Australia removes knights and dames from national honours system

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had been widely expected to dump the titles of knights and dames since he replaced Mr Tony Abbott in September.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had been widely expected to dump the titles of knights and dames since he replaced Mr Tony Abbott in September. PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia has removed knights and dames from the national honours system, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Monday (Nov 3), saying the titles were "not appropriate" in the modern age.

Knights and dames were unexpectedly revived last year by then Prime Minister and staunch monarchist Tony Abbott - prompting accusations he was in a "time warp" and out of touch with voters.

Mr Turnbull, an outspoken republican, had been widely expected to dump the titles since he replaced Mr Abbott in a conservative Liberal Party room coup in September.

"The Cabinet recently considered the Order of Australia... and agreed that knights and dames are not appropriate in our modern honours system," Mr Turnbull said in a statement.

He said Britain's Queen Elizabeth had agreed to the government's recommendation to remove knights and dames from the Order of Australia, which recognises achievement and service.

"This change will not affect existing knights and dames," he added.

Mr Abbott's reintroduction of knights and dames in 2014 was questioned, but it was his subsequent decision to knight Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip which was met with ridicule and disbelief.

"I just think giving our top award to a British royal is anachronistic," Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten said at the time.

"To be honest it's a bit of a time warp. I wasn't quite sure it was serious until I realised it was."

Republicans, who favour cutting Australia's ties to the British monarchy, had already accused Mr Abbott of turning the clock back to a colonial mindset.

The misstep over Prince Philip's knighthood was seen as one of the catalysts for a leadership challenge against Mr Abbott in February, adding to flagging opinion polls and an unpopular budget. He survived but was removed by Mr Turnbull's challenge seven months later.

He has since admitted the decision was a mistake, describing it as "an injudicious appointment, obviously".

Knights and dames were introduced into Australia's system of honours in 1976 by then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, but abolished a decade later by Mr Bob Hawke. Previously, Australians had been honoured through British imperial awards.

Australia has long wrestled with the idea of cutting ties to the British monarchy, but a 1999 referendum on the issue kept the traditional model under which Britain's Elizabeth II is head of state.