ABC Covid guru Norman Swan awarded membership to Order of Australia on Australia Day

Aussies of all political stripes slam Norman Swan being given an Order of Australia: ‘Fear-mongering alarmist who contributed to vaccine hesitancy’

  • ABC’s Dr Norman Swan will join the Order of Australia
  • The honour is in recognition of his Covid reporting
  • Dr Swan has worked for the ABC for 40 years
  • He faced backlash during the Covid pandemic 

The decision to award high-profile ABC health guru Dr Norman Swan one of the highest honours the country has to offer has sparked anger from commentators on both sides of the political spectrum.

Dr Swan was named as a member of the Order of Australia on Australia Day in recognition of his ‘significant service to the broadcast media as a science and health commentator’.

The Order of Australia has four tiers of which the Scottish-born doctor’s ‘member’ title is the second highest and allows him to use the suffix ‘AM’ after his name.

However, the decision to award Dr Swan the gong sparked anger in some quarters – given he was forced to make a grovelling apology for wrongly claiming Shane Warne and Labor senator Kimberley Kitching had Covid infections before they died.

ABC health guru Norman Swan (above) received one of Australia's highest honours for his commentary on the coronavirus pandemic

ABC health guru Norman Swan (above) received one of Australia’s highest honours for his commentary on the coronavirus pandemic 

Several right and left-wing commentators slammed Dr Swan's award with refugee advocate Shane Bazzi calling his new title a 'joke' (pictured, Bazzi's reaction)

Several right and left-wing commentators slammed Dr Swan’s award with refugee advocate Shane Bazzi calling his new title a ‘joke’ (pictured, Bazzi’s reaction)

Dr Swan’s credibility came under fire in November when he suggested the fatal heart attacks suffered by the cricket legend and Ms Kitching, both 52, were related to the virus – which was later refuted.

Journalist Prue MacSween slammed Dr Swan’s new accolade while referring to the doctor’s biggest controversy.

‘Australia is the land of opportunity, but to award Dr Norman Swan an AM for “significant services to the broadcast media as a science and health commentator” is a joke,’ MacSween wrote on Twitter.

‘Remembering the late Kimberley Kitching and Shane Warne. RIP.’

Dr Swan was accused by critics of being a Covid doomsayer during the pandemic and faced backlash for blaming famous cricketer Shane Warne's (above) heart attack on Covid

Dr Swan was accused by critics of being a Covid doomsayer during the pandemic and faced backlash for blaming famous cricketer Shane Warne’s (above) heart attack on Covid

Journalist Prue MacSween also shared a scathing tweet (above) criticising Dr Swan's Order of Australia membership

Journalist Prue MacSween also shared a scathing tweet (above) criticising Dr Swan’s Order of Australia membership

From the Left side of the political spectrum, refugee advocate Shane Bazzi also called the decision a ‘joke’ and accused Dr Swan of feeding Covid fears.

‘Norman Swan is a fear-mongering alarmist who… made disgraceful false claims about Shane Warne and Kimberley Kitching’s deaths,’ he tweeted.

‘Shameful that this is rewarded and celebrated.’

But the attention wasn’t all negative with the ABC congratulating Dr Swan on his award.

‘Norman has been a mainstay of Radio National for over 30 years, and has become one of Australia’s most respected and trusted voices on health and science,’ it said.

Journalist Prue MacSween (above) called Dr Swan's award a 'joke' and pointed to his mistake of relating Shane Warne and Kimberley Kitching's deaths to Covid

Journalist Prue MacSween (above) called Dr Swan’s award a ‘joke’ and pointed to his mistake of relating Shane Warne and Kimberley Kitching’s deaths to Covid

Dr Swan (right) has won many awards and accolades for his work at the ABC over the past four decades, including a Gold Walkley fin 1988 for exposing fraudulent research

Dr Swan (right) has won many awards and accolades for his work at the ABC over the past four decades, including a Gold Walkley fin 1988 for exposing fraudulent research

What is the Order of Australia?

About 16,000 Australians have been inducted into the Order, and another 29,000 given a medal, since it was established in 1975.

It is a modern version of centuries-old British chivalric orders and recognises exceptional achievement and service.

There are four levels of membership, including knight/dame, which has been discontinued. The others are companion, officer, and member.

Australians can also be awarded an Order of Australia Medal for ‘service worthy of particular recognition’.

Governor-General David Hurley said the recipients had a significant impact at the local, national and international level and are ‘quite simply, inspiring’. 

‘They go above and beyond, are from all over the country, and contribute every day in every way imaginable. These are the people who see us through good times and bad. They’re the first to show up and the last to leave,’ he said.

‘They’re almost always humble to a fault but I urge recipients, for today, to put aside that humility – it’s important they know how much they are valued.’

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Dr Swan defended his conclusion about the link between Warne and Kitching’s death, telling Daily Mail Australia at the time it was ‘too much of a coincidence’ they both died after recent Covid infections.

However, he was forced to apologise when Senator Kitching’s furious family told him she never contracted the virus. 

Senator Kitching was instead suffering from hyperthyroidism in the months before she died, although her symptoms were improving. 

The ABC admitted his remarks breached its editorial standards and cautioned him during discussions with the broadcaster’s management.

Dr Swan has not treated patients since he joined the ABC in 1982, but continues to hold a licence because his media work counts as medical practice.

The Order of Australia membership was awarded solely on the basis of his media commentating.

‘As someone who chose to become Australian and love this country, it’s an amazing honour,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. 

Six Australians were named companions of the order, the most senior existing tier, along with 47 officers, 177 members, and 506 receiving an OAM.

There were also 30 recipients of awards in the military division of the Order of Australia, 217 meritorious awards, and 64 distinguished and conspicuous awards.

They were announced on Australia Day alongside body image campaigner Taryn Brumfitt as Australian of the Year, and soccer star Awer Mabil as Young Australian of the Year.

Dr Swan will also appear on a newly created Covid-19 Honour Roll that includes 77 Australians recognised for their contribution to Australia’s pandemic response. 

Dr Swan came under fire in November for suggesting the fatal heart attacks of cricket legend Shane Warne and Senator Kimberley Kitching could be Covid-related, when Senator Kitching (above) never had Covid

Dr Swan came under fire in November for suggesting the fatal heart attacks of cricket legend Shane Warne and Senator Kimberley Kitching could be Covid-related, when Senator Kitching (above) never had Covid

Dr Swan graduated from the University of Aberdeen’s medical school in 1976 and has a Diploma in Child Health from the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in London.

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Medicine was not his first love as he dreamed of being an actor as a boy but his Jewish mother didn’t approve.

After graduating medical school, he applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but said his audition was ’embarrassing and amateurish because I forgot my lines’.

Instead he specialised in paediatrics, and in a quarter-life crisis moved to Australia and worked at Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney while writing medical articles on the side.

Then in 1982 he saw an ad for a job working on medical programs at the ABC and applied. His days treating patients were numbered.

Dr Swan started The Health Report on ABC Radio in 1985 and has run it ever since, alongside the more recent Coronacast during the pandemic.

Dr Swan won a Gold Walkley in 1988 for an investigation that exposed fraudulent research by gynaecologist William McBride, leading to the disgraced doctor being banned from practising

Dr Swan won a Gold Walkley in 1988 for an investigation that exposed fraudulent research by gynaecologist William McBride, leading to the disgraced doctor being banned from practising

Then in 1990 he took over running ABC Radio National for three years, boosting its audience by 30 per cent and hiring many future stars

Then in 1990 he took over running ABC Radio National for three years, boosting its audience by 30 per cent and hiring many future stars

He won a Gold Walkley in 1988 for an investigation that exposed fraudulent research by gynaecologist William McBride, leading to the disgraced doctor being banned from practising. 

Then in 1990 he took over running ABC Radio National for three years, boosting its audience by 30 per cent and hiring many future stars.

Since then he hosted science TV shows Catalyst and Quantum and regularly appeared on various other ABC programs.

Dr Swan was also the primary health expert on The Biggest Loser for six years, alongside trainers Michelle Bridges and Steve ‘Commando’ Willis.

He traded on his popularity, or notoriety depending on your assessment of his Covid coverage, to publish two books: So You Think You Know What’s Good For You in 2021, and So You Want To Live Longer in 2022.

Notable people to be honoured on Australia Day

Taryn Brumfitt, body image campaigner, Australian of the Year

Awer Mabil, soccer player, Young Australian of the Year

Archie Roach (posthumous), Companion of the Order of Australia ‘for eminent service to the performing arts as a songwriter and musician, to indigenous rights and reconciliation, and through support for emerging First Nations artists’.

Pru Goward, politician, Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) ‘for distinguished service to the people and Parliament of NSW, and to women’s affairs’.

Phillip Noyce, AO ‘for distinguished service to the arts as a film and television director, producer, and screenwriter’.

Jean Kittson, Member of the Order of Australia (AM) ‘for significant service to the arts as a performer, writer and comedian’.

Bess Nungarrayi Price, activist, politician and mother of Senator Jacinta Price, AM ‘for significant service to the Parliament of the Northern Territory, and to the Indigenous community’.

David Wenham, AM ‘for significant service to the performing arts as an actor and producer’.

Nicola Cerrone, Order of Australia Medal ‘for service to the jewellery industry, and to the community’.

Claudia Karvan, actress and songwriter, OAM ‘for service to the film and television industry’.

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