Order of Australia: A Canadian View
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 12 February 2006
Australians may be interested in this assessment of the Order of Australia, which was inspired by the recent award of the AC to Nicole Kidman.

One reservation that should be signalled to this thoughtful and considered view is that awards within the Order of Australia are made in the name of the Sovereign, although the practice of submitting the list of recommendations to The Queen personally was, I believe, abandoned at the direction of the former Prime Minister Paul Keating.

This assessment was posted to the website of the Canadian Monarchist League:

"Nicole Kidman, A.C.

Posted by Richard Toporoski on January 28, 2006, 4:57 pm 128.100.62.19

The Australia Day honours list (26 January, one of the semi-annual days for the announcement of honours in Australia rather than New Year’s Day; the other day is the Queen’s Official Birthday on the second Monday in June) announces that Nicole Kidman has been appointed a Companion (in the General Division) of the Order of Australia (A.C.) 'for service to the performing arts as an acclaimed motion picture performer, to health care through contributions to improve medical treatment for women and children and advocacy for cancer research, to youth as a principal supporter of young performing artists, and to humanitarian causes in Australia and internationally.'

"When the Australians devised their indigenous honours system and finally broke from honours conferred by the Queen, they had to rank the various Australian honours carefully among the royal ones, since so many Australians survive who have received royal honours.

" By ranking Companions of the Order of Australia (the highest Australian honour after the award of the Australian Victoria Cross and Cross of Valour) between knights and dames grand cross and knights and dames commander of the previous orders, they were declaring their intention that appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia (as is also generally recognised in appointment as a Companion of the Order of Canada) should henceforth be the equivalent of appointment as a knight or dame, though without any titular distinction.

"This means that, were Australians still being honoured by the Queen, Nicole Kidman, like so many other well-known actresses, would have been appointed a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (D.B.E.).

"The fact that her appointment has gone almost entirely unnoticed in the international media, when appointments such as those of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Dame Julie Andrews, and Dame Judi Dench (or the Australian Dame Joan Sutherland and the New Zealander Dame Kiri Te Kanawa), were reported even in the Canadian press (Olivia Newton-John garnered more news coverage, I remember, when she was appointed merely an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.)), suggests that the honour conferred by a system created on a purely nationalist basis is considerably less (even in the eyes of what the world finds noteworthy) than that flowing from our Queen."

Mr. Toporoski makes a good point. People naturally think a knighthood to be the highest level of award-in fact many republics confer these.

It is time, surely, that the fourth level of the OA were reinstated, so that once again, AK's and AD's can be awarded.

As I understand it, the objection by the more egalitarian among us is not usually to the knighthood itself, but to the title or accolade which accompanies it. These titles have been with us a long time, and I have no problem with the title "Sir" or "Dame".

But if there is a valid objection to them, why not restore the fourth level, the knighthood, which after all exists in many republics, and not confer the accolade or title?

Yes, people will still address knights and dames by their traditional title, "Sir" or "Dame". This is balanced by the fact that some people refuse to use those titles in relation to people who have them. At least one newspaper has such a policy, although when it comes to the Pope or The Queen they revert to the use of the title or position.

This reflects the fact that in our society, the use of titles is left to the individual.

When I was a dean of law, I always addressed the vice chancellor by his title, even in informal meetings. Most other deans addressed him by his christian name. I had no intention of doing this until he invited me to follow suit - he never did.

When an Australian performs at an extraordinary level, the government should bite the bullet and restore the AK and AD, without the accolade or title if they have cold feet.

And while we are at it, is there some unwritten rule that The Queen may no longer confer a personal award on an Australian if it carries a title?

This seems to have been the practice since Sir David Smith was knighted.

If it was no more than a wish expressed by Mr Keating or Mr Hawke, why has it any currency now? After all, their writ no longer runs in our Commonwealth.