Australia says goodbye to knights and dames. Is the queen next?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reversed his predecessor's unpopular decision to bring back the Australian knighthood, prompting monarchists to worry what other royal vestiges Australia will shed. 

Rob Griffith/Reuters/File
Queen Elizabeth II receives flowers from schoolchildren waving national flags after the Commonwealth Day Service in Sydney, in 2006.

"Do you still throw spears at each other?" Britain's Prince Philip asked an Aboriginal Australian man in 2002. 

Comments like these were just one reason Australians groaned at former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's decision to knight Queen Elizabeth's husband with the Order of Australia (an honor she herself had to approve). Many expressed concern that Philip, already medal-bedecked, and not even Australian, may not have been the model candidate.

This being Australia, Mr. Abbott's unilateral 2014 decision to bring back knights and dames after its three-decade retirement was also met with ridicule. 

On Monday, Australia's new prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced that the Queen of Australia, Elizabeth herself, had approved the government's request to remove knights and dames from the Order's honors, a tradition he called "anachronistic, out of date, not appropriate, in 2015." 

While most Australians seemed to feel it was high time, a few worried that nixing knights and dames signaled the beginning of the end for the Commonwealth's constitutional monarchy, in which the Queen is head of state, a largely symbolic role.

The decision "gives all those who value constitutional security and stability cause for concern that this is just the beginning of another campaign of republicanism by stealth," the Australian Monarchist League said, accusing Mr. Turnbull of "[breaking] this nation's heart," using his own words against former Prime Minister John Howard in 1999, when a constitutional referendum to make Australia a republic and abolish the monarchy failed in every state.

At the time, Turnbull led the Australian Republican Movement.

Today, he has toned down his anti-monarchist views, suggesting that the country has more pressing issues at hand. 

But some say the republican cause is just waiting for the right moment to step back into the limelight. 

"It will be the first of a series of moves," journalist Peter FitzSimons predicted for the Australian Broadcast Corporation's "The World Today," saying he believes the Republican Movement would like to ask Australians whether they want an Australian head of state, not a British one, within the next five years. 

If republicans are biding their time, however, they may have to wait a while.

Many of the first Europeans to enter Australia did so unwillingly, as convicts banished to the Land Down Under. As recently as 2007, more than one in five Australians could still claim a criminal ancestor, yet seemed to appreciate the King's decision to send their forebears halfway around the world: last year, only 40 percent wanted to make Australia a republic, while about 42 percent opposed. 

Some credit Prince William, his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, and their young family with reviving affection for the monarchy, after Prince Charles' years in the public eye failed to inspire confidence in him as a future king. 

Others claim Australians' opposition to a republic is based more on short-term practicalities, not deeply-held views, such as squabbles over how to elect a new head of state to replace the Queen. 

With the tact that's helped her through six decades of rule, to become the United Kingdom's longest-serving monarch, Elizabeth II has said she will "respect the wishes of the Australian people," whether they want her in titularly in charge or not.

And Prince Philip? He can keep the Order of Australia among his 70-odd titles: previous recipients will not have their medals revoked by Turnbull's decision. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Australia says goodbye to knights and dames. Is the queen next?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today