I am not sure ‘earns’ is the right word, but it is, as Governor General Quentin Bryce noted in her congratulations to John Howard, ‘a rare and singular honour for his service to Australia.’
It is rare in that only 24 persons can be members at any one time (other members include Baroness Thatcher, Prince Charles, and Tom Stoppard), and singular in that he is the only Australian politician to whom this honour has ever been granted. Other Australians admitted to the Order of Merit include Howard Florey, Sidney Nolan and Joan Sutherland.
If you are not sure why he deserved to be honoured in this way, why not buy his autobiography?
The Kindle edition is only $15.25. It is a great read. Not only is Howard a good writer, but he is consistently fair to both colleagues and political opponents.
I think John Howard is a little too enthusiastic about Indonesia, where there is still a troubling level of Islamic violence against minority religious groups, and about the so-called Arab Spring.
There is reasonable concern that movements interpreted by the West as movements for democratic reform in Arab nations will only be democratic until Wahhabist governments are installed. Democracy is antithetic to Wahhabist thought since the obligation of Muslims is to work for the implementation of Sharia, while democracy places the opinions of men (and even kaffirs) above Islamic law.
Hence protests like this in Western democracies:
Islam - No to Democracy
Islam - No to Freedom of Speech
Nonetheless, Howard is right both to identify many positive changes in the world over the last ten years, and to assert the need for continuing effort and care.