The Music Trust lists recipients in this category of the Knowledge Base (starting with the Australia Day Honours on 26 January 2014 — the other annual event is the Queen’s Birthday Honours on the second Monday of June). This introduction extends the statistics back to 2012 and 2013 to give a better impression of trends in total relative to music-related awards.

The Main Honours System

The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, currently General Sir Peter Cosgrove, is the representative of the Australian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The office of the Secretary to the Governor-General contains the Honours and Awards Secretariat, which issues the Honours list each Australia Day (26 January) and official Queen’s Birthday weekend (second Monday in June).

The Order of Australia is the pre-eminent way in which Australians recognise the achievements and service of their fellow citizens. It was instituted by Her Majesty the Queen on 14 February 1976, replacing the Imperial Honours that had formed the previous basis. The Order comprises a Civil and a Military Division, each with three categories: Companion (AC), Officer (AO) and Member (AM). Two further award levels of Knight and Dame, of equal status above Companion, were introduced in 1976, removed again in 1986, reinstated in 2014 at the behest of Prime Minister Tony Abbott (resulting in five new Knights and Dames) and finally removed in November 2015 by his successor Malcolm Turnbull in agreement with Queen Elizabeth.

Whether they will be removed again does not affect the purpose of this presentation. More importantly, a medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) was introduced in 1976. Today it represents the largest number of awards in the Australian Honours system because there are no limits to how many can be issued. In contrast, no more than 30 ACs, 125 AOs and 300 AMs can be issued in any calendar year.

For the purpose of the statistical presentations in the Knowledge Base, the Military Division is excluded. It is very unusual for an item in the Military Division to be music-specific, though there was one case in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours. It is more common, in fact, for persons with military titles to nominate music-specific awards on the Civilian List. Dames and Knights are excluded from our comparative tables because they are based on government rather than community recommendations, and the few new items have not been music-specific. For further definitions of the Australian Honours system see the Governor-General’s website.

More Than Four Years of Honours Statistics

The number of music-related Honours has been through quite a turbulent time. In 2012 it increased from 26 at the Australia Day Honours to 60 at the Queen’s Birthday (Table 1). The highest number was in 2013: 55 at Australia Day and 68 at the Queen’s Birthday (total 123). The number was halved in 2014 when only 62 music-related Honours were given out. The downward trend continued in 2015 with only eight music-related Honours at Australia Day followed by 22 at the Queen’s Birthday. So there was a halving on top of another halving, leaving 2015 at a mere 25% of the 2013 total.

The number of music-related awards in the 2016 Australia Day list was a little higher than in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday, and of course higher than the abysmal result in the 2015 Australia Day list

This decline is not associated with the total number of Honours (Table 2), which was 957 in 2012 followed by 1,137 in 2013, 1,241 in 2014 and 1,129 in 2015 (1,117 at the latest Queen’s Birthday and Australia Day combined). The number of ACs and AOs remained well below their respective limits of 30 and 150 in each calendar year. The number of AMs sailed closer to the wind, being near the 300 limit in each calendar year in Table 1, and exceeding more than half the limit at Australia Day 2016, which suggests a reduction in the Queen’s Birthday list in June. The number of OAMs increased from 580 in 2012 to 790, 838 and 741 in the three subsequent years.1

Relating music-related to total Honours in Table 3 shows that there was no consistent tendency towards either lower or higher Honours to be granted music people — except a possible tendency towards a relatively high percentage of AOs. The main issue is that the proportion of music-related Honours has fallen strongly from the glory days between the Queen’s Birthdays of 2012 and 2013, to the levels in 2014 and 2015 and now in the Australia Day 2016 list. This observation holds despite the improvement between the abysmal count at Australia Day 2015 and the somewhat more encouraging Queen’s Birthday 2015.

These statistical observations are part of the Music Trust’s ongoing analysis of the political status of the Australian Music Sector, which remains a major concern. On one hand, there is considerable evidence that Australian classical musicians are highly successful on the international stage, as are some of Australia’s leading popular bands. On the other hand, declining public funding and statistical support of Australian music sits uncomfortably with the growing notion that cultural capital is a real economic force that is sadly underrated in Australia.

The music-related Honours statistics were undertaken as a Music Trust project and are therefore unofficial. However, the identification of what makes music-related Honours is based on objective criteria (keywords such as “music”, “opera”, “choral”, “band” and “orchestra” which in combination were found to be practically 100% accurate in building the lists). The tables provide empirical evidence which was not known previously but appears highly relevant. It is not implied that the tables should provide a quota for how people in the music sector should receive, but at least the facts should be known, and they weren’t until this research was undertaken.


The music-related statistics were compiled from criteria laid down to identify “music-related”. They were based on a set of keywords which according to supplementary information acquired during the compilation picked up close to 100% of the relevant observations (music, opera, sing, choir, choral, band, and orchestra). Further analysis of the method makes sense. Box 1 shows a number of desciptions derived from two sample compilations, part of the alphabetic list for QB 2013 and part of the alphabetic list for AD 2014. They mainly represent headline descriptions from the Governor-General’s lists. All observations in these particular random samples fell into some sensible category with no other descriptions failing to “find a home”. Generally, the observations cover a wide range of genres, activities and modes of communicating with and about music.2

The Lists

Australia Day Honours 2014

Queens Birthday Awards 2014 to Music People

Music People Receiving Awards in the Australia Day Honours List 2015

Australian Honours: Queen’s Birthday List, 2015

Australian Honours, Australia Day 2016

Chart 1 speaks for itself. The stacked bar chart distinguishes between OAM, AM, AO and AC, highlighting the contrast between 2012-13 and the subsequent events up to Australia Day 2016. Why music has not been better represented in Australian Honours in these recent years needs further analysis. The time is approaching to ask WHY.

There may be some reasons for the fluctuations in music-related awards, but the comparison requires explanation, both in terms of the modest share of music in total Australian honours and the magnitude of the fluctuations themselves.

It would seem a natural part of Australian national cultural policy to encourage its music people better through its Honours system. We recognise that subjective judgment must have a strong influence in a cultural area as diverse as music, but 4% of total awards (the average of the past five Australia Day and Queen’s Birthday lists) going to the entire music sector does seem scant and the decline from the high levels reached in the Queen’s Birthday lists of 2012 and 2013 and the intervening 2013 Australia Day list needs to be critically reviewed. Music’s share then averaged 11%, rather than the paltry 4% of the latest five lists.

It is legitimate to ask WHY? and even question the principles behind the awarding of these Honours. We are not casting any doubt on the merits of the actual recipients, or the importance of the community basis, but it might be timely to investigate whether its long-standing current form disadvantages too many equally qualified people. Any system may go stale unless its objectives are monitored and reviewed from time to time. The concurrent event of Australian of the Year, with its state and territory based foundations, is gathering strength (buoyed by the outstanding contribution of the 2015 winner, Rosie Batty). Why not gain inspiration and a rethink from this in bringing the general Australian Honours system up to scratch — including a good fresh look at its community basis?


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered on Knowledge Base 16 June 2015. Updated 27 January 2016.


  1. This was based on physical counts up to 2015 but we found that AMs and OAMs had acquired total numbers in the 2016 Australia Day list, so only ACs and AO had to be physically counted.↩︎
  2. In a few cases, reference to musical activity was edited out when it was clear that music was not a major part of a particular person’s activities. For example, he or she had participated in some musical activity decades ago which was clearly not a main part of their major contribution.↩︎

Hans founded his own consulting firm, Economic Strategies Pty Ltd, in 1984, following 25 years with larger organisations. He specialised from the outset in applied cultural economics — one of his first major projects was The Australian Music Industry for the Music Board of the Australia Council (published in 1987), which also marks his first connection with Richard Letts who was the Director of the Music Board in the mid-1980s. Hans first assisted the Music Council of Australia in 2000 and between 2006 and 2008 proposed and developed the Knowledge Base, returning in an active capacity as its editor in 2011. In November 2013 the Knowledge Base was transferred to The Music Trust, with MCA's full cooperation.

Between 2000 and 2010 Hans also authored or co-authored several major domestic and international climate change projects, using scenario planning techniques to develop alternative long-term futures. He has for several years been exploring the similarities between the economics of cultural and ecological change, and their continued lack of political clout which is to a large extent due to conventional GDP data being unable to measure the true value of our cultural and environmental capital. This was announced as a major scenario-planning project for The Music Trust in March 2014 (articles of particular relevance to the project are marked *, below).

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