Australian PM scraps knights and dames titles

Australia is dumping the titles “knights” and “dames” - again.
Philip was made a knight on Australias national day. Picture: AFP/Getty ImagesPhilip was made a knight on Australias national day. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Philip was made a knight on Australias national day. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The government had scratched the honorary titles, granted for public service, in 1986 as anachronisms.

But former prime minister Tony Abbott revived them a year ago during his time in office and was widely ridiculed for making Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, a knight on Australia’s national day earlier this year, instead of honouring a worthy Australian. Many point to the decision as the beginning of the end of Abbott’s tenure.

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Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who took over from Abbott in September, announced yesterday that the Queen had agreed to an Australian Cabinet recommendation to remove knights and dames from the Order of Australia.

He said: “The Cabinet resolved to recommend to Her Majesty that she amend the Letters Patent, which establish the Order of Australia, so that Knights and Dames would no longer be appointed to the Order.”

Turnbull is a former leader of the Australian Republican Movement that wants a constitutional change to replace the British monarch as Australian head of state with an Australian president.

Existing knights and dames, including Prince Philip, will retain their titles.

Abbott awarded five titles in the brief time that the honours were available. The first went to outgoing governor general Quentin Bryce and her successor, Peter Cosgrove. Marie Bashir, the former New South Wales governor, also received a damehood.

On Australia Day this year, the then prime minister announced two more appointments, to retired chief of the defence force, Angus Houston, and controversially, Prince Philip.

Many were upset that Abbott had given a knighthood to a foreigner, after originally implying it would be reserved for Australians. “This special recognition may be extended to Australians of extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit,” Abbott said in March last year, when reintroducing the system that was scrapped in 1989.

Abbott defended the appointment, saying Prince Philip had been a “great servant of Australia”.

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The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said he was “underwhelmed” by Turnbull’s decision to reverse the honours, saying the new prime minister should focus on pressing issues such as climate change.

“It says something about the standard of leadership in this country that installing knights and dames was one of the most significant acts of our former prime minister, and undoing that folly is so far one of the most significant acts of our new one,” he said.

“I’m glad they’re gone, but getting rid of these honorifics does nothing to take on the big challenges before us as a nation.”

The shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, said yesterday that reinstating the honours in the first place was “ridiculous” and “set the rewind button on Australia’s national institutions”.

“They never should have been brought back. It was a farce, a joke, a national disgrace,” he said. “It was just a rolling farce. Of course we are glad that this rolling farce has been corrected.

“With all due respect to Angus Houston and Quentin Bryce and the other fine Australians who have received them, it is not appropriate in modern day Australia, in 2015, that we are clinging on to imperial Britain through our honours system,” Bowen said.

“We shouldn’t be celebrating the fact that knights and dames are gone; we should be lamenting the fact that they came back under this government.”