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Labor leader asks government to ‘justify’ tennis great Margaret Court’s Australia Day recognition

Labor has called on the government to justify why tennis great Margaret Court was awarded an Order of Australia medal.

Shadow health minister Chris Bowen said the 78-year-old’s stance on same-sex relationships has caused ‘hurt and anguish’ for many Australians as he questioned why such a controversial figure would be awarded the country’s highest honour.

He joined a chorus of public figures who have blasted the government’s decision.

Chris Bowen has called on the government to justify why tennis great Margret Court (pictured) was selected to receive an Order of Australia medal – despite her divisive views on same-sex marriage. 

‘Margaret Court has already been honoured for her tennis achievements … I think we would welcome seeing justification for her promotion to the Order of Australia given her tennis achievements have already been recognised,’ Mr Bowen said on Saturday.

Court is regarded as one of the greatest tennis players of all time and holds the record for most Grand Slam titles won by a woman with 24.

But in recent years she has made headlines for her opposition to same-sex marriage because of her staunch religious views.

Mr Bowan said he respects freedom of religion and religious views, but added the tennis champion has not always been respectful in the way she has expressed herself.

‘(Ms Court has) caused great hurt and anguish for many, many Australians and in my very strong view have not reflected mutual respect and respect for people’s beliefs and respect for people’s sexuality that is an important part of being a modern Australian,’ he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment on the sporting legend’s Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC) award, saying he had no knowledge of whether Court would be recognised on Australia Day.

Margaret Court is pictured in the 1960s

She is Australia's greatest tennis player of all time

Margaret Court (pictured in the 1960s) is Australia’s greatest tennis player of all time

‘I can’t comment on an award that’s done through an independent process that hasn’t been announced or I have no official knowledge of those,’ he said.

That is despite Mr Morrison being set to announce the major recipients of this year’s honours at a ceremony on January 25.

The full Australia Day honours list was set to be announced after that ceremony, but Melbourne writer Justin Smith broke news of Court’s award on Twitter on Friday.

Media outlets receive an embargoed list of recipients ahead of Australia Day, but Mr Smith said he did not receive the list – and was instead told of Court’s award by ‘sources’.

He said he decided to go public with the news because he believed it was an important debate about whether the tennis legend is a worthy recipient to begin ‘now’.

‘It’s customary not to disclose recipients until the public announcements, but I think the debate that’ll follow after the 26th will be pointless and tedious,’ Mr Smith wrote.

Poll

Do you think Margaret Court should be recognised with an Australia Day honour?

  • YES 707 votes
  • NO 274 votes

‘So, let’s do it now.’

One ardent critic of the tennis champion has been Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew, who was quick to offer a stinging rebuke of the decision.

‘I don’t believe she has views that accord with the vast majority of people across our nation, that see people particularly people from the LGTBI community, as equal and deserving of dignity, respect and safety,’ Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday.

‘I don’t believe she shares those views and I don’t believe she should be honoured because of that. I would prefer not to be giving oxygen to some of these views.’

Court’s sister, June Shanahan, has leaped to her defence and said she’s ‘disgusted’ the number of Australians trying to diminish her standing in the community.

Asked on Friday about the decision to hand Court an award, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured) said he did not believe she should be honoured

Asked on Friday about the decision to hand Court an award, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (pictured) said he did not believe she should be honoured

She told Sydney radio station 2GB on Saturday not only has she done Australia proud when it comes to tennis but has also spent the past 25 years providing food for the needy through her Pentecostal church in Perth.

‘These people that criticise her, especially the Premier of Victoria … I was disgusted with what he said,’ he said.

‘If he went over there to see what she did, he’d be regretting now what he said. It’s a credit to her, really, and there’s tonnes of food to go out to her church every day.’

Court's sister, June Shanahan, said Court (pictured) has spent the past 25 years providing food for the needy through her Pentecostal church in Perth

Court’s sister, June Shanahan, said Court (pictured) has spent the past 25 years providing food for the needy through her Pentecostal church in Perth

‘She’s a good woman and she helps a lot of people.’ 

The controversy echoes Tony Abbott’s disastrous ‘captain’s call’ in 2015 to reintroduce knighthoods and then offer the honour to British royal Prince Phillip – rather than an Australian citizen.

The bizarre move sparked outrage and eventually played a role in the Prime Minister’s downfall, who was ousted a short time later by Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party. 

Tennis legend Margaret Court (pictured) is set to be recognised on the Australia Day honours list, despite continued outrage over her controversial views on same-sex marriage

Tennis legend Margaret Court (pictured) is set to be recognised on the Australia Day honours list, despite continued outrage over her controversial views on same-sex marriage

Despite the furor, Court remains unfazed and said receiving the award will be ‘a great honour’.

‘I think over the years, I’ve had so much criticism that it doesn’t really affect me,’ she told the Nine Network.

‘I call them blessed because I pray for them and I pray for my nation.’

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