Abbott marked Australia Day by insisting that the 93-year-old Duke of Edinburgh – famed for his classic gaffes – merited the honour for his “long life of service and dedication”. The prime minister added: “He has served Australia with distinction and is patron of over 800 organisations.”
But the award of an Australian knighthood to the Queen’s husband – the royal couple have been married for 67 years – has gone down like a jewel-encrusted coronet in a water polo pool with republicans who want to sever ties with Britain and appoint an Australian president.
Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, struggled to maintain a stiff upper lip and insisted it was anachronistic to honour a British royal on Australia Day.
“It’s a time warp where we’re giving knighthoods to English royalty,” he told Fairfax Radio. “Why should we give him our top Australian honour? He’s already got a lot of them.”
The Aussies have been on the receiving end of the Prince’s legendary ability to open his mouth and put his politically incorrect foot in it. The Daily Mirror recalls that after stroking a koala in 1992 he remarked: “Oh no, I might catch some ghastly disease.”
And when meeting Aboriginal leader William Brin in Queensland in 2002, he asked: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”
Australia began dishing out its own honours in 1975, and the awards eventually replaced the existing British honours system. The awarding of knighthoods and damehoods was discontinued in 1976, but it was brought back very briefly in 1986 and was then reinstated by conservative prime minister Abbott in 2014.