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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 or 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. However, the Queen still confers upon Australians Imperial honours that emanate from her personally, rather than through the Australian government.[1]

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. In 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, but the only 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 making Imperial recommendations were Queensland and Tasmania.[2] 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.[3] 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".[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

Nominating or applying for awards

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.[8]

  • Nomination: Individual nominations may be made by members of the public or a community group for the Order of Australia and Australian Bravery Decorations. Nominations for Meritorious Service Awards are based on nominations from each specific organisation. The Department of Defence also nominates individuals for a range of service decorations.[8] Non-Australians can be given honorary awards for "extraordinary service to Australia or humanity at large".[9] Nomination forms for the Order of Australia are available through the Australian Honours Secretariat website, or upon application to the Honours Secretariat at Government House, Canberra or from any state Government House.
  • Application: Many of the honours or awards are based on an application by the recipient or a recommendation on their behalf. Awards that fall under this category include service awards for defence force and police personnel for operational service or to other individuals for special civilian services recognised by the Australian Government.[8]

Categories of honours and awards

There are two broad categories of honours and awards.

Individual honours and awards

The Honours and the Awards in the Australian system are, and have been:

  • those within the Australian System of Honours and Awards;
  • those conferred by The Sovereign in exercise of the Royal Prerogative;
  • those within the Order of St John;
  • Imperial/British awards conferred before 6 October 1992; and
  • foreign awards, the acceptance and wearing of which have been authorised by the Governor-General.

Note that awards of the British Empire/United Kingdom and are now foreign awards.[10]

Military theatre and battle honours, honour titles and distinctions

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.[11]

There are four categories of honours in the Defence system as follows:[11]

  • Honour Title: An Honour Title is awarded to any non-combat unit or sub-unit that is not entitled to a Battle Honour but which satisfies the same requirements for the award of a Battle Honour. An example of the award of an Honour Title is the title Coral, awarded to 102nd Field Battery for its outstanding achievement during the Coral-Balmoral in South Vietnam.[11][13]
  • Honour Distinction: An Honour Distinction is defined as a public commemoration of creditable performance by a unit or sub-unit in an operation which does not attract a Theatre, Battle or Honour Title. Honour Distinctions are intended to recognise service under operational conditions in security-related, peace keeping and peace enforcement and similar operations. The first award of an Honour Distinction was the award made to the 17th Construction Squadron for the Australian contribution to the United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) peacekeeping mission in Namibia in 1989 and 1990.[14][15]

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.[11]

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.[16] 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.[17][18]

Australian honours and awards

Order of Australia

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 the Queen 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. Currently there are four grades within the Order in both Military and General Divisions, and an additional grade of Knight and Dame within the General Division only. Persons cannot be admitted to the Order posthumously.

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.

  • OrderAustraliaRibbon.png General Division ribbon
  • Order of Australia (Military) ribbon.png Military Division ribbon


Knight / Dame of the Order of Australia (AK / AD)
Appointments to this class of the Order were ceased between 3 March 1986 and 25 March 2014. A maximum of four knights and dames are appointed each year. The full list is at List of Knights and Dames of the Order of Australia.
Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)
Appointments are made for eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or to humanity at large. Excluding honorary appointments, no more than 25 Companions shall be appointed in any calendar year. The full list is at List of Companions of the Order of Australia.
Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)
Appointments made for distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large. Excluding honorary appointments, no more than 100 Officers shall be appointed in any calendar year.
Member of the Order of Australia (AM)
Appointment made for service in a particular locality or field of activity or to a particular group. Excluding honorary appointments, no more than 225 Members shall be appointed in any calendar year.
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)
Awarded for service worthy of particular recognition. There is no quota limit on awards of the Medal of the Order.
Order Foundation Motto Chancellor
OrderAustraliaRibbon.png Order of Australia 1975 – Elizabeth II His Excellency The Hon. Sir Peter Cosgrove
Knights/(Dames) (AK/AD): Sir John Kerr (1976), Sir Robert Menzies (1976), Sir Colin Syme (1977), Sir Zelman Cowen (1977), Sir Frank 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)



Distinguished/Conspicuous/Nursing Service

Distinguished Service

Conspicuous Service

Nursing Service

  • NSC Australia ribbon.png Nursing Service Cross (NSC)

Meritorious Service

Campaign and Overseas Service

Special Service


Long Service

Champion Shots

Royal honours

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:

Order Foundation Motto Chancellor
Arms of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.svg
Order of the Garter UK ribbon.png
The Most Noble Order of the Garter 1348 – Edward III Honi soit qui mal y pense
Shame upon him who thinks evil upon it
HG The 5th Duke of Abercorn
Knights/(Ladies) (KG/LG): Richard Casey, Baron Casey (1969), Sir Paul Hasluck (1979), Sir Ninian Stephen (1994)
Insignia of Knight of the Thistle.png
Order of the Thistle UK ribbon.png
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 Rt. Hon. The 13th Earl of Airlie
Knights/(Ladies) (KT/LT): Sir Robert Menzies (1963)
Order of Merit Dorothy Hodgkin (cropped).jpg

Galó de l'Orde del Mèrit (UK).png
Order of Merit 1902 – Edward VII For Merit HM 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 in Heraldry.svg
Royal Victorian Order UK ribbon.png
Royal Victorian Order 1896 – Queen Victoria Victoria HRH The Princess Royal (Grand master)
The Rt. Hon. 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 Henry Winneke (1977), Sir John Yocklunn (1977), Sir Keith Seaman (1981), Sir James Ramsay (1981), Sir David Smith (1990)

Order of St John (UK) ribbon.png Venerable Order of Saint John 1831 – William IV Pro fide and Pro utilitate hominum
For faithful and For utility of men
HRH The 2nd Duke of Gloucester
for services to St John Ambulance
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ribbon.png Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002) Awarded by the Queen to living holders of the Victoria Cross (2)[27] and George Cross (1)
Awarded to: Edward Kenna, Keith Payne, Michael Pratt
QEII Diamond Jubilee Medal ribbon.png 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)[28]
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

Imperial honours awarded to Australians 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):

Order Foundation Motto Chancellor/
Grand Master
BaronetUK-cropped.jpg Baronet's Badge ribbon.png Baronet/(Baronetess)
  • Sir Samuel Way, 1st Baronet, of Montefiore, in the Colony of South Australia (1899), extinct 1916
  • Sir William Clarke, 1st Baronet, of Rupertswood, in the Colony of Victoria (1882), Dormant
  • Sir Daniel Cooper, 1st Baronet, of Woollahra, in the Colony of New South Wales (1863), extant, Sir William Daniel Charles Cooper, 6th Baronet (current holder)
  • Sir Charles Nicholson, 1st Baronet, of Luddenham, in the Colony of New South Wales (1859), extinct 1986
Order of the Bath DSC05151.JPG Order of the Bath UK ribbon.png Most Honourable Order of the Bath 1725 – George I Tria iuncta in uno
Three joined in one
HRH The Prince of Wales (Grand master)
Admiral The Rt. Hon. The Lord Boyce (King-of-Arms)
Knights/(Dames) Grand Cross (GCB): Sir George Reid (1916), Sir Isaac Isaacs (1937), 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 Thomas Blamey (1942), Sir Leslie Morshead (1942)
StMichaelandStGeorgeInsignia.jpg Ord.St.Michele-Giorgio.png Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George 1818 – George IV Auspicium melioris ævi
Token of a better age
HRH The 2nd Duke of Kent
The Rt. Hon. 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),
Ster Orde van het Britse Rijk.jpg Order of the British Empire (Civil) Ribbon.png Most Excellent Order of the British Empire 1917 – George V For God and the Empire HRH The 1st Duke of Edinburgh (Grand master)
Admiral The Rt. Hon. 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), Dame Pattie Menzies (1954), Dame Enid Lyons (1957)
Companion of Honour.jpg Order of Companions of Honour ribbon.png Order of the Companions of Honour 1917 – George V In action faithful and in honour clear HM Elizabeth II
Companions (CH): Billy Hughes (1941), Sir Earle Page (1942), Richard Casey, Baron Casey (1944), Sir Robert Menzies (1951), Sir John McEwen (1969), Sir John Gorton (1971), Sir William McMahon (1972), Malcolm Fraser (1977), Doug Anthony (1981), Harold Holt, Joseph Lyons
Knight-Bachelor.ribbon.png Knight Bachelor last awarded to Sir Michael Hintze (2013), All other Knights Bachelor

Foreign honours – including UN and NATO service

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.[29]

Additional information regarding UN medals can be found on the Australian Defence Force website.[30]

See also


  1. Only a handful of peerages and baronetcies were created for Australians. Some were in recognition of public services rendered in Britain rather than Australia. Some of the hereditary peers and baronets whose titles derive from Britain rather than Australia reside in Australia, or have connections with Australia. Who's Who Australia 2008. Details are provided at Australian peers and baronets.
  2. London Gazette, 17 June 1989, pp. B29 & B30
  3. A matter of honour: the report of the review of Australian honours and awards, December 1995, pp. 21–22
  4. "The Order of Wearing Australian Honours and Awards". Special Gazette No. S192. Commonwealth of Australia. 28 September 2007.$file/S192.pdf. 
  5. 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.
  7. Commendation for Brave Conduct, ANDERSON, Robert Graham, 30 January 1987, It's an Honour
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Nominating or Applying for Awards". Australian Government. Archived on 1 December 2006. Error: If you specify |archivedate=, you must also specify |archiveurl=. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  9. "Order of Australia". Medals Australia. Archived from the original on 1 December 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  10. "- all Imperial awards made to Australian citizens after 5 October 1992 are foreign awards and should be worn accordingly." Order of Wearing, updated 25 September 2007. page 1. (Generally, foreign awards are worn after Australian awards, and postnominals of foreign awards are not recognised.)
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Administration of Australian Battle Honours, Theatre Honours, Honour Titles and Honour Distinctions. Defence Instruction (Army). 38–3 (ADMIN ed.). Canberra: Australian Army. 4 May 2012. 
  12. "Australian Army Corps Badges". Australian Department of Defence. Retrieved 2007-03-30. 
  13. McAulay, Lex (1988). The Battle of Coral: Vietnam Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral, May 1968. London, England: Arrow Books. ISBN 0-09-169091-9. 
  14. Morrison, David (10 April 2012). "Letter from the Chief of Army to the Governor General of Australia". Army Headquarters, Canberra. pp. 2. OCA/OUT/2012/R11194182. Archived from the original on 16 June 2013. 
  15. Morrison, David (10 August 2012). "Letter from the Chief of Army to the Officer Commanding 17th Construction Squadron". Army Headquarters, Canberra. pp. 2. OCA/OUT/2012/R11944295. 
  16. John Wellfare, ed (23 May 2013). "Honour for engineers: First Honour Distinction has been awarded to 17 Const Sqn for Namibia 1989-90 peacekeeping mission". Army Headquarters, Canberra. p. 4. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  17. "Army Combat Badge". DI(A) PERS 119-1 Issue: 5/2009. Department of Defence (Army Headquarters). 24 August 2009. 
  18. "Who is eligible for the Infantry Combat Badge". Defence Medals FAQ. 
  19. National Police Service Medal, It's an Honour – Australian Government Website
    National Police Service Medal fact sheet, It's an Honour – Australian Government Website
  20. Australian Defence Medal, It's an Honour – Australian Government Website
    Australian Defence Medal fact sheet, It's an Honour – Australian Government Website
  21. National Emergency Medal regulations, The Australian Honours Secretariat – Governor General of Australia's site.[dead link]
  22. "80th Anniversary Armistice Remembrance Medal". A-Z of Awards. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  23. "Australian Sports Medal". A-Z of Awards. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  24. "Centenary Medal". A-Z of Awards. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  25. "Anniversary of National Service 1951–1972 Medal". A-Z of Awards. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  26. "MSM Awards". 13 September 1988. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  27. The first award of the Victoria Cross for Australia was in 2009.
  28. Presentation of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal to Corporal Daniel Keighran VC,
  29. Foreign Awards,
  30. Australian Issue of UN Medals,


  • Bruce Knox (1998). "Honours". In Graeme Davison, John Hirst and Stuart MacIntyre (eds.). The Oxford Companion to Australian History. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-553597-9. 

External links

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