime ministers would no longer nominate persons for British Imperial honours, but this new practice did not extend to nominations by state premiers.

On 24 May 1976, the level of Knight (AK) and Dame (AD) and the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), were created by the Queen on the advice of Whitlam's successor, Malcolm Fraser, and the Civil Division was renamed the General Division. The level of Knight/Dame was awarded only in the General Division.

The original three-level structure of the Order of Australia was modelled closely upon the Order of Canada,[23][24] though the Order of Australia has been awarded rather more liberally, especially in regard to honorary awards to foreigners. To date, only 24 non-Canadians have been appointed to the Order of Canada, while more than 390 non-Australians have been appointed to the Order of Australia, with 40 to the "Companion" level.

Following the 1983 federal election, Prime Minister Bob Hawke advised the abolition of the knight/dame level. On 3 March 1986, the Queen co-signed letters patent revoking the level, with existing knights and dames not being affected by the change. In the period 1976–1983, twelve knights and two dames were created, all but one of whom—Prince Charles—are now deceased.

On 19 March 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott advised the Queen to reinstate the level of knight/dame and the Queen co-signed letters patent to bring this into effect. The change was publicly announced on 25 March, and gazetted on 17 April 2014.[25] Up to four knights and/or dames could be appointed each year, by the Queen of Australia on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia after consultation with the Chairman of the Order of Australia Council.[9][26]

Five awards of knight and dame were then made, to the outgoing Governor-General, Quentin Bryce; her successor, Peter Cosgrove; a recent Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Houston; a recent Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir; and Prince Philip.

The Australian Labor Party continued to oppose knighthoods and damehoods. Leader of the opposition Bill Shorten stated in March 2014 that the party would again discontinue the level if it were to win the next Australian federal election.[27]

Abbott's tenure as prime minister ended in September 2015. Two months after coming into office, on 2 November 2015, pro-republican Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that the Queen had approved his request to amend the Order's letters patent and cease awards at this level.[28][29] Existing titles would not be affected.[10] The move was attacked by monarchists[30] and praised by republicans.[31][32] The amendments to the constitution of the Order were gazetted on 22 December 2015.[33]

Current membership

Charles, Prince of Wales was appointed a Knight of the Order of Australia (AK) on 14 March 1981. As he is not an Australian citizen, even though he is the heir to the Australian throne, this would have required the award to be honorary. To overcome this issue, his appointment was created by amendment to the constitution of the Order of Australia by special letters patent signed by the Queen, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.[34]

In March 2014 the knight and dame levels, which had been abolished in 1986 by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, were reintroduced to the Order of Australia by Tony Abbott. At the same time, Abbott announced that future appointments at this level would be recommended by the prime minister alone, rather than by the Council of the Order of Australia, as is the case with all lower levels of the order. In accordance with the statutes of 2014, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was created a Knight of the Order by letters patent signed by the Queen on 7 January 2015, on Abbott's advice.[35] Prince Philip's knighthood was announced as part of the Australia Day Honours on 26 January 2015 and his appointment attracted criticism of what Abbott described as his "captain's call". Abbott responded by announcing that future recommendations for appointments as Knights and Dames of the Order would be determined by the Council of the Order of Australia.

Awards of the Order of Australia are sometimes made to people who are not citizens of Australia to honour extraordinary achievements. These achievements, or the people themselves, are not necessarily associated with Australia, although they often are. On 26 January 2019, the Australian Honours website listed appointments for 40 Honorary Companions, 100 Honorary Officers, 127 Honorary Members of the Order of Australia and the award of 124 Honorary Medals of the Order of Australia.[36] Notable honorary awards include:

Since 1975, just under 30 per cent of recipients of an Order of Australia honour have been women.[40] The number of nominations and awards for women is trending up, with the 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours resulting in the highest percentage of awards for women to date (40 per cent).[41] Advocacy groups such as Honour a Woman and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency have called for greater effort to be made to reach equal representation of men and women in the order.[40][42]

In December 2010, The Age reported a study of the educational backgrounds of all people who had received Knight/Dame and Companion level awards at that time. It reported: "An analysis of the 435 people who have received the nation's top Order of Australia honours since they were first awarded in 1975, shows they disproportionately attended a handful of elite Victorian secondary schools. Scotch College alumni received the highest number of awards, with 19 former students receiving Australia's [then] highest honour".[43][6]

On 26 January 1980 the order's award recipients formed the Order of Australia Association. This organisation seeks to aid the members of the order in their pursuits related to the development and maintenance of Australia's culture and traditions. The organisation also attempts to increase awareness of those honoured by the order, since many of their number are not household names, despite their contributions. Branches of the association can be found in all the states and territories of Australia.


"Imperial" honours awarded after 5 October 1992 have been classed as "Foreign awards", and hence have lower precedence than all Australian awards.(Note, however, that the (original/imperial/British) Victoria Cross, and awards of the monarch, have retained their position in the order of precedence, even if awarded after 5 October 1992.)

References in popular culture

The award is parodied in the play Amigos, where the central character is determined to be awarded the AC, and uses persuasion, bribery and blackmail in his (ultimately successful) attempts to get himself nominated for the award.[44]

During the 1996 season of the popular television programme Home and Away, the character Pippa Ross was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her years of service as a foster carer.

See also

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