King’s Birthday Honours: Daniel Andrews, Mark McGowan made recipients of Companion of the Order of Australia

Headshot of Remy Varga
Remy Varga
The Nightly
7 Min Read
Former premier Jeff Kennett has called for Dan Andrews’ (pictured) King’s Birthday honour to be reversed.
Former premier Jeff Kennett has called for Dan Andrews’ (pictured) King’s Birthday honour to be reversed. Credit: 7NEWS/7NEWS

The council that bestows King’s Birthday Honours has denied Victoria’s top public servant — who was promoted to the top job by Daniel Andrews — was present when the former premier’s nomination was discussed.

News that Mr Andrews had been awarded a Companion Order of Australia has generated controversy as Victorians were forced to relive the horrors of the pandemic, including six lockdowns, hundreds of deaths and the forced closure of schools and businesses.

Victoria is represented on the Council of the Order of Australia by State Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Jeremi Moule, who was promoted to the plum public servant role by Mr Andrews.

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A council spokesperson said Mr Moule was not in the room when Mr Andrews’ nomination was discussed and said decisions were made by consensus.

“The Council of the Order of Australia does not comment on individual considerations,” said the spokesperson.

“Mr Moule was not in the room when the nomination was discussed.

“Speaking generally, decisions are made by consensus amongst the council and informed by the original nomination and subsequent independent research.”

Mr Moule replaced former top public servant Chris Eccles who resigned in October 2020 amid fallout from the inquiry into the disastrous hotel quarantine program that unleashed Victoria’s second wave that claimed 768 lives.

Former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett has written to the Council of the Order of Australia and asked them to rescind Mr Andrews’ award, saying it smacked of political interference.

I always find it bizarre that we get paid an absurd amount of money as politicians. And you want to give us awards?

Mr Kennett told The Nightly on Monday that awarding Mr Andrews an AC was an “inappropriate awarding of Australia’s highest civilian honour”.

“It’s not just COVID it’s his whole administration,” he said.

“Children were locked out of schools for two years and lost the opportunity for education and some of those children will feel the impact of that dislocation for the rest of their lives.”

Veteran broadcaster Neil Mitchell said the award must have been “fast-tracked” because the former premier received it eight months after leaving the top job.

“Every premier since Jeff has waited years for a gong,” the former 3AW host said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Dan got his in eight months. Why?”

Victoria’s second wave began in June 2020 as COVID seeded from hotel quarantine and the State’s contact tracers failed to contain the spread of the highly contagious virus.

The virus spread through aged care homes like wildfire, killing at least 50 elderly residents at the St Basil’s facility in the north Melbourne suburb of Fawkner.

John Atzarakis, whose mother Fotini died inside St Basil’s in 2020, said he believed Mr Andrews deserved the honour after overseeing improvements in the education and public transport systems but said he understood why the lockdowns had been condemned.

“There are media organisations and governments overseas that praise the decision (to lock down the State) and even locals in Australia, especially the elderly,” he said.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announces his resignation
Daniel Andrews held 120 consecutive daily COVID-19 press conferences. Credit: AAP

“It’s unfortunate my mother was not one of those lives saved at St Basil’s nursing home, that was right at the start, but there’s no condemnation on my behalf of the lockdowns.”

A bid to prosecute the Victorian government for 58 breaches of State health and safety laws was abandoned last month.

In July, the State Government ordered a “hard lockdown” of 3000 public housing residents across nine inner-city housing commission towers in the inner Melbourne suburbs of Flemington and North Melbourne.

Police patrolled the towers as residents were forbidden from leaving their homes for any reason including to go to work, buy groceries or exercise.

Community worker Hadia Komba, a mother-of-five and Horn of Africa refugee, returned to her public housing apartment in Flemington on July 4, 2020, only to be told she would not be allowed to leave for any reason.

On Monday Ms Komba told The Nightly she and the 3000 or so other tower residents “hadn’t been treated like human beings” and said she wouldn’t wish the experience on her enemies.

“To put everyone in lockdown, the way we were treated was not like human beings,” she said.

“It was not fair at all.”

Ms Komba said she didn’t have an opinion on Mr Andrews’ award as she’d made the decision to tune out of the news cycle after the hard lockdown of the towers.

“He [Dan] put me in so much stress, I haven’t watched television for two years,” she said.

“I have just removed myself after going through so much I can’t, it’s very painful to see.

“I’ve just removed myself from watching anything going on with the Government.”

Restrictions placed on Victorians over six lockdowns in two years include mandatory mask-wearing, closed schools and playgrounds and a police-enforced “ring of steel” that separated Melbourne from the rest of the State.

Businesses shut never to reopen, residents were restricted to a 5km radius from their homes and Australian Defence Force personnel patrolled popular exercise spots.

Limits were placed on gatherings including worship and funerals.

The Victorian Government knocked back a plea for a full outdoor funeral by the mother of eight-year-old Cooper Onyett who died after drowning in a swimming pool in 2021.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday that Mr Andrews and former WA Labor premier Mark McGowan, who also steered his state through COVID, remained popular in their respective states.

“Both Daniel Andrews and Mark McGowan were very successful from the people who matter to their respective states in Victoria and Western Australia,” he said.

I thank the Victorian community for their support for me and my team in leading our State for nine years.

“I respect everyone’s right to have a view.

“Politicians are never on 100 per cent support, nor are former politicians.”

Independent senator Jacquie Lambie said Mr Andrews should not be eligible for the award as politicians were paid to perform community work.

“I always find it bizarre that we get paid an absurd amount of money as politicians. And you want to give us awards?” she told breakfast television.

“Seriously there’s a lot of people out there who do great things, but don’t have a lot of money.

“They’re doing great things around their own community and why they continue to give politicians awards is beyond me.”

Mr Andrews, a formidable retail politician and tireless media performer, famously held press conferences for 120 consecutive days during the second wave.

Mr Andrews’ detractors dubbed him ‘Dictator Dan’ but the premier’s decisiveness during a period of great chaos and uncertainty potentially saved countless Victorians.

He resigned as premier in September last year, leaving behind a State saddled with debts that have soared to $188 billion.

Mr Andrews said in a statement that he was honoured to receive the award and said leading the state of Victoria for nine years was the greatest honour of his life.

“I’m honoured to have been nominated for this award and grateful to every Victorian who contributed to some of our State’s best times and who worked so hard to see us through our most challenging,” he said.

“I thank the Victorian community for their support for me and my team in leading our State for nine years.”

Among Mr Andrews’ achievements are commissioning major infrastructure projects under the banner of the ‘Big Build’, which include the Metro Tunnel and the removal of 72 level crossings.

After Mr Andrews was elected in 2014, his first big decision was stopping work on the Coalition’s East West Link road tunnel for the cost of $1 billion.

Under Mr Andrews, Victoria began a groundbreaking treaty process with Indigenous communities and established the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

Former WA premier Mark McGowan resided over the biggest election win in WA history. Credit: Supplied

The state’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Independent Broadbased anti-Corruption Commission, has probed Mr Andrews’ behaviour several times but has never made adverse findings against him.

Mr Andrews, from Wangaratta, has reportedly started a consultancy with his former staffer Marty Mei.

Current Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan congratulated Mr Andrews on his award as she applauded her predecessor’s energy for reform.

“Because of that determination, big state-shaping projects are underway — and thousands of Victorians are in work,” she said.

“Then there’s the quieter, no less impactful reforms. Things like voluntary assisted dying, nation-leading action on family violence and making sure LGBTIQ+ kids grow up knowing who they are is good enough.”

The other COVID premier, Mr McGowan, remains highly revered in WA after quitting in May 2023 citing exhaustion.

Mr McGowan has also received the honour for his contribution to education and international trade relations and Mr Andrews for his contribution to policy and regulatory reform and infrastructure development.

Mr McGowan became WA’s 30th premier in 2017 in what was then hailed as the State Labor Party’s biggest-ever victory.

His popularity continued to skyrocket over the pandemic when he decisively shut the border in April 2020, keeping COVID and the rest of Australia out of the State for nearly two years.

Mr McGowan thanked the people of Western Australia for their support and dedicated the honour to his wife Sarah and children Samuel, Alexander and Amelia.

“I’m very humbled and honoured to have received this award and would like to thank whoever nominated me,” he said.

“My deep gratitude goes to the people of WA for being so kind to me.

“Thank you to my former colleagues, staff and the Labor Party.

“I was very fortunate to have their support during my time as Premier and throughout my parliamentary career.

“Without that support I would not have achieved anything.

“Can I thank my parents Mary and Dennis and inlaws Gwen and Neil Miller.

“To my wife Sarah and children Samuel, Alexander and Amelia. This award and acknowledgment belongs to you.”

His time in WA’s top job was also coloured by legal battles with billionaire Clive Palmer.


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