(Australian Associated Press)
Malcolm Turnbull says he’s glad the Companion of the Order of Australia, better known as an AC, is once again Australia’s highest honour, and not knighthoods.
The 66-year-old former prime minister and staunch republican has been named a Companion in the Order of Australia in this year’s Australia Day honours.
As PM he says one of his “less momentous achievements” was re-abolishing knights and dames, introduced amid great public controversy by his predecessor Tony Abbott.
Bob Hawke had previously abolished them.
Political digs aside, Mr Turnbull says he’s “honoured and touched” by the recognition.
And he’s happy the awards system is recognising more people from diverse backgrounds and more women.
Asked what Australia means to him, the former Liberal leader says he is not jingoistic but “very patriotic and proud of this country”.
“We are the most successful multicultural society in the world – in a world which is just rent with so much division and hatred and disharmony we manage to live together in a very diverse country.”
He puts it down to Australia having a “strong tradition of mutual respect”.
“You only have to look at what is happening in the United States.
“The way in which media like Murdoch’s media, politicians like Trump and many others have exacerbated pre-existing divisions and animosities to make America more divided than it has ever been since the civil war.
“It just underlines the importance of people in public life and with power telling the truth, not lying to people, being respectful, seeking to find what we have in common rather than trying to constantly exploit divisions.”
He says it is not “dumb luck” that Australia has avoided a catastrophe when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our governments, principally state governments, they made tough decisions early. Social distancing, quarantine, lockdowns, and followed the scientific advice and cooperated with each other by and large.
“In the US you had the same loopy denial of science that you see in respect of global warming, and they’ve just passed 400,000 deaths.”
The restoration of “conventional international leadership” in the US will make a big difference not only to America but the world, he says in a nod to the inauguration of Joe Biden.
Mr Turnbull, who was a strong promoter of the Closing the Gap agenda to deal with Indigenous disadvantage, said he was open to the idea of a minute’s silence on Australia Day out of respect for dead Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
“Let people try things out,” he said.
“If they want to have a minute of silence they can do so.
“The most important thing about Australia’s history is truth-telling and being very clear-eyed about it.”
He noted when he was younger, Australia Day in Sydney was marked by a “bunch of people dressing up in 18th century costumes rowing a boat and hoisting a flag”.
“All of our national commemorations have evolved and changed with time.”
Mr Turnbull has received the honour for his service to the people and parliament “through significant contributions to national security, free trade, the environment and clean energy, innovation, economic reform and marriage equality, and to business and philanthropy”.
Other former federal parliamentarians on the honours list included Sandy Macdonald, Bill Taylor and Max Burr.