October 15, 2021

Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat issues statement on Denis Handlin’s Order of Australia

Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat issues statement on Denis Handlin’s Order of Australia

The Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat  – which provides support to the Governor-General in the administration of the Australian honours system and is charged with maintaining its high standards – has further clarified the department’s position on Denis Handlin.

The former Sony CEO was appointed to the national order in 2005 when he became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) which recognises “service in a particular locality or field of activity or to a particular group”.

In 2017, he was elevated to Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), which rewards “distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large”.

This week, calls have been mounting for the honours to be revoked.

The calls come off the back of the ABC’s Four Corners which aired a special investigation into Handlin, as well as allegations of the toxic culture within the major record label under his leadership. It included claims of bullying, harassment, intimidation and abuse over decades – claims which Handlin denies.

Earlier this week, the Council of the Order of Australia issued a statement to The Music Network which noted “unanimous approval is not a criteria” for the award. It also appeared that as Handlin has not been convicted by a court or found guilty of any law breaches, his Officer of the Order of Australia would continue to stand.

The Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat has now also weighed in, noting the issue has been brought to the attention of the Council and it “investigates matters brought to its attention and considers each case individually”.

The initial email from TMN, and the letter from the Secretariat in response, can be viewed in full below.

The bodies administering the honours system tend to avoid commenting on individual cases, however last year did make an exception when there were mounting calls for both Bettina Arndt and Mike Carlton to be stripped of their Member of the Order of Australia (AM) appointments.

A statement last year in relation to Carlton and Arndt said the Council takes great care in exercising responsibilities both in relation to appointments and in considering whether an appointment or award should be terminated or cancelled.

It outlined circumstances in which it would consider cancelling one of its honours, namely when an individual has been convicted of a crime or offence under the law, received a civil penalty under the law, or has been subjected to an adverse finding by a court, tribunal or other body exercising judicial or administrative power under the law.

The Council said it required the judicial process to be exhausted before it would make such a recommendation.

The Council does have a clause about bringing disrepute on the Order – which could result in honours being withdrawn – however this too appears to be related to the law.

“In the Council’s view, and as a general principle, for the Order to be brought into disrepute a conviction, penalty or adverse finding must have occurred,” the statement explained. “In essence, the Council recognises that the law prescribes behaviours and expressions, which are abhorrent to society and therefore uses law as the threshold for termination and cancellation.”

The Council would also consider cancellation if the information contained within the initial recommendation was found to be based on false or misleading information.

The Council noted that in a system which recognises hundreds of people each year “it is inevitable” that some people will end up on the list whom others deem not worthy.

“Unanimous community approval is not a criteria for Council to make a recommendation,” it said.

It is rare for Order of Australia honours to be revoked.

The Catholic Church’s George Pell was admitted as a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2005.

When Pell was found guilty on charges of historic child sex abuse, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would likely lose his Order of Australia.

“My understanding is that this would result in the stripping of the honours that are decided externally to the government. That is a process that is done independently, and that of course will now follow,” he said in 2019 when Victoria’s Court of Appeal upheld Pell’s guilty verdict.

The High Court, however, subsequently quashed the convictions, finding that Victoria’s Court of Appeal should not have upheld them as the evidence could not support a guilty verdict.

Pell thus retained his Companion of the Order of Australia.

Entertainer Rolf Harris, meanwhile, was stripped of his Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and Officer (AO) honours in 2015 when he was found guilty of multiple counts of the sexual assault of underage girls.

Handlin has not been tried for, or found guilty of, any crimes. He denies the claims levied against him by Four Corners. 

“I have always provided support and encouragement to women in the industry and personally championed diversity,” he said in a statement to the ABC.

“I would never tolerate treating women in an inappropriate or discriminatory manner.

“At any time I was made aware of this sort of behaviour I took action to ensure that it was stopped and didn’t occur again.”

How did we get here? A timeline of Sony Music Australia’s upheaval 

12 April: Tony Glover sacked by Sony Music Australia over allegations of inappropriate behaviour
15 June: 
Sony Music Australia under investigation by head office for harassment & bullying
21 June: Sony Music Australia and New Zealand CEO Denis Handlin to depart
22 June: 5 questions that need answering after Denis Handlin’s exit
23 June: 
Sony Music’s Pat Handlin & Mark Stebnicki stood down as work culture investigation continues
24 June: ‘It is time for change’: Denis Handlin sends note to Sony Music Australia staff
24 June: Lawyers who previously represented Titus Day in battle against Guy Sebastian could bring class action against Sony Music Australia
28 June: Inside the Australian music industry’s toxic underbelly
12 July: Law firm considering class action against Sony Music Australia inundated with responses
26 August: Everybody Knows: A five-part investigation into Australia’s toxic music industry launches
31 August: Inside the investigation that will expose Australia’s music industry
1 September: Denis Handlin speaks: ‘I would never tolerate treating women in an inappropriate manner’
24 September: Wayne Ringrow departs Sony Music Australia
11 October: ‘Systemic bullying, discrimination & misconduct’: Over 100 people break their silence on Sony Music Australia
12 October: Sacked Sony executive Tony Glover denies sexual harassment allegations & says he was a ‘scapegoat’
12 October: Four Corners episode investigating Sony Music watched by 602,000 metro viewers
12 October: ARIA releases statement in the wake of Four Corners’ Sony Music report as artists stay quiet
12 October: QMusic revokes Denis Handlin’s honorary award
12 October: ‘Distressing and disheartening’: APRA AMCOS issues statement on Sony Music
12 October: Council of the Order of Australia not cancelling Denis Handlin’s AO honour