Australia

Australian media scorn Prince Philip 'Knightmare'

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Media captionThe knighthood is the latest addition to Prince Philip's many titles and honours

The Australian press has expressed scorn and bewilderment over PM Tony Abbott's awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr Abbott announced the news that Queen Elizabeth II's husband would receive the country's top honour on 26 January - Australia's national day.

He said the Prince's life of "service and dedication" should be honoured.

But many commentators say the move raises grave questions about Mr Abbott's judgement.

They have suggested he is out of step with mainstream opinion - as well as his own party.

Mr Abbott re-introduced knighthood and damehood honours last year, nearly 20 years after they had been discontinued.

'Royal charter for lampoonery'

"What was the Prime Minister thinking?" asks an editorial in The Australian. "It seems his political colleagues didn't get a chance to talk him out of it."

The paper describes Prince Philip as a "symbol not just of another time but another country", who is "celebrated by Brits for his howlers and gaffes".

The editorial says Mr Abbott risks further alienating core Liberal supporters at a time when he was under fire for ignoring them.

"With the odd decision to ennoble a member of the British monarchy, Mr Abbott gives those who would lampoon him a right royal charter."


Australia's honours system

  • Australia began awarding its own honours in 1975 - the awards eventually replaced the existing British honours system.
  • Anyone can nominate an Australian citizen for an award for service, excellence or achievement.
  • The awarding of knighthoods and damehoods was discontinued in 1976 but brought back very briefly in 1986 - Tony Abbott reinstated them in 2014.
  • Only Queen Elizabeth II can appoint Australian knights and dames, on the recommendation of the prime minister.
  • Republicans say the honours system is an outdated remnant of colonialism.

The Sydney Morning Herald shares the view of many critics that Mr Abbott is under the spell of Britain, Australia's erstwhile colonial ruler.

"It is as though he is caught in a bygone era of deference to the old country," an editorial in the paper says.

As a contrast, the paper praises the Labor opposition leader, Bill Shorten, who last weekend called for Australians to recognise that their country would be better off as a republic. Australia is a parliamentary democracy that retains Britain's monarch as its head of state.

The Herald ultimately takes a pragmatic view, arguing that Mr Abbott's actions will show the electorate his true colours.

"In one sense his blind spot on the monarchy will do Australia good in the longer term," the paper says. "It will offer voters a clear choice: to be part of a nation that evolves democratically or one that remains locked in a colonial past."


Prince Philip's official title

HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, KG (Knight of the Garter), KT (Knight of the Thistle), OM (Order of Merit), GBE (Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire), AC (Companion of the Order of Australia), QSO (Companion of The Queen's Service Order), PC (Privy Counsellor).

He also holds many foreign orders and decorations, as well as honorary appointments and ranks in the Armed Services.


Several papers stress that the knighthood may come to be seen as a tactical mis-step, weakening Mr Abbott's position as a leader. He is already under fire from party backbenchers for major policy u-turns.

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Image caption Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten has said Australia would be better off as a republic

"[The knighthood] gains no ground for the government and only invites ridicule," says an editorial in The Telegraph. "This government is in a position where every step must be a winning move. It has no political capital to waste."

But however damaging the knighthood proves to be, commentators say it is unlikely by itself to be Mr Abbott's downfall.

"An MP from the conservative right of the party in Mr Abbott's home state predicted it would spark fresh questioning of the Prime Minister's suitability for the job," says an editorial in The Age. "A change seems unlikely but it is the cumulative risk of errors."

A commentator in the Australian Financial Review says Mr Abbott has antagonised the opposition as well as his own base in the Liberal party by giving the award to Prince Philip.

"It is more the act of a mischievous student politician who wants to aggravate the left as part of a campus brawl," the commentator said.

"No one is talking mutiny but the prime minister needs to be careful. Liberals are averse to punting elected leaders but everyone has a breaking point."

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