Mr Singer said 46 awards had been removed from recipients since the honours system was established in 1975, with two cancellations in the past two years.
“We do not give reasons, but you’ll understand that… they largely attribute to legal proceedings having been exhausted,” Mr Singer said, in comments suggesting Ms Arndt was unlikely to have her honour rescinded.
Citing the integrity of the Australia Day honours process, Mr Singer declined to address Ms Ardnt’s case directly.
As well as her controversial tweet about Rowan Baxter, the Queensland man who killed his wife and their children after a number of domestic complaints, Ms Arndt has been sharply criticised for giving a sympathetic interview to convicted paedophile Nicolaas Bester.
Ms Arndt, who received her honour for “significant service to the community as a social commentator, and to gender equity through advocacy for men” has previously said it was “totally inappropriate” for politicians to lobby for her honour to be removed.
She said “feral mobs” were trying to take her award away, and has dismissed criticism of her interview with Bester as having taken her out of context.
Mr Singer confirmed that even people who have been convicted of serious sexual offences have been allowed to retain their Australia Day honours until they have exhausted all of their avenues of legal appeal. Cardinal George Pell, who is serving prison time for sexually abusing a choirboy in the mid-1990s, still has his companion of the Order of Australia — the system’s top honour.
Graeme Russell Lawrence, a former Anglican dean of Newcastle, who was convicted last year of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy in 1991, also retains his Order of Australia.
Asked by Labor Senator Penny Wong whether it was a problem that a convicted paedophile was allowed to retain a national honour, Mr Singer said he appreciated people had strong views on the subject but that it was better to allow the appeals process to run its course.
“I think it’s important that we allow the council to deal with them in a methodical way,” Mr Singer said.
The Australia Day honours are awarded by the Governor General on the advice of the Australia Day council, which is supported by staff in Government House. Those staff review nominees’ references, conduct social media and general internet searches on them, and put them into one of four “administrative” categories for final decisions by the council.
The categories are: no award, marginal, low award, and high award, Mr Singer said.
The marginal category included people whose nominations were “spurious”, Mr Singer said, while the low and high award categories related to the four levels of Australia Day honours.
Of the 19 members on the Australia Day council, eight are community members chosen by the Prime Minister of the day. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann sits on the council as an ex-officio member.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.