THE BIZARRE DECISION to confer a knighthood upon Prince Philip is one of the most ridiculous acts of indulgence by any government in many years where official honours are concerned; this column believes fervently in constitutional monarchy, and welcomed the restoration of so-called “knights and dames” under the Order of Australia. There is a place for elite honours in Australia. The award to their newest recipient, however, is a farce.
It’s hard to know what’s worse: a Prime Minister making a mockery of what had hitherto been a creditable and worthy attempt to restore knighthoods at the apex of Australia’s honours system in the face of spirited republican opposition, or the ageing idiot on whom he has chosen to squander the credibility of the entire enterprise.
Make no mistake, the decision to bestow an Australian knighthood upon Prince Philip is a ridiculous and truly bizarre act of sycophancy that lends credence to Tony Abbott’s detractors where the honours system is concerned and threatens to render the entire category of honours untenable.
I have always been staunchly and resolutely a constitutional monarchist — not through any particular affection for the royal family per se, mind — and whilst I do not intend to open the debate over the monarchy or a move to a republican model of state today, I reiterate (to underline the point) that I believe a system of parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy is far and away the very best system of governance available to this country.
Even monarchists, however, have limits.
When so-called “knights and dames” were reintroduced last year, Abbott got the tone exactly right simply on account of who was included in the first batch of recipients: new Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, his predecessor Quentin Bryce, and former NSW Governor Marie Bashir.
The award made to Air Chief Marshall and former Defence chief Angus Houston today (now Sir Angus) also constitutes an appropriate acknowledgement of fine service to Australia given over a period of decades.
But a knighthood for Prince Philip?
The appointment is understandable only when considered against the backdrop of a tradition of heads of state being appointed to all the top classes of honours that apply within their realm.
But Prince Philip, whilst consort to the Queen, is not a head of state: he is an embarrassment, to the UK and to Australia, to the royal family and now, it seems, to Abbott.
Were he not married to Queen Elizabeth it is debatable as to whether Philip would find himself in demand at all; and to underline the point, British newspaper The Independent has helpfully published a chronicle of the errant Prince’s gaffes over a period of decades.
Obviously, there is little to recommend the award on a personal basis.
Maybe this honour was rationalised on the basis that at 93 years of age, the Prince wouldn’t be around long enough for the hullaballoo to linger; or perhaps Abbott — renowned as a devout monarchist, which in many respects I have no quarrel with — has simply taken too licentious and indulgent an approach to this particular conviction, and made an appointment that offers nothing to merit it.
Once again, questions need to be asked about the role of the Prime Minister’s Office and how this appointment was allowed to stand; at best, Abbott has made a “captain’s pick” that will generate more controversy around his Prime Ministership at a time he can ill afford it, and at worst it shines the spotlight on his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, whose oversight of the operation of the Abbott government has won her no plaudits with a huge chunk of the Liberal Party, and on whose behalf Abbott has gone to extraordinary lengths to shield from the fallout from what can only be described as spectacular mismanagement on a spectacular scale.
After all, the government has proven incapable of communicating a message, incapable of selling its initiatives, and those initiatives (more usually than not) sit completely at odds with the best interests of the country, what might reasonably be regarded as tough but politically saleable, or both.
In that sense, the knighthood given to Prince Philip is entirely understandable. And that, of course, is an indictment.
I don’t think today’s announcement will do much to breathe life into the republican movement — it’s more likely to go down at Australia Day barbecues around the country as a sad joke, no more — but it comes as little surprise to note that Labor “leader” Bill Shorten has leapt on the republican bandwagon very publicly in the past 24 hours, and he no doubt sees Prince Philip as the revolting new spearhead of the Left’s renewed assault on the monarchy and on Australia’s very institutions of governance.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating first championed a transition to a republic in the early 1990s at a time the ALP had absolutely nothing of substance whatsoever to offer the Australian public — and in this regard Shorten is merely emulating Keating’s lead: the difference, of course, it that Keating was a substantial and formidable figure in his own right. Shorten is nothing of the sort. But that’s a story for another day.
Be all of that as it may, however, the real problem with giving Philip a knighthood is that it’s a symptom of what is wrong with the Abbott government and, specifically, how decisions are made and “sold.”
Once again, Credlin comes into the frame; the micromanagement and control she is known to exercise over government decisions, communications, media activity and personnel issues is universally known, and so too is the resentment and anger it is generating inside and outside the parliamentary ranks of the government.
It is neither acceptable nor tenable to wield the degree of power and control over the government that she does on the one hand, and refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences that flow from it on the other; at the very, very least, Credlin — if worth a pinch of the proverbial as an adviser — should have prevailed upon her boss not to make such a ridiculous, bizarre, and downright embarrassing appointment as the knighthood handed out to Prince Philip this morning.
It underlines the uneasy but developing reality that Abbott — loyal to Credlin to the point of accusing those who criticise her of sexism and misogyny, doing himself no favours in the process — is far less secure in his leadership of the Liberal Party than he might think and than some might like, and that the dysfunctional PMO has yet again served him very poorly: this time by failing to act as a brake on one of his more wildly buccaneering but ultimately counter-intuitive flights of fancy.
I think we’re nearing the point where either Credlin goes and her rubbish — the malfunctioning administrative and political structures she has overseen — is thrown out with her, or Abbott has to go to enable her removal; there is a Newspoll due out soon, and if its message for the government is poor, then the pressure on Abbott and his chief of staff will ratchet up that little bit further.
Still, it is Australia Day, and Abbott has the newly-minted knight of his choice to present within his realm.
Arise, Prince Sir Philip of Australia!
It would be hilarious if it weren’t so damned cringeworthy.
What a farce.