The Wellingtonian editorial: Make honours list meaningful

Last updated 13:53 07/06/2012

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Wellington is always going to fare extremely well in the New Year and Queen's Birthday honours lists.

Not only is Wellington New Zealand's second-largest city, but because it is the capital, it is the home of a large number of high-powered politicians and state servants.

By our count, 22 Wellingtonians were honoured in the Queen's Birthday list, not counting residents of the Hutt Valley and Porirua.

With some of them, there is an undeniable feel-good factor, a sort of "about time" feeling when their names are released.

However, as with all honours lists, it is generally a case of the rich and famous being most rewarded and a few of the minor honours being scattered around the real community workers.

It's ironic that nearly all those receiving the major honours, such as membership of the Order of New Zealand or knighthoods, have already been honoured many times over in various ways.

On the other hand, often those receiving QSMs and other lower levels of recognition are the real community workers, those out there in all weather, without pay, assisting the needy and the struggling.

It is revealing that in a national on-line survey this week, more than 40 per cent of 9000 voters thought the honours list was meaningless.

The constant recognition of people who are really only doing their jobs - and are being well paid to do them - can be tiresome.

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but to take one example: Michael Cullen was a long- serving deputy Prime Minister.

Does he need to be elevated to a knighthood? What did he do to demand that he be placed in such exclusive company?

Did he give "value added" service in doing his job, something that lifted him beyond the performance of other deputy leaders?

In his case, of course, the fact that he accepted his gong after being the deputy leader in a Labour Government that dispensed with knighthoods does raise an eyebrow.

If it is to have real meaning, the honours system could do with a lot more rigorous scrutiny.

Rather than primarily being a receptacle for nominations (generally by family or friends), there should be much more effort to identify the right people to honour.

There are anomalies everywhere. Graham Henry was knighted - to general satisfaction, it seemed - at the start of this year because the All Blacks won the 2011 World Cup.

There was no equivalent honour for either Ruth Aitken, whose netball team won a world title in 2003, or Stephen Kearney, coach of the World Cup-winning Kiwis rugby league team in 2008.

They were both big achievements and, it's worth nothing, their world titles were won away from New Zealand.

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While the honours lists remain so random, without any robust effort to identify the most deserving, they will continue to be meaningless for a large proportion of New Zealanders.

That's a pity on two counts.

It means the honours of those who have been chosen are sometimes viewed with a slightly jaundiced eye, and it means the opportunity to recognise the fabulous efforts of many New Zealanders who do not inhabit the front pages regularly is being neglected.

- The Wellingtonian


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