Sunday 22 December 2013

No Australian Knighthoods: Australian Prime Minister Abbot does not support restoration of historic Australian titles

The Queen of Australia meets with her Australian
Prime Minister
Monarchists and traditionalists will be disappointed and saddened to learn today that Australia's conservative and staunchly monarchist Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not in favour of the restoration of Australian knighthoods as titular grades within the Order of Australia. 

As the Australian Prime Minister is an unapologetic traditionalist, many had pinned their hopes on him to restore these great symbols of independent national identity; however it appears that Mr. Abbott may wish to avoid repeating the controversy that surrounded the knighthoods when they were first introduced in 1976. Whilst not an end to the matter, this will be a blow for campaigners -- for without the support of such a normally enthusiastic Prime Minister, it is difficult to see how indigenous Australian knighthoods can now be achieved. 

Speaking to Australia's Sunday Telegraph, PM Abbott said: "It's true that some people have said to me: 'What about doing what New Zealand did'...but I don't think it would be practical to just rebadge ACs. There was a rarity to their AC equivalent which made it easier for them to do this....I don't think New Zealand is a relevant model here. The problem is they just basically converted there (sic) ACs into knighthoods. I just don't think that's realistic in this country."

Mr. Abbott is incorrect. New Zealand did not convert their equivalent of ACs (Companion of the Order of Australia) into knighthoods. Far from it. New Zealand has a 5 grade New Zealand Order of Merit, the two highest grades of which were originally knighthoods but, for a short time, were renamed to non-titular grades before being converted back into knighthoods in 2009. No grades were abolished. Australia, in contrast, had a 5 grade Order of Australia, with a grade of knighthood which ranked above Companion. The grade of knighthood was abolished in 1986, leaving Australia with a 4 grade Order. The issue for Australia is therefore not of "converting" Companions (ACs) into knighthoods but, instead, of restoring the rank of knighthood/damehood (AK/AD) above Companions. That is a different matter entirely, one that is both achievable and desirable. 

As Mr. Abbott has been misinformed about this issue, it is hoped that better information might lead him to a different view.

HM The Queen of Australia
wearing the Sovereign's Badge of the
Order of Australia
Inspired by the Order of Canada, the Order of Australia was established on 14th February 1975. The Queen of Australia instituted it as a society of honour for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens for achievement or for meritorious service.

The Order of Australia comprises a general and a military division and originally had three classes: companion, officer and member. The Queen is Sovereign of the Order and the Governor General is Chancellor and Principal Companion.

It was in 1976, during the premiership of Malcolm Fraser, that the letters patent constituting the Order were augmented to include the level of knight/dame (AK/AD) of the Order of Australia, to rank above the class of Companion. At the same time a medal was also added, to rank below the class of Member. 

The Medal, which, unlike the British Empire Medal and Royal Victoria Medal, is regarded as a class of the Order, allowed for a much needed increase in the number of awards available to recognise those taking a leadership role in local communities and was uncontroversial. The same could not be said for the introduction of Australian knighthoods. 

Several distinguished Australians such as novelist and Nobel laureate HC Coombs, who had refused knighthoods in the Imperial Honours system but had been the first to take the new Companion of the Order of Australia, promptly resigned on principle -- and probably because they did not appreciate the existence of a new class above theirs.

Insignia for a Knight and Dame of the Order of Australia

In 1983 when the Labor Party came back into power, Prime Minister Hawke stopped recommending any knights or dames to the Order of Australia. In 1986 after he had won his second election he formally recommended to the Queen that the level of Knight or Dame of the Order of Australia be removed.  

During this brief period a total of fourteen knights/dames had been appointed. Although the class was discontinued, holders of the distinction were and are permitted to retain their rank and title. Today, there are two living Knights of the Order of Australia: HRH The Prince of Wales and The Rt. Hon. Sir Ninian Stephen, KG, AK, GCMG, GCVO, KBE, QC, former Governor General of Australia. 

The Rt. Hon. Sir Ninian Stephen, KG, AK, GCMG, GCVO, KBE, QC, former Governor General of Australia
wearing the neck badge and star of a Knight of the Order of Australia, along with the sash, sash badge and star of
a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, the star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael & St. George and the star of a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.


It is interesting to wonder whether, had there been more Australian knights, Mr. Abbott might have been persuaded to reach a different decision and follow the precedent set by his neighbour, Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand, who encountered little problem restoring indigenous knighthoods to New Zealand in 2009. The decision was popular and the public response was highly enthusiastic.

New Zealand shows that nations can be modern, dynamic and progressive global leaders without abandoning their traditions, honours and symbols. 

HM The Queen of New Zealand wearing
the insignia of the Order of New Zealand,
the New Zealand Order of Merit and the
Queen's Service Order
Established in 1996, the New Zealand Order of Merit original comprised five classes the two highest of which (knight/dame grand companion and knight/dame companion) conferred a knighthood or damehood. 

On 10 April 2000 it was announced that following the earlier recommendations of the Prime Minister’s Honours Advisory Committee (1995) The Queen had approved the discontinuance of the two titular classes and their replacement with two new designations: principal companion and distinguished companion. These changes were instituted by a Royal Warrant dated 18 May 2000. 

The first appointments to the re-designated levels were made in The Queen’s Birthday Honours issued on 5 June 2000. The five classes became: principal companion, distinguished companion, companion, officer and member.

Those who were previously invested as knights or dames of the New Zealand Order of Merit were permitted to continue to bear the honorific; the wife of a knight, provided she used her husband’s surname, could continue to bear the courtesy title of ‘lady’ before the surname.

HE The Governor General of New Zealand, Lt. Gen. The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, invests Sir Paul Holmes as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit on 16 January 2013.
In March 2009 it was announced that, upon the approval of HM The Queen, the titles of knight and dame grand companion and knight and dame companion were to be reinstated. There had been considerable belief that the removal of knighthoods had diminished the value of the two highest classes of the New Zealand Order of Merit. A visible titular honour was regarded as the most appropriate means of celebrating success at the highest levels of national life.  The first appointments to the reinstated levels were made in The Queen’s 2009 Birthday Honours List. 

The 85 New Zealanders who were appointed principal companions and distinguished companions between 2000 and 2008 were afforded an opportunity to be re-designated to the appropriate level of knight/dame grand companion or knight/dame companion. 72 of those eligible opted to convert to the appropriate titular honour, a clear indication of the popularity of knighthoods.

The quite remarkable fact that 85% of recipients chose to convert their non-titular honours into knighthoods/damehoods reveals precisely how valued these titles are across the vast spectrum of society -- people of all classes and political views appreciate the distinction of titular honours. 

It is highly regrettable that the current Australian Prime Minister, a traditionalist in so many other areas, has failed to appreciate the great good that the restoration of knighthoods to the Order of Australia would do for the country. 

Let us hope Mr. Abbott's mind can be changed.


Bunta said...

Looks like your wish has come true, Abbott not being true to his word again

Anonymous said...

Now that his mind has been changed, your views would be interesting
Thanks for your great blog
Down Under