Awards selection to remain secret

The secrets behind how Australia Day honours are selected will remain a mystery after a tribunal ruled the Governor-General's office was right to suppress them.

Queensland nurse Karen Kline, who is also a lawyer, sought access last year to all documents that outline how the Order of Australia council decides who is worthy of its awards.

She had twice previously nominated a high-profile anti-discrimination advocate without success, and said Government House had ''maladministered'' her applications.

However, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has found the office had correctly rejected Ms Kline's freedom of information request.

Tribunal deputy president Philip Hack said the awards process ''occurred behind closed doors for good reason''.

''It is possible to conceive of a system of honours that is more open to public scrutiny, but that is not the way our system has been structured,'' he said.


''The Order of Australia is not an entitlement to be handed out simply on the basis of desserts, and nominators have no particular interest in the outcome of a nomination that requires vindication.''

The federal FoI Act allows the Governor-General's office to suppress all of its documents other than those relating to ''administrative'' matters.

Ms Kline had argued that the guidelines for assessing awards were administrative in nature, but Mr Hack said the honours process was a central part of the Governor-General's role.

''Choices have to be made between the nominees, and unsuccessful nominees may be upset when they are overlooked. Making those choices is akin to a judicial function that involves the exercise of delicate judgment.''

He said it was essential that council members gave ''frank advice''.

The Governor-General's office told Parliament late last year it had spent more than $18,000 for legal advice on how to process Ms Kline's FoI application.

At the time, Liberal senator Michael Ronaldson likened the office to a ''secret society'', demanding it justify the money it had spent.

A spokeswoman for the Governor-General's official secretary said yesterday the office ''was pleased with the decision''. Ms Kline could not be contacted yesterday.