Arise Dame Quentin And Sir Peter: Abbott Reintroduces Knights And Dames For “Pre-Eminent Australians”

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has announced that Knights and Dames will be reintroduced for “pre-eminent” Australians.

Abbott

The outgoing Governor-General will become Dame Quentin Bryce, whilst the new Governor-General will be Sir Peter Cosgrove.

Abbott said a small number of knights and dames would be created each year. He suggested the number would be four.

The honours would go to people who have been given public office rather than sought it. The award recognises that some people can never entirely return to private life after holding high office such as the Governor-General’s position.

The honours would add a “grace note” to Australia’s public life, Abbott said.

Abbott said the Queen had amended the Letters Patent for the Order of Australia to allow the introduction of knighthoods.

New Zealand has had a similar order of chivalry, known as the Order of Merit, since 1996.

Imperial honours were abolished by the Whitlam government over 40 years ago. They were briefly re-introduced under the Fraser government in the late 1970s but abolished again by the Hawke Labor government in 1983. Even the conservative administration of John Howard did not seek to reintroduce knighthoods.

The former head of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull, currently Minister for Communications in the Abbott government said republicans should not lose too much sleep over Abbott’s announcement. See full statement below.

  • Listen to Abbott’s press conference – transcript below (18m)
  • Watch Channel 7 News report (3m)
  • Watch a response from the NSW ALP (25s)

Media release from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

A new honour for pre-eminent Australians

On my recommendation, Her Majesty the Queen has amended the Letters Patent constituting the Order of Australia.

Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia will be approved by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

There may be up to four Knights or Dames created in any year.

This special recognition may be extended to Australians of “extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit” in their service to Australia or to humanity at large.

Henceforth, the serving Governor-General will be the principal Knight or Dame in the Order of Australia.

The first new Dame will be the outgoing Governor-General.

The first new Knight will be the incoming Governor-General.

It is fitting that the Queen’s representative be so honoured.

Invariably, Governors-General have been extraordinary and pre-eminent servants of the Australian people.

My intention is that this new award will go to those who have accepted public office rather than sought it; and who can never, by virtue of the office they have held, entirely return to private life.

The Chairman of the Order of Australia Council will be consulted on any such recommendation.

This change will not affect existing Companions, Officers or Members of the Order of Australia.

I congratulate Her Excellency the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO and the Governor-General Designate, General Peter Cosgrove AC MC, on this acknowledgement of their service to our country.

Factsheet from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Reinstatement of Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia

When will the first appointments be made (and of whom)?

  • Governors-General become a Knight or Dame of the Order of Australia by virtue of their appointment as Governor-General.
  • This means that, from 25 March 2014, Ms Bryce is Her Excellency the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO. From 28 March 2014, on retirement from the office of Governor-General, she will be styled the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO.
  • From 28 March 2014, on his swearing in as Governor-General, General Cosgrove becomes a Knight of the Order of Australia. He will be styled His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd).

How will people be nominated for appointment as Knights and Dames?

  • Recommendations for other awards in the Order are made by the Council for the Order of Australia to the Governor-General. However, for Knights and Dames the Prime Minister will make recommendations for appointments to Her Majesty The Queen for approval.

How many appointments will be made?

  • There will be a maximum of 4 appointments a year, excluding honorary appointments of non-Australian citizens.

Will people previously appointed as Companions in the Order (AC) have the opportunity to convert their title to Knight/Dame?

  • No. The titles of Knight and Dame are a level above Companion (AC) of the Order of Australia. The Order now consists of 5 levels:
    • AK/AD – Knight/Dame of the Order of Australia
    • AC – Companion of the Order of Australia
    • AO – Officer of the Order of Australia
    • AM – Member of the Order of Australia
    • OAM – Medal of the Order of Australia

Where does Knight/Dame in the Order of Australia come in the order of precedence?

  • Knight/Dame in the Order of Australia (AK/AD) is already included in the Order of Wearing Australian Honours and Awards.
  • Australia’s highest gallantry and bravery awards, the Victoria Cross for Australia (VC) and the Cross of Valour (CV), are the only Australian awards that take precedence over Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia.
  • Some honours that can be awarded to Australians by Her Majesty The Queen in Her personal gift also take precedence: Knight/Lady of the Garter (KG/LG), Knight/Lady of the Thistle (KT/LT) and Order of Merit (OM).
  • Some imperial awards no longer available to Australians are also listed higher than AK/AD: George Cross (GC) and Knight/Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).

What do you call the spouse of a Knight/Dame?

  • The general protocol is that the wife of a Knight is known as ‘Lady’ followed by the knight’s surname. There may be variations in particular circumstances. The husband of a Dame does not derive any style or title from his wife.

Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s press conference.

ABBOTT: I have an important announcement today – a new honour for pre-eminent Australians.

On my recommendation, Her Majesty the Queen has amended the Letters Patent constituting the Order of Australia.

Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia will be approved by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

There may be up to four Knights or Dames created in any one year.

This special recognition may be extended to Australians of extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit.

Henceforth, the serving Governor-General will be the principal Knight or Dame in the Order of Australia.

The first new Dame will be the outgoing Governor-General and the first new Knight will be the incoming Governor-General.

It is fitting that the Queen’s representative be so honoured.

My intention is that this new award will go to those who have accepted public office rather than sought it and who can never, by virtue of that office, ever entirely return to private life.

The Chairman of the Order of Australia Council will be consulted on any such recommendation.

I congratulate Her Excellency the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce and the Governor-General designate, General Peter Cosgrove, on this acknowledgement of their service to our country.

I expect you might have just a few questions.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, so you said the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce, what does the title of the Knight bring to, for example, the new Governor-General’s title? Does he become Sir?

ABBOTT: Yes, indeed he does. By virtue of appointment as Governor-General, henceforth the Governor-General will be a Knight or a Dame in the Order of Australia. So, as the outgoing Governor-General, it’s Dame Quentin Bryce and as the incoming Governor-General it will be Sir Peter Cosgrove.

QUESTION: Why did you want to do this?

ABBOTT: I believe this is an important grace note in our national life. I think it’s important to appropriately honour people whose service has been extraordinary and pre-eminent. There won’t be very many Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia. There may be – I say may be – up to four a year, but they will be people of extraordinary achievement and pre-eminence and I believe that no one gets to be the Governor-General of this great Commonwealth without being a person of extraordinary achievement and pre-eminence.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, does your definition preclude politicians from becoming a Dame or a Knight?

ABBOTT: Well, it doesn’t preclude anyone except people who have not given service of extraordinary and pre-eminent nature. Now, my anticipation is that the people who may receive this honour will be those who have accepted rather than sought public office and the sorts of people who have accepted rather than sought public office, might be considered to be Governors-General, Governors, Chiefs of the Defence Force, Chief Justices, people of that ilk. Politicians of course, however pre-eminent and extraordinary their achievement, have sought public office – that’s the nature of this business that I’m in: we seek public office and in a sense, public office is its own reward. But I believe this is a fitting recognition for people who have accepted public office, particularly people who have accepted public office and have discharged that office with great distinction, as obviously the outgoing Governor-General has.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, why did you not think that the existing honours system provided sufficient means to honour people who’ve done good public service?

ABBOTT: Well, that is for eminent achievement – this is for pre-eminent achievement. The existing Companions, Officers and Members of the Order of Australia continue, as they should, but this will be a higher honour and, as I said, it will be confined to people who have given extraordinary and pre-eminent service to our country.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, further to the definition, it will be a higher honour but it will be the highest honour, so how will you prevent it going to politicians if you think that they haven’t sought that public service but have had it visited upon them? And if you expand your definition, would it refer to, say, Nobel Laureates or so on?

ABBOTT: In the end I’m not going to pre-empt who down the track may be considered worthy of this pre-eminent honour – I’m not going to pre-empt who may be considered worthy of this particular honour, suffice to say that there can only be four of them in any one year. So, it will be a very select honour and it is certainly my intention that it will be directed towards those who have accepted public office rather than sought it.

QUESTION: I hazard a guess that there may be republicans who may be unhappy with this. Are you, by doing this, seeking to cement in any way the monarchy in Australian life?

ABBOTT: Well, no I’m not. Everyone knows where I stand on this particular issue. I am a staunch supporter of our existing constitutional arrangements – always has been and, I imagine, always will be. But whether you support the existing constitutional arrangements or prefer different constitutional arrangements, the fact is that the Governor-General represents Her Majesty the Queen. The State Governors represent Her Majesty the Queen and I think it is entirely appropriate that someone who represents the Monarch should be honoured in this way.

QUESTION: If you are looking for a category of pre-eminent achievement, why not come up with a new category of our own, why revert to a British system because not everyone who is going to be Knighted or made a Dame is going to be a servant of Her Majesty?

ABBOTT: One of the points that you may have missed, Phil, is that these are Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia and the Order of Australia is an entirely home grown order. As you may remember, it was created back in the period of the Whitlam Government. There were Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia from 1976 through to 1986. So, what I am doing is appropriately restoring something which I believe has been a grace note in our national life.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, now, who decides who these four Knights each year are going to be? And do they have to go to Buckingham Palace to be Knighted by the Queen?

ABBOTT: Well, Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia will be approved by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister would ordinarily consult with the Chairman of the Council of the Order of Australia.

QUESTION: You’ve said four a year but there is only two people named here. Are we to expect that there will be two more people knighted this year and do you have those two people in mind?

ABBOTT: Well, if there are Australians of pre-eminent and extraordinary achievement, they may well be so honoured at some point in this year.

QUESTION: This question about Buckingham Palace – like, where you get knighted?

ABBOTT: Well, this is really a question for the recipient of the award. Let’s not forget that the Queen is actually the head of the Order of Australia and my understanding is that it is not entirely unknown for people who receive an award in the Order of Australia, as things stand, to receive their honour from Her Majesty. On the other hand, it is also quite common for people who receive these awards in the Order of Australia to receive the honour from the Governor or the Governor-General.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, what is the definition of someone who can never entirely return to public life? And also if I may, how does this fit in with your promise to have a government of no surprises?

ABBOTT: Well, I don’t think it is any surprise that I am a supporter of the existing system and that I want to enhance the dignity of our existing system and I want to particularly acknowledge and recognise the place of the Governor-General in our system. So, I don’t think it is really any surprise. Now, there was another element to your question?

QUESTION: You say in your statement that these people can never entirely return to…

ABBOTT: Oh, yes, yes. If you’ve been the Governor-General or a Governor, there are certain things that you can never really do again. You can never really be as free with your opinion as might otherwise be the case. There are certain jobs that you could never really do again because of the position that you’ve occupied. Ditto for a Chief Justice. There is lots of legal work, for instance, that a former Chief Justice could never really do. If you’re a former Chief of the Defence Force or a former Chief of Army, there are lots of issues upon which you can never really comment by virtue of the position that you’ve held. I think when someone does accept a position of such importance and gravity in our system, it is perfectly fitting to honour them in this way.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, you ruled this out in December. What has changed?

ABBOTT: Well, I made a quite specific comment in December. I said that we weren’t intending to do what New Zealand has done and what New Zealand has done is simply enable existing companions in the Order of New Zealand to convert to Knighthoods. There is no such capacity under Letters Patent as amended. Knights or Dames will have to be specifically created.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, that is a distinction that very few people would understand.

ABBOTT: Well, I also make the point that this is a decision that I’ve made in the last few weeks, contemplating the retirement of Dame Quentin Bryce and the accession to the Governor- Generalship of General Peter Cosgrove.

Now, I’m trying to get people who haven’t had a question.Yes, Tory.

QUESTION: Could you describe for us the reaction of the outgoing and the incoming Governors-General to the news?

ABBOTT: Well, look, I don’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth but when I broached the subject with them, they carefully considered the proposition and both were happy to accept.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, can you clarify on the Governors-General – the previous living Governors-General – will they be made Knights?

ABBOTT: Well, the position is that Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia will be approved by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister who will consult with the Chairman of the Council of the Order of Australia. There’s only four at a maximum to be created in any one year. So, I can give you no better answer than that, Karen.

QUESTION: What about Governors – State Governors – you mentioned they’re eligible. Will they be automatically given one?

ABBOTT: No. Look, if a Premier wanted to make an approach for an honour of this nature to be conferred upon a State Governor, that would certainly be a matter that the Prime Minister of the day could consider.

We’re now giving everyone a second go and I am pleased that people are excited by today’s announcement! Two people will get a second go.

QUESTION: Ok. Prime Minister, isn’t it a retrograde step to be reintroducing gender into these titles, given that the Order of Australia did not make any difference whether you are a male or female? And will there be any requirement that the – for the name, there is a gender balance, or could it be the case that there are four Knights in one year and no Dames?

ABBOTT: Well, Mark, let’s see what the future holds, but I don’t accept the premise of your question because it was AK or AD, Knight of the Order of Australia or Dame of the Order of Australia in the Order of Australia as it was constituted between 1976 and 1986. James?

QUESTION: Prime Minister, it’s the 20th anniversary of your period in Parliament tomorrow. How much of a role did that play in your thinking, this being a sort of legacy item, if you will?

ABBOTT: Well, that’s a fair question, James. Look, I believe very strongly in our existing system of government. I think that Governors-General at the national level have been invariably figures of great distinction and I think they have invariably added lustre to our public life. I believe that this additional recognition will add dignity and stature to what is a very important office. No one has added more to the office than the current Governor-General who has lent enormous grace and style to our national life.

What Governors-General do is the kind of work that Prime Ministers and Ministers might in their better moments want to do but invariably don’t. They go to the places that are off the beaten track. They visit the people who aren’t fashionable. They do the events where there’s no media, and it’s very important, I believe, that both the vice-regal officeholder and the people who the Governor-General is working with are conscious of the gravity of the occasion and I think a title of this type will add to that.

Final question.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, is this now a prerequisite for a Governor-General designate to accept before they’ll be appointed? Are you in fact locking in Governors-General to an honour from Her Majesty explicitly rather than implicitly?

ABBOTT: Well, there is no reason why a Prime Minister could not change the Letters Patent if necessary to accommodate someone who, for whatever reason, was reluctant to be a Knight or Dame in the Order of Australia, but people who love our country, who want to serve our country should they be approached to serve in this particular capacity, I think would normally be happy to accept this honour because, in the end, yes, it is for people who have served our country in an extraordinary and pre-eminent way, but no one achieves extraordinary and pre-eminent service without working with others and so it is an honour for our country as well as an honour for the individual.

Thank you so much.

Statement from Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Communications and former head of the Australian Republican Movement.

Australian Knights and the Republic

As a former Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement many people have asked me whether I regard the Prime Minister’s surprise decision today to reinstate Knights and Dames in the Order of Australia as a slap in the face for republicans.

It is important to remember that Mr Abbott’s decision is not without precedent. The Order of Australia was established by Gough Whitlam’s Government in 1975 without Knights and Dames, but in 1976 Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition Government established the orders of Knight (AK) and Dame (AD) in the Order and they remained there until Bob Hawke’s Labor Government effectively abolished the ranks following their election win in 1983.

It is also important to remember that views about Knights and Dames in the Australian Honours system have not been driven by attitudes to the republic. Bob Hawke was not calling for a republic in 1983 and of course John Howard, a staunch monarchist, did not reinstate Knights and Dames during his time as Prime Minister. Attitudes to Knights and Dames have in my view been largely a function of how Australians regard honours and titles generally.

As far as republics are concerned, most countries have an honours system and many of them have an order of knighthood. The Republics of France and Italy not to speak of the Republics of Peru, Argentina and Guatemala all have orders of knighthoods in their honours system. And so if a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur can be a loyal defender of the French Republic and if a Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana can be a patriotic citizen of the Italian Republic, Australian republicans should not lose too much sleep over the Prime Minister’s decision today.

Brisbane Courier-Mail, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Courier

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