Australia can give out gongs to whoever they like - including Sir John Key video

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Australian Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove invests our former prime minister with the insignia as an Honorary Companion in the Order of Australia.

OPINION: Even in his more self-congratulatory moments, it's unlikely Sir John Key ranks himself as a statesman alongside Nelson Mandela or as saintly as Mother Theresa.

Neither for that matter would he have tickets on himself as a peer of Jacques Cousteau when it comes to ocean exploration - although he did once go kayaking with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

But on Tuesday he stepped forward to receive the same gong as those other illustrious luminaries - an honorary Companion in the Order of Australia. In his case, for services to trans-Tasman relations.

Sir John said he was "shocked and stunned" when it was announced he would receive the award.

Sir John said he was "shocked and stunned" when it was announced he would receive the award.

Key himself made the point that the top Australian honour is given at two levels - the Mandelas of this world, and "myself". 

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Other Kiwis to receive it have been two politicians - former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer and former deputy Sir Brian Talboys - opera singer Dame Kiri te Kanawa and eminent geochemist and planetary scientist Stuart Ross Taylor.

Turnbull was no doubt pivotal in arranging for Key to get the medal - he clearly held Key in high regard as a role model and famously reacted to Key's resignation last December with the text message "say it ain't so, bro!".

There will be those who point to Australia's treatment of Kiwis across the ditch, from the deportation of prisoners to denying welfare and other rights to long term residents.

But it would have been churlish of Key to reject the honour on that basis.

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Key says having a great personal relationship with his Aussie counterpart certainly can't hurt if awards are bestowed.

Sure, Australia's high-handed "diplomacy" towards New Zealand and its attitude to our expats sticks in our craw - as does its treatment of refugees in detention centres.

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But there is far more to the New Zealand-Australia relationship than that, including the closer economic trade deal, military and sporting links, and our shared history.

You could cavil at whether Key has done sufficient towards improving that relationship to deserve the high honour bestowed on him.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott flew into a fire storm of criticism that left him fighting to keep his job when he awarded the Duke of Edinburgh the country's highest honour - Knight of the Order of Australia. And that to a man who in 2002 asked an Indigenous Australian: "Do you still throw spears at each other?"

Somehow it seems unlikely Turnbull will suffer the same fate over Key's gong, given his harshest attacks on our closest neighbour were usually tongue-in-cheek or sporting jibes - unless you count his mild comment on the treatment of Kiwis over there: "There is an Anzac bond and an Anzac spirit ... that surely means we might get some treatment that's different from other countries." 

So perhaps that should be the measure of it. If the Aussie public think it's fair dinkum, why should we complain?

Sir John and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull share a "bromance" moment canoeing on Sydney Harbour

Sir John and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull share a "bromance" moment canoeing on Sydney Harbour

Hey, it's their medal. They can set the bar as high or as low as they like.

 - Stuff

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