May 6

Republican politicians’ foreign knighthoods


Why do Australian republican politicians accept foreign knighthoods? What is wrong with Australian ones?  

I was thinking of this in the context of the timely reintroduction of knighthoods in New Zealand with The  Queen  knighting   the Governor-General of New Zealand,  Sir Anand Satyanand, at Buckingham Palace.  

Sir Anand’s award is not an imperial award, as republicans may suggest. He is a Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. It is of course a New Zealand, and not a British Order.


Sir David Smith has reminded me of the example of Gough Whitlam, the former Prime Minister. And thta reminded me of a  Bastille Day ceremony in Sydney a few years ago, where the French Consul – General conferred a knighthood on an Australian citizen.

At the conclusion, I turned to Mr Whitlam, who was sitting in the row behind me, and said, with a straight face, “'Mr Whitlam, you are the reason why Australians have to go to a foreign republic to get a knighthood.”

“He threw back his head laughing and said 'Yes, I have five or six of those myself!”

Sir David reminds me that Gough seemed ready to accept every foreign honour he could lay his hands on.  He holds eight foreign honours from sundry republican presidents and a foreign monarch.

Yet he spurned appointment to The Queen’s Privy Council (which would have given him the prefix Rt. Hon.) and set a damnable precedent for all of his successors, save one.

Malcolm Fraser accepted appointment to the Privy Council and recommended it for Governors-General Sir John Kerr, Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen, as well as for senior ministers the Rt. Hon. Doug Anthony and the Rt. Hon Reg Withers.

Incidentally, let us not forget that while Mr. Fraser and Mr Anthony turned their backs on the Crown in 1999 and jumped on the republican bandwaggon, Mr Withers distinguished himself by strongly  affirming of his allegiance to the Crown not only  as a delegate to the 1998 Constitutional Convention but also in his superb advocacy for the No case during the 1999 referendum campaign.

The question remains. Why did Mr. Whitlam, and why do so many republican politicians spurn such honours from The Queen of Australia, but accept them from foreign presidents and monarchs?  

Where is their loyalty?


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