The view from Billinudgel

Dubious honour
The Queen’s Birthday Honours list is not just anachronistic, it’s plain silly

Former prime minister Tony Abbott and former speaker Bronwyn Bishop. Images © Ryan Pierse / Tracey Nearmy / Getty

No sensible person would knock back the chance for a day off. But, having said that, surely the meaningless ritual of the Queen’s Birthday is past its use-by date.

For starters, it is not even Liz’s actual birthday, and the date of the public holiday varies from state to state. Most states loyally follow the mother country, where the anniversary of some monarch is used as an excuse for a long weekend in what England laughingly calls summer. In Australia, there has to be a better reason for a beer and a barbecue.

The idea of conferring Australian honours to Australians in the name of British royals is more than anachronistic; it is plain silly, as Tony Abbott found out in 2015 when he bestowed an Australian knighthood on Prince Philip. The country baulked and Abbott never really recovered from the humiliation.

But now Abbott himself has been awarded the glittering bauble of Companion of the Order of Australia – the top gong. There is nothing remarkable about that; it goes with the job of prime minister (that is, for those prime ministers vain and unthinking enough to accept it). And it has nothing to do with achievement either. If Vlad the Impaler became prime minister, he would automatically collect a Companionship.

Abbott points to his attempt to bring down the deficit in the horror 2014 budget, which was rejected by many as unfair and partisan. He also wants praise for stopping the boats and ending the carbon tax, triumphs that many see as on par with those of Rio Tinto in Juukan Gorge.

But if Abbott’s record is contestable at best, what can one say of Bronwyn Bishop’s legacy, which includes serial failures on all levels? Successive Liberal leaders dropped her from the front bench – removing her from the portfolios of health, aged care and veterans’ affairs – before she secured the plum sinecure of the speakership, where she was widely viewed as the worst and most biased to have ever held the job.

Bishop was forced to resign over the misuse of a helicopter for party purposes, and shortly afterwards she lost preselection from her safe seat. She then found a new career as a commentator at Sky News, where she has spent her retirement ranting about imaginary socialist conspiracies.

Presumably, Bishop’s Order of Australia was a reward for her support for the monarchy. But another award went to acerbic commentator and passionate republican Mike Carlton, who had to defend himself by explaining that the gong had been the brainchild of Gough Whitlam – the Queen had nothing to do with it. True enough, but then why are the honours announced annually on the Queen’s Birthday?

If there was ever a reason for this postcolonial grovelling to take place, it should have been swept away long ago by an independent Australia. If we have to throw lollies to the massed hordes of bureaucrats, the ambitious politicians and the smattering of sportspeople and scientists, let’s just do it quietly – and preferably in a darkened room somewhere.

Some have earned recognition, but most have simply done their jobs without stuffing up too badly (Bronwyn Bishop, of course, excepted). We can do without celebrating Denis Napthine (really?), and we can most certainly do without the nonsense of the Queen’s Birthday. If we have to acknowledge it at all, it should be quite sufficient to wish her many happy returns on a Hallmark greeting card.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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