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Chris Ford: Tony Abbot and the Duke's knighthood - why did Key get away with doing this when Abbott didn't?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

This week Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott knighted Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, for his services as the consort of the Monarch of Australia.

This decision rightfully earned Abbott much derision across the political spectrum in Australia. This is the case as even many of his Liberal-National Party caucus colleagues were stunned by the decision as they weren't consulted. Simply, as Abbott himself stated, it was a 'captain's pick' - and one that could lead to him losing his own job if media reports out of Australia today are any indication.

The public reaction in Australia has been incredibly against this as well. Compared to New Zealand, Australia has a greater tendency towards republicanism. While this was not evidenced in the 1999 constitutional referendum on the issue which saw Australians vote to retain the monarchy, this was only due to the fact that Australians resented that parliamentarians would choose the president and not ordinary voters. Otherwise, Australians have either grown either indifferent or opposed to what they see as an archaic, colonial institution of days gone by.

Admittedly New Zealanders have a greater deference and respect for the monarchy as shown in opinion polls. A great majority of our population seem to bizarrely think that the monarchy is still relevant to us in the 21st century given that, for most Kiwis, constitutional issues (apart from electoral reform) have never excited much public interest or debate. Besides, the Treaty of Waitangi established a link to the Crown which is still viewed, by many Maori, as an important element in protecting their rights and relationship to Pakeha New Zealand. For these reasons, the monarchy is (for the time being) comparatively safer in New Zealand than it is in Australia.

And these reasons are why Tony Abbott has not been allowed to get away with knighting Prince Philip in Australia whereas when John Key made Phillip an additional member of New Zealand's highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, it barely passed with a murmur of public or political dissent. I do remember blogging my opposition at the time when Key did that but New Zealanders didn't really seem to care too much.

However, it goes without saying that Key's and Abbott's respective decisions to honour the Queen's sexist, racist, homophobic, disablist and highly rude consort says as much about them as leaders as it does about the honouree. Once again too the question must be asked - how many times has Prince Philip set foot on these shores and those of Australia - perhaps two handfuls of times at the most over 60 years?

Really, if Abbott and Key had been serious they could have chosen someone better than Philip to honour. In Abbott's case, though, that thought might now be crossing his mind as the political knives come out for him.


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