Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a monarchist, was yesterday accused of sending Australia into a “time warp” by reintroducing knights and dames to the country’s honors list.
The conservative leader on Tuesday announced the move, with ministers revealing he went straight to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, Australia’s head of state, for approval without consulting his Liberal Party.
Opposition Labor lawmakers ridiculed the move, asking why he was not focusing on important issues such as health and unemployment instead.
“I’m concerned the Abbott government thinks this is a priority,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said.
He later told the National Press Club: “Are we in a time warp?”
His colleague Ed Husic said it was proof Abbott was out of date.
“As sure as knight follows dame, you know that Tony Abbott’s going to take us back to the good old days,” he told reporters.
The Australian Republican Movement was equally dismissive, saying its Web site nearly crashed yesterday from the flood of new members signing up.
“This is turning the clock back to a colonial frame of mind that we have outgrown as a nation,” national director David Morris said.
“Our identity today is Australian, so our national honors should be thoroughly Australian,” he said.
Ahead of elections in September last year, the Australian Broadcasting Corp asked more than 1.4 million people their views and found 38 percent in favor of cutting ties to the British monarchy, while 20 percent were neutral.
Abbott said on Tuesday that up to four knights or dames could be appointed each year, starting with the queen’s outgoing representative, Governor-General Quentin Bryce, and her successor, Peter Cosgrove.
“I believe this is an important grace note in our national life,” he said. “This is for pre-eminent achievement.”
The titles will go to people who have accepted public office rather than sought it, although Abbott would not rule out politicians being knighted.
A campaign is under way for cricketer Shane Warne to become a “Sir,” but Abbott played down the chances.
“Look, he’s a terrific cricketer, but I don’t think we’re going to see Sir Shane any time soon,” the prime minister told the Seven Network.
Knights and dames were introduced into Australia’s system of honors in 1976 by then-prime minister Malcolm Fraser, but abolished a decade later by then-prime minister Bob Hawke.
Only 12 Australian knights and two dames have ever been appointed.