Reverse Australia: A land is girt by Sirs

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PM Tony Abbott has announced the return of knighthoods for Australians. For the first time since 1986, “pre-eminent” Australians will be honoured as Knights and Dames. Surely it is enough reference to Old England that we are girt by sea, let alone to be "girt by Sirs", writes history editor, Dr Glenn Davies.


It's the bunyip aristocracy continuing to chip away at modern Australia. These monarchist teacup warriors are again recycling Australia back to a past that no longer reflects twenty-first century Australia.

It appears Tony Abbott has broken another promise.

In December 2013, Abbott, the former director of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy, had ruled out restoring the British tradition of knighthoods and dameships.

Within three months he has done a complete about face and reintroduced an outdated and unwanted style of honour to Australia. The honour will be known as a knight or dame in the Order of Australia and will be the nation's highest award.

At the time, the PM said he believed this was:

"... an important grace note in our national life."

Under the new system, the retiring Governor-General Quentin Bryce is to become the first dame and her successor, Peter Cosgrove, will become the first knight when he is sworn in on Friday, 28 March 2014. Abbott’s new system will have the Queen bestow up to four knights or dames per year on the recommendation of the prime minister to recognise extraordinary and pre-eminent Australians for their service to Australia or humanity.

It was Prime Minister Gough Whitlam who axed Knighthoods in 1975, only to watch Malcolm Fraser reinstate Knights and Dames a year later.

Then, after the 1983 election, Prime Minister Bob Hawke abolished the category all over again.

John Howard is understood to have rejected the idea of reinstating Knights and Dames on the grounds that the endless chopping and changing was undermining the dignity of the honour. Many of his advisers also believed the Liberal Party would be mocked and seen as out of touch with modern Australia. (Howard is reported today as saying he did not agree with the restoration of these titles and would be unlikely to accept one.)

The re-introduction of knighthoods follows another reversal of recent convention by Tony Abbott, when he abandoned the pledge of allegiance to Australia when he was sworn into office.

On becoming Prime Minister, Mr Abbott pledged allegiance:

“... to her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the second, Queen of Australia."

Other recent Prime Ministers have pledged allegiance

“... to Australia and its people.”

UMR asked, in a recent poll:

'...which do you prefer?'

It found 70-percent supported the pledge to Australia and its people, with only 20 per cent agreeing with Mr Abbott’s pledge to the Queen.

This is a peculiar announcement that couldn't be more out of step with the views of a proud and modern Australia.

David Morris, national director of the Australian Republican Movement described the return of knighthoods as

“... turning the clock back to a colonial frame of mind that we had outgrown as a nation.”

If our identity today is Australian, then surely our national honours should be thoroughly Australian. It’s time to make the case for Australia to have a head of state that is one of our own — not someone from the other side of the world.

We should be advocating a fully and unambiguously independent Australia, no knights or dames required.  

Australians all let is rejoice
For we are young and free
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil
Our land is girt by ‘sirs’

This is all so ridiculous!

Dr Glenn Davies is also the convenor of the Australian Republican Movement's Queensland branch.

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John Graham's art is available for purchase by emailing editor@independentaustralia.net. See a gallery of John's political art on his Cartoons and Caricatures Facebook page.

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