[This is an opinion piece which appeared in a slightly edited version, “Get Our House In Order”, in the Herald Sun on 2 January, 2008]
In congratulating those recognized in the New Year’s Honours, we should be aware of a rather glaring gap in the Order of Australia.
I turned to Gough Whitlam, the father of the Order and said, with a straight face, “Mr Whitlam, you’re the reason 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 knighthoods myself!”
He’s not alone. Others include Rupert Murdoch and Paul Keating’s in the Thai’s “Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant.”
Malcolm Fraser added the ranks of Knights or Dames of Australia (AK and AD) in 1976, but the Hawke government removed these in 1986, keeping the Medal (OAM) which Fraser had also introduced.
No one in Canada, or anywhere, else took any notice. But they certainly did when Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Dame Julie Andrews, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Joan Sutherland and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa received theirs. As they would for Dame Nicole Kidman or indeed, Dame Cate Blanchett, who plays Queen Elizabeth I so superbly.
As the song says, “There’s nothing like a Dame.”
"Arise, Sir Kevin…"
The problem remains, Labor objects.
True, some Labor eminences have received imperial knighthoods, as did the respected former Governor-General Sir William McKell.
Dr. HV Evatt, a strong constitutional monarchist, no doubt thought his doctorate was vastly superior.
The point is, the objection is only to “Sir,” “Lady” and “Dame,” not knighthoods or titles as such.
Bob Carr wasn’t the first Labor politician to petition The Queen to remain “ The Honourable.”
And Gough Whitlam is inclined to address you as “Comrade,” even when they are a Tory. Perhaps particularly when you are.
There is a golden opportunity for Kevin Rudd, as a conservative prime minister, to fill this obvious gap in the Order of Australia.
Of all places, it’s the Church of England which offers the solution.
Because being dubbed a knight indicated willingness to fight for the King, an Archbishop of Canterbury came to the conclusion that Anglican bishops could hardly accept what is technically called the accolade.
They could accept the knighthood, but not the obligation to fight. So they were rarely if ever referred to as “Sir.”
Catholic bishops were not impressed by this casuistry, and so they had magnificent styles of address, such as His Eminence, Sir Norman Cardinal Gilroy and His Grace, Sir James Duhig, no doubt to the chagrin of the Anglican bishops and especially their wives.
The solution is in Mr. Rudd’s hands.
Restore the AK and AD, but make the accolade voluntary.
Then one day we might even hear those words, “Arise Sir Kevin.”
Or, if you must, remove the accolade, but make awards at the same level as those many of your Labor colleagues have received from foreign powers and potentates.