Just one in three of the almost 900 people named in the Australia Day honours list on Friday are women.
They were chosen from a pool of nominees – who in many categories can be put forward by anyone – that was just 31.8% women.
Notable names on the 2018 honours list include the journalist Tracey Spicer, former senator Meg Lees, federal Liberal party director Brian Loughnane, and sporting stars such as former Australian netball captain Liz Ellis and the late “golden girl” of athletics Betty Cuthbert.
Cuthbert, alongside tennis great and Wiradjuri woman Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, was appointed a companion of the Order of Australia, the highest category.
Goolagong-Cawley has been recognised for her services to the game as a player and ambassador, and her work as a role model and advocate for young Indigenous Australians.
She has been co-patron of Reconciliation Australia, an Australian Sports Commission ambassador for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and a board member of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence. In 2012 she established the Evonne Goolagong Foundation which, according to its website, “uses tennis as a vehicle to attract Indigenous girls and boys in order to promote and help provide quality education and better health through diet and exercise”.
Spicer, who has been leading investigations into media identities accused of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia.
“I’ve never seen such a groundswell of mainstream support for a women’s rights campaign,” Spicer said. “So far, I’ve received well in excess of 1,000 messages from women, telling their stories of sexual harassment and indecent assault in the media and entertainment sector.”
She has been a prominent journalist, presenter, columnist and author, and an ambassador for a number of charities and social support services including World Vision, Autism Spectrum Australia, Domestic Violence NSW, and Dying With Dignity.
Spicer said the fact that the honours list was still just 33% women demonstrated that society needed to value women’s work equally to men’s and that there was a need to look at the make-up of the Council for the Order of Australia, “which is by no means gender-balanced”.
She was joined by fellow media identity Angelos Frangopoulos, chief executive and managing director of the Australian News Channel, the News Corp subsidiary that owns Sky News, and director of the Walkley Foundation for Journalism.
Frangopolous was honoured for his “significant service to media, higher education and the promotion of journalistic standards, and to the community”.
The chief executive of Oxfam, Helen Szoke, was named an officer of the Order of Australia in recognition of her service furthering social justice in a variety of roles during her career.
Szoke told Guardian Australia she was “truly humbled, but really chuffed” to be honoured.
Geoffrey Robertson QC, human rights lawyer and civil rights advocate, has been made an officer of the Order of Australia. Robertson has been a frequent critic of Australia’s refugee policy, warning that Australia risks being seen as “mean and miserable.
The UK-based barrister was recognised for his “distinguished service to the law and the legal profession as an international human rights lawyer and advocate for global civil liberties”. He was also recognised for his contribution to legal education as an academic and publisher.
The former Australian Democrats senator Meg Lees was made an officer of the Order of Australia for her service to parliament, notably tax reform. As the leader of the Democrats she helped secure the passing of the legislation to bring in the GST under the Howard government in 1999. The former federal director of the Liberal party, Brian Loughnane, was also honoured for his service to parliament and politics.
A number of female sports stars were on the list in addition to Cuthbert and Goolagong-Cawley. Cricketer Belinda Clark, squash legend Heather McKay, golfer Jan Stephenson and swimmers Shane Gould and Susie O’Neill were also honoured.
Walter Mikac, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in the Port Arthur massacre, was appointed a member of the Order of Australia “for significant service to the community as an advocate for gun control, and to the protection of children through social welfare programs”.
On Friday 16 people were appointed as companions – including 10 from medicine, science and technology – 67 as officers and 171 as members of the order. A further 379 received medals of the order.
The awards recognise the achievement of Australians in high-profile positions and more humble or obscure areas – three people are honoured this year in the sport of parachuting.
The largest sector represented across all four levels of award were those honoured for their work in the community, followed by medicine. Another 26 people were honoured for their work in the arts, 31 in education, 18 in business and commerce, 14 in conservation and the environment and six in the media.
The governor general and chancellor of the Order of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove, congratulated the recipients.
“We are fortunate as a community to have so many outstanding people willing to dedicate themselves to the betterment of our nation and it is only fitting that they have today been recognised through the Australian honours system,” Cosgrove said.
“Today’s recipients now join the company of many women and men whose meritorious and brave actions have enriched our community and our lives. Their qualities – compassion, dedication, generosity, selflessness, tolerance, and energetic ambition – inspire and motivate us.”