[King George V knights Sir John Monash on the battlefield]
In 1975, on the recommendation of the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, The Queen approved the creation of a three level Order of Australia.
The government intended that it would supersede all other honours for Australian purposes.
The Queen is the Sovereign Head of the Order of Australia and the Governor-General is the Principal Companion. As Chancellor, the Governor-General is charged with the administration of the Order. The Official Secretary to the Governor-General is the Secretary of the Order.
...Knights and Dames....
The Fraser Liberal Government (1975–83) began recommending Imperial honours again and added a fourth level of knight (or dame) to the Order of Australia. .
This level was removed by the Hawke Labor Government (1983–91). Proposals to restore this were rejected by the Howard Liberal Government (1996-2007)
The awards of knighthoods and ranks in Imperial honours orders continued to be recommended by State Coalition governments, but were suspended under State Labor governments. They were brought to an end by The Queen in 1994.
Knights and dames and others holding Imperial honours retain legal recognition, for instance in the Australian Order of Precedence.
...Sovereign’s personal honours ....
The Queen of Australia may confer honours upon Australians where these emanate from her personally rather than on the advice of government, in particular the Order of the Garter (last awarded to former Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen, 1994), the Order of the Thistle (last awarded to former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, 1963), the Order of Merit (last awarded to Dame Joan Sutherland, 1991), the Royal Victorian Order (the Knighthood was last awarded to David Smith, 1990), and the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (for services to St John Ambulance).
The absence of a fourth level of the Order of Australia makes it difficult to compare with imperial an dforeign orders. In the meantime politicians who object to imperial knighthood seem to have no objection to accepting foreign knighthoods, and to seeking approval to the retention of the honorific “ the Honourable”.
Australian honours do not obtain great recognition internationally in contrast with knighthoods – henc ethe high take up of the offer of the New Zealnd government to allow certain recitionet of NZ honours to take one.
The objection to knighthood sdoes not seem to be to the knighthood itself but rather to the titles. We have suggested a compromise in these columns based on a precedent offered by bishops of the Church of England.
For some time it has been the practice of Anglican bishops to refuse the accolade, that is the dubbing, the stroke on the shoulder with the sword, and consequently, the title “Sir”.
This is because a knight would once give military service to the king, and the clergy did not think this appropriate for them. So when they accepted a knighthood, they would not them take the title, “Sir”. This was also the practice in Australia among Anglicans, Sir Marcus Loane being an exception.
Catholic bishops in Australia would normally take the accolade, and proudly used the title granted by their Sovereign. You can imagine that there might have been a tinge of regret among the Anglican bishops ( and their wives) when they read or heard of the activities of, say, Sir Norman Cardinal Gilroy or Archbishop Sir James Duhig.
Perhaps this Anglican practice provides the solution. Reinstate the AK and the AD, but allow recipients to reject the accolade. Those who don’t want the title could reject the accolade; those who were happy with it could accept it. Is this the solution?
Former Australian prime minister John Howard has been presented with a rare and exclusive accolade from the Queen, but insists the greatest honour of his public life remains his time in Australia's top job. This report was broadcast by the Australian network,Channel 7 on 1 June 2012.
AAP reports that during a meeting with the monarch at Buckingham Palace Mr Howard, received the insignia of a member of the Order of Merit, a credit for which recipients are hand-picked by the Sovereign for their distinguished service.
"It's a very nice honour and I feel particularly touched that I should have received it," Mr Howard told reporters, proudly clutching his medal.
"I am touched by the personal compliment but I also see it very much as a mark of the Queen's great affection and esteem for Australia.
"What I did, of course, I did as an Australian and as prime minister of the country. It was the greatest privilege anybody can have to be prime minister of Australia and I certainly see it very much as a mark of respect for our country."
The Order, of which there can be only 24 living recipients, is also held by Prince Philip, Prince Charles, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, broadcaster David Attenborough and playwright Tom Stoppard.
According to AAP, Mr Howard and ecologist Robert May are the only current Australian members of the Order, while opera singer Joan Sutherland and artist Sidney Nolan are among past recipients. Mr Howard was accompanied by his wife Janette and youngest son Richard for Thursday's palace visit.
"The greatest honour I've had in my life, in public life, is to have been prime minister of Australia. That's an honour that can never be surpassed. But as a particular personal honour of this kind, I treasure it," Mr Howard said of his latest award.
Having already been appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia, and receiving the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, protocol will see the latest honour take precedence on the chest of Australia's 25th prime minister.
"He's too humble to say too much about it, but it means a great deal and it means an enormous amount to us," his son Richard said.
A report on the earlier announcement of the award follows.
It is a sign of the times that the suggestion knighthoods be returned no longer earns the media's automatic ridicule.
Writing in the Murdoch online application, The Punch, Tory Maquire has even suggested “the time might be ripe for a swing back to the days of Sirs and Dames.” In ”Arise Sir John? Who dares bring back the knighthood” she explains the reason could be be John Howard’s induction into the Order of Merit. Alternatively it could be the fact that The Queen finished 2011 “with a grin as wide as the Empire of old.”
[ The Queen of New Zealand knights Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae ]
She recalls that the New South Wales Parliament has reinstated the oath of allegiance , and the current opinion polling suggests that some time in the next two years there is a strong possibility that a “ former head of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy” - Tony Abbott - will become the Prime Minister.
She recalls that the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key not only restored titles but “even allowed the existing Principal Companions and Distinguished Companions to convert their honours into a Knighthood or Damehood - and sure enough 72 of the 85 people eligible took him up on it. Well, you would, wouldn’t you.”
“Bob Hawke was the one who froze Australian Knighthoods. Reinstating them would be a bit complicated, but Chief Monarchist David Flint says legally it could be done – just that it would probably be a good idea to run it past the Palace.”
As reported here earlier, The Queen has been pleased to appoint former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard to the Order of Merit.
In interviews with the media including Channel 7, ACM's Professor David Flint congratulated Mr. Howard insisting that his support for the monarchy was probably not the reason for the award.
Rather it probably followed his outstanding achievements as one of the nation's leading former prime ministers and one who had attained so much, including the liberation of another country, East Timor.
It was his fairness and decency in relation to the republic referendum which would have been noticed , rather restricted campaigning towards the end. Remember he said, the Queen observe the strictest neutrality in relation to the referendum.
In addition it would have been noticed that when he was in opposition he supported policies in which he believed notwithstanding the fact that they were proposed by the government. In response to a question, Professor Flint suggested suggested a return of knighthoods, as in New Zealand..