‘I couldn’t think of a better use of the award’: Artist Peter Kingston rebuffs Australia Day honour in protest

The acclaimed artist Peter Kingston will return his Australia Day award, joining notable recipients who say the elevation of former tennis champion Margaret Court to the country’s highest honour undermined the award’s intention to foster community unity.

The landscape painter renowned for capturing the beauty of Sydney Harbour and its iconic ferries was awarded the Medal of Australia in 2013 for his art and environmental activism for helping to save Hinchinbrook Island, Luna Park, and Nutcote, the harbourside home of May Gibbs, from development.

Mr Kingston called on Mrs Court, a Pentecostal preacher who has attracted criticism for her views on same-sex marriage and homosexuality, to reconsider her words and actions and acknowledge the pain they caused.

Peter Kingston is handing his honour backCredit:Louie Douvis

Journalist Kerry O’Brien also refused to accept the Australia Day honour he was due to receive Tuesday citing the “deeply insensitive and divisive decision”. Mr O’Brien expressed his support for Canberra medico Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo who will also return the Order of Australia she received in 2016 for her work with the LGBTQI + community and HIV sufferers.

Their stand ramps up pressure for an overhaul of the award’s system that has been criticised as favouring Australia’s political and social elites and male recipients. Governor-General David Hurley himself has suggested the system, introduced under Gough Whitlam in 1975, needs to be overhauled.

“In these fragile times where we are all up against a pandemic of anxiety I find Margaret Court’s elevation to the highest order contrary to the premise the awards are given, that is to make our community a better place,” Mr Kingston said.

“I’m returning this award because I believe the elevation of Margaret Court is contrary to the integrity and meaning of the award and her effort in amplifying divisive opinions has not made our community a better place and contradicts the objectives of the award.

“I’m not intending to undermine the efforts and immensely good works of the other people who have been recognised and not denigrate those who have been recognised but to highlight the need of people who have been marginalised by Court’s hurtful, damaging and divisive attitudes to the LGBTQI + community.

“I couldn’t think of a better use of the award than to stand up to religious bigotry.”

Mrs Court’s sporting and charity achievements were recognised with an Order of Australia in 2007.

But she was this year upgraded to the highest level, the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) which is “is awarded for eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or humanity at large”. Mrs Court has told Nine News people should separate her religious beliefs from her sporting achievements.

“Something is wrong if someone like Margaret Court can be elevated to the country’s highest honour,” said Mr Kingston, an iconic member of the Yellow House artists’ collective.

“I call on Margaret Court to recognise the exclusion and division she is causing and reconsider her words and actions.⁣”

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