Labor has vowed to set a new target to award 50 per cent of Australia Day honours to women.
Opening up a new battle in the Australia Day culture wars, Deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said Labor also wanted to see more winners from the ranks of Aboriginal Australians, people with a disability and even “postcode parity” to ensure the gongs were shared with all Australians.
Under the plan a Shorten Government would set a target of 40 per cent female award recipients by 2020 with an ultimate goal of reaching 50 per cent in the future with Labor vowing to reform the categories to ensure more female nominations.
“What we’re saying is that we need to make sure our Australian honours system really captures those unsung heroes that are being missed by our current awards system,” Ms Plibersek said.
The Australia Day awards are nominated by the public, but Ms Plibersek said there was still room for greater female representation.
“That’s right, but since 1975, on average, about thirty per cent of awards have gone to women, for example,” she said.
“And if we believe that Australian women are making as important contributions to our public life – our volunteering and so on – as men, then there’s obviously something wrong with the nomination system.
“If you have a look, there are stand-alone categories for example, for mining, engineering, for primary industries and so on. But, the areas where women traditionally work or volunteer are often subsumed in other categories.
“Like nursing, for example, has no stand-alone category – it falls under the general category of medicine. So, we need to look at the categories that people are nominated in and we need to look at the nomination process to encourage more women to be nominated.
“There are fantastic community organisations like Honour a Woman, we can support the work that they’re doing to encourage more members of the public to look around them at the women that are volunteering and contributing to our community and nominate them.”
Ms Plibersek denied the quota system would represent an improper direction to the awards committee.
“No, it’s an invitation for our community to work harder in identifying women who are not currently being acknowledged for their good work,” she said. “And not just women, but those underrepresented categories more broadly.”
Meanwhile, the debate over Australia Day continues to rage with Peter Dutton joining a push to legislate the date to January 26.
“Australia Day is a celebration for all of us. There are 16,000 people from about 150 different countries who will become Australian citizens on the 26th,” Mr Dutton told 2GB radio.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said there were no plans to change the date to reflect concerns it was insulting to Aboriginal – including Liberal recruit Warren Mundine – who say it should be called “invasion day”.
“Look, we’ve made it clear that we don’t have a plan to change Australia Day but honestly, we’ve got hardly any sitting days between now and the next election. Parliament is literally barely sitting. If this government were really serious about doing something that would affect people’s lives they could legislate to reverse the cuts to health and education. They could legislate to restore penalty rates,” Ms Plibersek said.
“It’s an effort to stoke a political correctness debate on the eve of Australia Day. It’s just tacky.”
Foreign Minister Marie Payne said she was an enthusiastic supporter of nominating more women for Australia Day awards but did not see the need to embrace quotas.