“…to banish the knight does not alleviate the suffering of the peasant.” — C.S. Lewis, British scholar and novelist (1898-1963)
When Tony Abbott restored knights and dames to the Australian honours system in 2014 with little consultation, public outrage was immediate. Where were deliberations with senior parliamentary colleagues, with ordinary Australians? Was this the telling sign of a leader’s determination to act alone?
The PM weathered that storm, only just. His choice of recipients no doubt the reason why: two admired and respected Australians, outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce and former Army chief General Peter Cosgrove.
The initial outrage was quelled though many Australians and Members of Parliament continued to maintain the rage over the PM’s failure to consult. His judgment was now in question, and therefore you’d think Tony Abbott would have learnt from the backlash.
Obviously not given this year’s decision to award Australia’s highest honour to a decorated British royal, Prince Philip, was made without involving the opinions of senior colleagues. What a missed opportunity to build up popularity for this renewed award. And worse, the PM’s decision overshadowed the great work of previous recipients as well as the other beneficiary Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, known worldwide after being appointed to head the Joint Agency Coordination Centre during the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
As an avowed monarchist, the PM defended his decision, saying Prince Philip was “eminently suitable’’ and someone who “has been a great servant of Australia” and “has done a lot for us [as a nation]’’.
It’s true Prince Philip is the patron of 800 organisations and sure there’s no denying hundreds of thousands of young Australians have benefited from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award but, understandably, giving the top gong to a non-Australian has been too much for the ordinary Aussie-battler to bear.
This time around the backlash against such a decision hasn’t abated. Instead it has gained momentum among some of the PM’s staunch supporters, including commercial radio broadcaster Alan Jones, newspaper columnist Miranda Divine and media commentator Andrew Bolt, who described the PM’s decision as “pathetically stupid”.
When Abbott emerged late last week to finally front the media, his response was explained away as a ‘stuff-up‘ in the average Australian pub! Well, the average Aussie would respond, “yeah mate, and a right-Royal one at that!”
So it is no surprise pub talk has turned on Tony’s comments “urging the nation to move on”. They’re not impressed with the PM describing himself as a “good captain for the Coalition team” instead they want him to start showing the Australian public why it should continue to back such a “serial gaffer“. Even Liberal MPs have reportedly given Abbott six months to improve his electoral fortunes or “he risks losing the top job”.
If the PM survives this decision and remains leader of the Coalition, perhaps what’s required is a new piece of furniture for Parliament House, a round table where ministers can sit to discuss next year’s choice of knights and dames.
Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger who isn’t against the government’s decision to introduce knights and dames to the Australian honours role as long as it is awarded to homegrown Australians.