AUSTRALIANS are more likely to be stripped of their honour awards after fraud and driving offences than for committing child sex abuse or failing to report it to police, records show after a Federal Parliament vote last week backed calls for therapist Bettina Arndt to be stripped of her controversial Order of Australia.
Jailed convicted child sex offender and former Anglican Dean of Newcastle Graeme Lawrence retains his Medal of the Order of Australia seven years after Newcastle Anglican Diocese defrocked him following a group sex incident with other priests and a teenager, and after the diocese in 2013 asked the Governor-General's office about stripping Lawrence of his award.
While there was no action after the diocese letter in July 2013, records show a former junior squash champion was stripped of her Order of Australia just two months later after a NSW Supreme Court judge said she was dishonest in a dispute with NSW Squash over a lease.
During the same period a former senior Australian Wheat Board official was stripped of his award after he was convicted in a major fraud scandal, a renowned concert musician's award was terminated after a United Kingdom road rage incident conviction, and a former Paralympian handed back his award after stalking and burglary convictions.
A 10-year fight to have Lawrence stripped of his award since a 2010 Anglican disciplinary board recommended his defrocking has left Hunter child sex survivor Steve Smith "nearly crying with rage", with last week's referral of the Bettina Arndt award controversy to the Council for the Order of Australia as "the final straw".
Ms Arndt was condemned in the Senate for comments suggesting Rowan Baxter might have been "driven too far" before setting fire and killing his estranged wife and their three children on February 19, but she was previously strongly criticised for comments during an interview with a convicted child sex offender.
Mr Smith and the Newcastle Herald were advised by the Governor-General's office on Friday that the Lawrence award cannot be considered until his appeal against his conviction in July, 2019 is finalised.
"You only have to look at some of the cases they've taken action on and people haven't been convicted. The appeal is beside the point given the years since the diocese defrocked him and wanted him stripped of the honour. During all that time he's brought the honours system into disrepute," Mr Smith said.
"What Bettina Arndt said is abhorrent and I think she should lose her Order of Australia, but we've got people baying for blood over her honour and she hasn't been convicted of anything, and yet there's silence about an actual paedophile sitting in a jail cell with his OAM intact.
"I shouldn't have had to waste 10 years of my life on this s... It's turned into a grubby process because there's no reasons given why they didn't do something about him years ago.
What Bettina Arndt said is abhorrent and I think she should lose her Order of Australia, but we've got people baying for blood over her honour and she hasn't been convicted of anything, and yet there's silence about an actual paedophile sitting in a jail cell with his OAM intact.Hunter child sex survivor Steve Smith
"The whole honours system is a can of worms and I think they don't want to act on Lawrence because if we started looking at him now, we might have to look at the characters of other recipients and whether they've got these things as a way of bolstering their reputations because they had things to hide."
Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said she was "appalled by Steve Smith's treatment" and shared his concern about the lack of process for people who retain their honours despite adverse findings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
A search of the "It's an Honour" database overseen by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet shows former Governor General and Anglican Archbishop Peter Hollingworth, former Anglican Archbishop Roger Herft and former Knox Grammar headmaster Ian Paterson retain their honours despite adverse royal commission findings.
The commission found the former Newcastle Anglican Bishop Herft displayed a "failure of leadership" which "showed no regard for the need to protect children". He resigned as Perth Archbishop after giving evidence in Newcastle in August, 2016.
Ian Paterson was aware of child sex allegations about four Knox Grammar teachers and "deliberately withheld information" from police, put the reputation of the school about boys' welfare and covered up allegations about two teachers, the royal commission found.
Peter Hollingworth resigned as Governor-General in 2003 after allowing a rector to keep working in 1993 despite the rector admitting he sexually abused a boy in the 1970s. The resignation came after the rector was convicted in 2003 of sexually abusing seven boys. The royal commission found Peter Hollingworth made "a serious error of judgment" in allowing the rector to continue working.
The royal commission also found former Grafton Anglican registrar Reverend Patrick Comben failed to take disciplinary action against priest Allan Kitchingman, despite being aware he was a convicted child sex offender. It meant Kitchingman retained the title of reverend after he moved to Newcastle.
Reverend Comben was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2008 for his services to the Anglican Church and the community.
Ms Claydon, who is deputy chair of a parliamentary national redress scheme implementation committee, supports a complete overhaul of the honours process, including introduction of a "show cause" process where honours holders subject to adverse findings or decisions are asked to justify why they should not be stripped of their awards.
"It seems it's still left to people like Steve Smith to raise these cases and even then there's no transparency about the process. I know he's not the only person who's written about Graeme Lawrence," Ms Claydon said.
"People have to have confidence in the awards system because it's a democratic process where everyone is entitled to nominate, but without a process at the end if there are adverse findings or decisions against an award holder, then people can feel like's it's a process that's falling apart."
Lawrence retained his honour while former HIH insurance founder and Hunter resident Ray Williams was stripped of his Order of Australia after he was jailed for criminal negligence following his company's collapse in 2001. Businessman Alan Bond and former Western Australian premiers Brian Burke and Ray O'Connor were stripped of their honours after fraud offences.
Hunter Catholic priest Peter Brock retained his Medal of the Order of Australia until his death in 2014 despite being charged with child sex offences in 2009 that were later withdrawn, and the NSW Ombudsman's acceptance of a church investigation finding of "sexual misconduct" by Father Brock against two boys over seven years. Maitland-Newcastle Diocese confirmed the finding during the Lina's Project event in 2017.
Jailed HIH colleague Rodney Adler and businessman Dick Pratt handed back their honours following corporate convictions, and television personality Steve Vizard returned his Order of Australia after an insider trading civil case.
The Governor-General's office on Monday provided data showing no Australian had their honour terminated between 1975 and 1993, 43 had honours terminated or cancelled between 1993 and 2016 - 40 men and three women - and another three men since 2016.
Sixteen people have handed back their honours since 1975, the most recent in 2016, the Governor-General's office said.
While some men convicted of child sex offences have had their honours terminated, including a Catholic priest convicted of indecently assaulting trainee religious brothers in the 1990s, Graeme Lawrence and George Pell retain their honours until all appeal processes against their convictions are completed.
Mr Smith described his long campaign to have Lawrence stripped of his title as "the fight I didn't want to have".
"It shouldn't be left up to me. I shouldn't have to be the one to say this convicted child sex offender should have been stripped of his award years ago, and that this awful injustice against people who were sexually abused as children just keeps rolling on. They really need to look at these powerful people who've still got their gongs and start showing respect for survivors and how they see it.
"There's people who definitely deserve to get awards and never do, and others like Mary Blackford (awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2019) who deserve to be honoured after a lifetime of community service, but who are forced to sit in the same group with a child sex offender like Graeme Lawrence."
Mr Smith said retention of honours is particularly hurtful in cases where the royal commission found people failed to report child sex offences to police but there's no likely prospect they will be charged with a criminal offence.
"Stripping a person of their honours award under those circumstances is the only sanction available to satisfy the general public that authorities are actually taking these things seriously," Mr Smith said.
"If they're not going to voluntarily hand them back then we need a system where once there's adverse findings or a decision against a person, there's a process where they have to argue why they should keep their gong."