Should Australia award knighthoods?

Abbott has just announced plans to award the title knight/dame to distinguished Australians.

Do you agree with this?

I’m not an Aussie, but this seems bizarre. Isn’t Australia one of the more anti-monarchist of the Commonwealth constitutional monarchies?

Personally I love some of the British traditions – in Britain. The famous London season is tradition to the point of lyricism: the Chelsea flower show, the Derby Festival, the Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta, Glorious Goodwood… Tradition is truly wonderful in its rightful place. But tradition isn’t retroactive; that just seems to be introducing anachronisms. Would it not be better for Australia to introduce its own system of honors, as the US has done, and as other Commonwealth nations have done?

That’s what Australia has done. The knights and dames will be in the Order of Australia.

They do have their own system of honours, but it’s closely modelled on the British system. Up to (I think) the 1970s, Australians were honoured by being granted, e.g. the OBE, the MBE, the KBE - various grades of the Order of the British Empire. Then, in the 1970s, the Order of Australia was established, and Australians were honoured by being appointed to various grads in that Order. Since then, Australian governments have not recommended people for honours in the Order of the British Empire, or other British orders.

The various grades in the Order of Australia included, at the top, knighthoods. Knighthood is the only grade which confers a title (“Sir” or “Dame”) rather than just letters after the name.

In the mid-1980s the then Australian government announced that knighthoods in the Order of Australia would no longer be conferred, though existing knights retained their knighthoods, and the associated title. The other grades continued to be conferred.

The current Australian Prime Minister has now announced that the conferring of knighthoods (with the associated title) in the Order of Australia will resume.

What “system of honors” has the US introduced?

This rates very highly on my heard-about-it-but-can’t-be-bothered-reading-even-one-thing-about-it scale.

Australia has always been fiercely democratic. My Ozzie pen-pals tell me it’s even common there for passengers to get into the front seats of taxis, right alongside the driver, so as not to seem to be “served.” A very “matey” society.

Having “social orders” of this formalized sort seems contrary to this spirit.

I suppose it could be seen in a spirit of fun. “Sir Walter, eh? Bit stuck up, eh? Too good for the rest of us, eh? Let me get a cart and I’ll help you haul your ego around, then.”

Thanks for the clarification and pardon my ignorance of matters Oz. I see that the Order of Australia is essentially the same merit-structured hierarchy (Member, Officer, Companion) as the Order of Canada on which it’s based, but it appears that the knight/dame category which was once the top honor (above that of Companion) but was discontinued is now being reinstated. And it’s the reinstatement that appears to be the subject of the OP’s question.

The Queen did have to sign off on the reinstatement (just as she did on the revocation) but the Order of Canada is also granted in the name of the Queen, so it really seems to come down to nothing more than nomenclature. Was there some greater significance to the OP’s question?

A very large number of them.


It not entirely a matter of nomenclature. Prior to the establishment of the Order of Canada/Order of Australia, the Canadian and Australian governments awarded honours by advising the Queen to appoint people to orders of knighthood established in Britain, and serving the whole of the (then) British Empire - principally the Order of the British Empire and the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Whereas the Order of Canada is established in Canada for services to Canada/the Canadian community, and is awarded only on the advice of the Canadian Government. Similarly for the Order of Australia. So Australia and Canada no longer piggy-back on the Imperial honours system; they have their own honours systems. That may be of largely symbolic significance, but symbolism is not nothing.

Secondly, what’s changing now in Australia is the reintroduction of the practice of awarding honours which carry a specific form of address, meaning that the fact that you have been honoured is going to be (or is supposed to be) acknowledged by everyone who addresses you or refers to you, in speech or in writing. Again, that’s a little bit more than nomenclature. It’s a much more up-front, in-your-face, look-at-meeee! kind of honour. Which is precisely why the decision to resume the practice will attract more derision than support in Australia.

It’s noteworthy that the Prime Minister has been accusing the opposition Labor Party of seeking to foment class warfare, and yet he’s the one reviving the practice of requiring us to acknowledge our betters by using forms of address that evoke the worst aspect of the British class system.

Do you have the same reaction to a doctor being acknowledged as “Doctor” because of the degree she was awarded? How about a surgeon being acknowledged as “Mister”? A judge being acknowledged as “Justice”?

Do you feel that all of these forms of address should be abolished and are worthy of derision? Or is it just when it is applied to the highest award that can be given, and it’s OK so long as it’s lower tier stuff?

To me it seems kind of odd that lower level awards like Doctor or Justice are acceptable forms of address, but that the highest levels are not.

I could understand an objection to all such titles. But since they do exist, there are no plans to do away with them and plenty of senior figures for both sides are happy to use their doctorate awards as their preferred term of address, I can’t see why this highest level award shouldn’t also get a titular address.


Can you provide some evidence that Australians will be required to refer to knights by their titles?

And you seriously think that referring to a person by their title was the worst aspect of the British class system? You really need to read more. Or even watch a couple of episodes Downton Abbey. Being expected, never even required, to refer to someone by their title doesn’t even rate in the top 10, 000 worst things about the British class system. It was a totally innocuous social custom, no different to being expected to address someone with a PhD as Doctor, and exactly as as onerous.

Not the same. A title which points to an office that somebody holds or a qualification he has obtained is quite different from a title which points to nothing but the fact that the politically powerful wish him to have a title to distinguish him from the hoi-polloi.

Not required by law to refer to knights by their title, obviously; required by convention to do so. That’s what the word “title” means; it’s how you’re addressed or referred to. If you’re not addressed or referred to by your particular honour, then your honour is not a “title”.

I didn’t say it was the worst aspect of the British class system; I said that it evoked the worst aspects of the British class system. Which is exactly what honorific titles modelled on the British honours system do.

Well, it’s not as if being knighted would entitle an Australian citizen to demand his neighbors provide him serjeanty or a yearly grain dole or their daughter’s maidenheads or anything, right?

No. But it doesn’t provide British subjects with any of these things either. It’s an honour. It doesn’t refer to any office, any function, any qualification; just the fact that you have gratified the powers that be, and your fellow-citizens are now expected to acknowledge the fact by using a particular title for you.

I call doctors “Doctor” and judges “Justice” because it’s their job title, and a certain amount of professional distance needs to be kept between us so they can do their job properly. It has nothing to do with their degrees. When they’re off the clock, I call doctors and judges by their first names.

Now, if these so-called “knights” actually went about knocking people off horses with lances, maybe I’ll call them “Sir”.

We had the same debate in NZ and for about 8 years no dames or knights were created. We did and still do have NZ Orders of Merit but without the honorific Dame or Sir, there was no way for people to express respect to those few awarded an Order.

We have returned to Dames and Knights. Personally I like it.

Our lives are becoming increasingly bland with the excision of ceremony and earned respect. We don’t wear wigs in court anymore although Australia still uses them. These historical conventions are harmless and IMHO are a reminder of how deep our (European/British) history is.

Just a quick additional point. By contrast we embrace Maori protocol and titles paying fervent respect to the culture even though most Kiwis have no idea what is going on. Speeches in Maori are common as are certain processes are automatically incorporated into official ceremonies.

I switch off but at the same time recognise Maori language and protocol are confined to these small isles and important to us.

Keeping a small part of the British Westminster traditions is easy by comparison and nicely quixotic.

For example, the MP appointed as Speaker in Parliament has to be physically dragged to his chair. But we don’t have the Scone of Scotland or the Woolsack. A sheepskin - yes. :smiley:

A Prime Minister who is being accused of having no vision for the future and of dragging us back to the dark ages opts to reintroduce knighthoods in the twenty first century. That’ll show 'em. Can’t wait until he reintroduces imperial weights and measures, and reverts to pre-decimal currency.

The whole thing strikes me as a Ruddeseque brainfart - apparently he didn’t consult with his colleagues and it is entirely inconsistent with a statement made by him before the election.

This announcement will expose him to ridicule and will further erode the governments position. It will only appeal to diehard Tories and will actively piss off the wets in the party.

This is a guy who is starting to make Howard look like a small l liberal - I understand he has even hung a 1950’s portrait of a young QEII in his office. Next he’ll be reciting ‘I did but see her passing by’.