Knights and dames reinstated in Australia’s honours system

The new awards would be recommended by the prime minister and approved by the Queen, with four made each year.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Knights and dames reinstated in change to Australia’s honours system” was written by Lenore Taylor, political editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 25th March 2014 06.30 UTC

“Pre-eminent” Australians will become knights and dames at the Queen’s approval for the first time since 1989 after a shock announcement by the staunchly monarchist prime minister, creating a new tier of honour as an “important grace note” in our national life.

The Australian honours system was created by the Whitlam government in 1975 and the imperial honours system phased out by the federal government in 1982 and state governments in 1989.

But as he prepared for the governor general, Quentin Bryce, to hand over to her successor, Peter Cosgrove, Tony Abbott announced that, on his recommendation, the Queen had amended the letters patent for the Order of Australia to create a new honour: knights and dames of the Order of Australia.

He had not discussed the move with either his cabinet or his party room and said he had made the decision “in the past few weeks”.

The new awards would be recommended by the prime minister and approved by the Queen, with four made each year and the governor general occupying the position of “principal knight or dame in the Order of Australia”.

Both Bryce, who recently angered some monarchists by voicing her support for a republic, and Cosgrove, had accepted the award.

Abbott said the award would go to “those who have accepted public office rather than sought it” which means it is unlikely to go to former politicians, although they do not appear to have been entirely precluded.

More likely recipients, other than governors general and state governors, would be chiefs of the defence force and chief justices – people, the prime minister said, who “by virtue of the office they have held, could never entirely return to private life”.

It would be up to the recipient to decide whether the award would be bestowed at Buckingham Palace – something that can happen for existing Order of Australia awards – but if a future governor general did not want to be a dame or a knight, a future prime minister would have to again change the letters patent of the Order of Australia, as Abbott has just done.

The prime minister denied he was trying to “cement” the existing system for Australia’s head of state, but said that as a “staunch” supporter of the system it should be “no surprise I would want to enhance the dignity of the existing system”.

Final decisions for the Order of Australia are made by the Council for the Order of Australia, rather than a politician. But the new awards will be decided by the prime minister, who will “consult” the chairman of the Order of Australia.

The opposition leader, who is Bryce’s son-in-law, said the government would be better off concentrating on the economy.

“It’s good to see the government has a plan for knights and dames – where’s their plan for jobs? I’m concerned the Abbott government thinks this is a priority – what about jobs, health and education?” Bill Shorten said.

Abbott said the new award was needed because the existing system was for “eminent Australians” but the knights and dames would be “pre-eminent” Australians.

The national director of the Australian Republican Movement, David Morris said the move was “turning the clock back to a colonial frame of mind that we have outgrown as a nation”.

But probably Australia’s best-known republican, Abbott’s ministerial colleague and former chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull counselled republicans, “not to lose too much sleep over the prime minister’s decision”.

“It is … important to remember that views about knights and dames in the Australian honours system have not been driven by attitudes to the republic.

“Bob Hawke was not calling for a republic in 1983 and of course John Howard, a staunch monarchist, did not reinstate knights and dames during his time as prime minister. Attitudes to knights and dames have in my view been largely a function of how Australians regard honours and titles generally.

“As far as republics are concerned, most countries have an honours system and many of them have an order of knighthood,” Turnbull wrote on his blog.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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