Former ABC journalist Kerry O'Brien has rejected his Australia Day nod, citing the decision to give former tennis champion Margaret Court the country's highest honour.

Ms Court is being elevated from an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) to a Companion (AC)

The former host of the ABC's Four Corners and 7.30 programs received the Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia but wrote to the Governor-General's secretary Paul Singer on Sunday, rejecting the award.

Mr O'Brien is a seven-time Walkley Award winner, and was to be awarded for distinguished service to the broadcast media and to journalism as a current affairs presenter, interviewer and reporter.

According to the ABC, Mr O'Brien decided to do so in support of Canberra doctor Clara Tuck Meng Soo, who handed back her 2016 honour in protest of Court.

Mr O'Brien called the decision to give Margaret Court the accolade "deeply insensitive" and "divisive".

Margaret Court has received the top honour in the Australia Day awards but not everyone is happy. Picture: Danella Bevis/The West Australian
Margaret Court has received the top honour in the Australia Day awards but not everyone is happy. Picture: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

 

"Margaret Court was a great tennis player who thrilled most Australians in her tennis years including me, but her hurtful and divisive criticisms relating to the fundamental rights of the LGBTQ+ community are clearly repugnant to many Australians," Mr O'Brien wrote in his letter.

Ms Court has been outspoken against LGBTQ relationships and their recognition, as well as transgender people.

"I believe the decision to present her with this award was deeply insensitive and must undermine community respect for awards that were created to celebrate a true spirit of community, not divide it."

Mr O'Brien's decision to reject the award was in support of Canberra doctor Clara Tuck Meng Soo, who last week handed back her Australia Day honour over Ms Court's appointment.

Dr Soo received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2016 for her work as a medical practitioner with LGBT people, HIV, and those with drug dependencies.

She was one of the first doctors in Australia to undergo gender transition.

In a letter to Governor-General David Hurley, Dr Soo said the Council's elevation of Ms Court sent "a message that they condone" her views.

 

Clara Tuck Meng Soo has handed back her Order of Australia Medal amid the Margaret Court controversy. Picture: Supplied
Clara Tuck Meng Soo has handed back her Order of Australia Medal amid the Margaret Court controversy. Picture: Supplied

"[This award] is condoning if not supporting the very negative and hurtful statements she has made about the LGBTIQ community over the past few years," Dr Soo wrote.

"If we are awarding the highest honour in the land to someone, it needs to be for more than just achievements in their field," she said.

"Do we want someone who makes hurtful and derogatory remarks about one section of our community to be a role model for our community?

Mr O'Brien initially accepted the honour but decided to reverse it in solidarity with Dr Soo.

"To me, Dr Tuck Meng Soo epitomises the true spirit of the Order of Australia. Her actions speak volumes as to why the Court award is so wrong," he wrote.

 

 

 

Ms Court, as a tennis player, is a former world No. 1, holds a record 24 grand slam singles titles and in 1963 became the first female Australian to win Wimbledon.

But the 78-year-old is now a minister of the Pentecostal Church in Perth, and has vowed to not change her anti-LGBTQ stance.

"I'm not going to change my opinions and views, and I think it's very important for freedom of speech that we can say our beliefs," she said.

Her beliefs include that homosexuality as "an abominable sexual practice".

In 2013, she wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing disapproval with the birth of a baby for retired Australian professional tennis player Casey Dellacqua's same-sex relationship.

There are concerns among some leaders and activist groups that such sentiments could exacerbate hostility towards a community that already suffers disproportionately high rates of suicide.

Originally published as Kerry O'Brien rejects Australia Day honour



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