Twirling towards freedom

Knights and Dames: A decisive step backwards

Tony Abbott yesterday announced a bold, innovative plan to deal with pressing issues from the past century. Without consulting his cabinet or party room, the Prime Minister has decided to reinstate the old honours system that was done away with in 1986. This decisive step backwards was made because the existing system was for “eminent Australians” whereas the new knights and dames of the Order of Australia will be for “pre-eminent” Australians, said Abbott.

Just three months ago Abbott said that it would be “impractical” to bring back knights and dames, after critics within the Liberal Party dismissed the idea as being a “bunyip aristocracy.” When reminded of this by reporters at yesterday’s press conference, Abbott explained, “Well, I made a quite specific comment in December. I said that we weren't intending to do what New Zealand has done and what New Zealand has done is simply enable existing companions in the Order of New Zealand to convert to Knighthoods. There is no such capacity under Letters Patent as amended. Knights or dames will have to be specifically created.”

When it was pointed out that this distinction was one that very few people would understand, Abbott replied only that, “this is a decision that I’ve made in the last few weeks.”

It’s a stubbornly regressive move, placing higher emphasis on a past that has long been done away with and was only an inherited system to begin with. Rather than “enhancing the dignity of the existing system,” as Abbott claims, it reasserts that old notion that, try as we might, Australians just aren’t as sophisticated as our colonial masters.

The new honours won’t be bestowed by a council, but by the Prime Minister, who will merely consult the chairman of the Order of Australia. It isn’t clear why the new awards system is at all necessary, what was wrong with the old system, or why changing it should be a priority now, but by consulting with nobody, Abbott’s message is clear. It doesn’t matter how much incredulous eye-rolling, Twitter hashtags, Shakespearean parodies, jokes about ‘Sir Pository of Wisdom’ or Game of Thrones memes the new announcement is met with: Abbott is in charge, and he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. 

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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