Prime Minister Tony Abbott has managed to dominate the headlines on Australia Day, but probably not as he had hoped.
As part of the Australia Day honours, The Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip was awarded the Knighthood of the Order of Australia at the recommendation of the prime minister to the Queen.
Knight and dames are the imperial style honours that Mr Abbott, an avowed monarchist, himself had reinstated last year much to the bemusement and chagrin of many, if not most, Australians who viewed it as an unnecessary and retrograde step.
With today’s announcement that along with former Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston the award would be given to Prince Philip, the bemusement became a broad howl of incredulous indignation from the public, the media and even MPs within Abbott’s own party.
An unnamed government MP told the ABC that granting the knighthood to the duke harked to Australia’s past and reinforced the left-wing caricature or Abbott.
According to the ABC, another unnamed coalition minister described it as a “stupid” decision that many ministers would have opposed if they had been consulted beforehand.
The Northern Territory’s conservative chief minister, Adam Giles, said that when he learned of the Queen’s husband being granted the knighthood he wondered if he had woken up on April Fool’s Day rather than Australia Day.
“It’s Australia Day,” he said. “We’re not a bunch of tossers, let’s get it right.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who says that a Labor government would again drop the knights and dames imperial honours, told Fairfax Radio: “It’s a time warp where we’re giving knighthoods to English royalty.”
“On Australia Day, we’re talking about Australia, Australian identity, the government’s managed to find a British royal to give a medal to, a knighthood to.”
The Nine Network’s senior political correspondent was no less condescending:
Libs must wonder who can help a PM apparently determined to be seen as a joke. #jokeknighthood
— LaurieOakes (@LaurieOakes) January 25, 2015
And other voters were equally as scathing:
Giving a Knighthood to Prince Philip is like giving a Beyoncé CD to Jay-Z. Surely he could just pick one up at home.
— Adam Hills (@adamhillscomedy) January 25, 2015
Receiving a knighthood alongside Prince Philip must be like tying for the Best Actor Oscar with Rob Schneider…
— Wil Anderson (@Wil_Anderson) January 25, 2015
Congratulations Prince Philip on your knighthood, and congratulations the Middle Ages on becoming a thing again!
— Jesse Thompson (@jethom17) January 25, 2015
So TA gave Prince Philip a knighthood, kind of like someone giving Richard Branson’s wife their frequent flyer miles #philgate
— Deb R (@BrissieDeb) January 25, 2015
When your PM gives Prince Philip a knighthood it’s probably time to become a republic #AustraliaDay #auspol
— Susan Sherwood (@susan_sherwood) January 25, 2015
Speaking to reporters at an Australia Day event in Canberra, Mr Abbott said he stood by the decision to award the knighthood because “the monarchy has been an important part of Australia’s life since 1788”.
“Prince Philip has been a great servant of Australia, he’s been a great servant of all the countries of the Commonwealth,” the prime minister said.
“Here in this country he’s the patron of hundreds of organisations. He’s the inspiration and wellspring of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards which have provided leadership training for tens if not hundreds of thousands of Australians over the years.
“I’m just really pleased that in his 90s, towards the end of a life of service and duty, we in this country are able to properly acknowledge what he’s done for us.”
He then went on to describe the groundswell of criticism on social media as “electronic graffiti” which of course led to another round of ridicule, under the hashtag #electronicgraffiti.
IMAGE: Prince Philip, The Duke Of Edinburgh (Eddie Mulholland – WPA Pool /Getty Images)