Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has just squashed one of the more controversial decisions of the man he deposed, ending Tony Abbott’s knights and dames from the Order of Australia.
Abbott’s decision to award one to the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, earlier this year, despite initially promising it would be award for Australians, was the beginning of leadership speculation against the former PM.
This morning, Turnbull said the Queen has agreed to the government’s recommendation to remove them. He said cabinet recently considered the Order of Australia, in this its 40th anniversary year, and agreed that knights and dames were not appropriate in Australia’s modern honours system.
This change will not affect existing Knights and Dames of the Order.
While Abbott was still in office as PM, Turnbull ever-so-gently mocked his decision to bring back knights and dames.
Speaking at a TV launch at Parliament House in March 2014, the then communications minister asked if 1983, the last time an Australian could have been named knight or dame, “really so long ago?” having just referenced that it was the same year Daryl Somers won the Gold Logie.
At the time, Abbott’s decision appeared to be a unilateral decision, without a party debate over reinstating an honour system former PM John Howard has described as “anachronistic”, even for conservatives. Read more on that here.
Even commentators including some normally supportive of the Coalition government called Abbott’s decision to give Prince Philip a knighthood “cringeworthy”, an “embarrassment”, “beyond mocking” and “out of touch”.
Geoff Gallop, a former premier of Western Australia, at the time said: “It’s a sad reflection on our country that we’re now giving one of our highest honours to someone who’s not a resident here in our own country.”
While initially Abbott called the negative reaction on social media as “electronic graffiti”, he admitted in February this year that he’d “learnt his lesson” over the “captain’s picks”.
“I accept that I probably overdid it on awards,” Abbott said during questions at his National Press Club address, adding that he’d give the responsibility of handing out knighthoods to the Council for the Order of Australia.
While many weren’t happy with the reintroduction of knights and dames, many of those who were awarded the honour were well-deserving, such as Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, Dame Marie Bashir and Dame Quentin Bryce.
Below is the full statement from the PM.