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The New Year's Gongs - Time To Do Away With Sirs And Dames (Again)

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Well I would like to congratulate Sir Peter Jackson for getting a knighthood and Helen Clark for her elevation to the Order of New Zealand but as for the rest - oh dear! Here I will outline why we should do away (once again) with the concept of knights and dames.

Before I go any further, I would like to pass some further comment on our new knights and dames.

Sir Doug Myers does not deserve a knighthood. As one of the founders of the Business Roundtable, he and his band of merry rich men and women have advocated for policies that have seen the poor robbed in order to pay the rich. Purely the knighthood is just payback time for one of National's biggest political donors as well. This is all the proof (if any were required) that the Tories are back in power and keen to reward their big business mates.

But out of the better known honorees, I think that Peter Jackson does deserve high recognition. He has contributed to the revival of New Zealand as a film making destination and his bringing of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy to the big screen was a triumph for both him and Kiwi cinema. Ditto for Helen Clark. While I disagreed with Clark's continuing adherence to Rogernomics whilst in government, in other respects she did lead this country competently and effectively for nine years.

However, the real nub of the issue is this - New Zealand under National has reinstituted an ancient British practice, long done away with in other parts of the British Commonwealth. Australia and Canada both ditched knighthoods and damehoods in the later part of last century. New Zealand did the same in early 2000, ironically under Helen Clark. However, we have gone against the grain and restored this feudalistic system, albeit, within a local and not British derived context.

Still, top royal honours (as is the case in Britain and other parts of the Commonwealth) are rewarded as political favours in many cases. The decision to confer them in this country is made via the Cabinet Honours and Appointments Committee, which is chaired by the Prime Minister. Granting honours (particularly important ones such as knighthoods and damehoods) is therefore a political act. Simply put, that's why Doug Myers and Helen Clark are on the list this time round.

But in saying this, I am not criticising the awarding of honours for community service to ordinary New Zealanders. In fact, I know a couple of lower level past honorees personally. That's why I have no problem with awards for community service being made to long standing volunteers and popular high achievers such as sportspeople and artists. Indeed, the honours system should be changed so that more ordinary people are honoured and, in particular, have the ability to be conferred with top honours. In other words, wouldn't it be great if we could confer a top New Zealand honour (like the Order of New Zealand) on say an 85 year old community volunteer who does 40 hours or more a week of voluntary work for various agencies?

That would be one aspect of a revamped honours system that I would like to see. Preferably we should do away once again with knighthoods and damehoods. We should make the system far more transparent than it currently is too and appoint a lay panel of ordinary Kiwis to select potential honorees. This panel should be free of political interference but would be instructed to honour ordinary people in the main Our honours sytem should be entirely indigenous too in that it should recognise our egalitarian and Treaty-based values. Ideally, it should be one that would transfer successfully into a New Zealand-based republican constitutional structure when the time comes.

So I say to everyone who was honoured today (except perhaps for Myers) congratulations. But what we do need is a truly Kiwi honours system that recognises ordinary people who do a great deal of work within our communities.

And who could oppose that idea?


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