The trouble with titles

02:12, Jun 05 2012

Before she left Parliament to head the United Nations Development Programme in New York, former Prime Minister Helen Clark foresaw New Zealand giving up the British monarchy as head of state. She also criticised the Key Government for restoring the titular honours her government had scrapped in 2000.

Ms Clark subsequently accepted New Zealand's highest accolade, becoming a Member of the Order of New Zealand. She regarded it as a privilege, while emphatically maintaining she "certainly would not" have accepted a damehood.

When titular honours were restored in 2009, 84 New Zealanders were invited to have their non-titular honours converted, enabling them to be installed as dames and knights. Those who accepted included Margaret Shields, a former Labour Cabinet minister. She became a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, although Ms Clark pressured her to decline.

Dame Margaret said she accepted the title because of "overwhelming support" from the public and people who had supported her for years.

The latest honours list includes a knighthood for Michael Cullen, deputy leader of the Labour Party when the titles were scrapped. He is unabashed, saying he wasn't the most enthusiastic supporter of the abolition of knighthoods and is "very chuffed" at becoming Sir Michael. He also ventured his views on the role of the monarchy. He had once been "misinterpreted" as pro-republican, but he is a traditionalist and believes support for the monarchy probably is at a high level in New Zealand.

Regardless of his explanation and the fact that his honour is being bestowed under a National government, his acceptance inevitably will be criticised. The Duke of Edinburgh's elevation to the Order of New Zealand is open to challenge too, on the grounds that it is an honour that should be limited to people who have done something significant for New Zealand.

That's the problem with honours lists, whether or not titles are involved. Worthiness is always a matter of opinion. Moreover, too many people are honoured for having done jobs they were paid to do, while too many others go unrecognised, despite voluntarily and tirelessly working to help people in their communities.


Waikato Times