Abbott creates his own Knights and Dames

RICHARD LAWSON
Last updated 13:20 26/03/2014
Tony Abbott
Reuters
GOOD LUCK: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott raises a toast to Quentin Bryce during the governor general's farewell reception at Parliament House yesterday.

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed that he did not take his decision to reintroduce dames and knights to the country to his colleagues as Labor criticiss the move as a distraction from a bad week for the government.

Abbott told Fairfax radio 3AW that the decision was his, and was not taken to cabinet or the party room.

"I consulted with a number of senior colleagues," he said. "I took some soundings in the community but in the end it was my recommendation to the Queen which she graciously accepted."

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek described the surprise announcement as a distraction, saying Abbott has "had a bad week in parliament", which included the stepping down of his Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos and comments by Attorney-General George Brandis that Australians have "a right to be bigots".

"None of these things are going quite the way the government had intended so they do a quick look over here distraction," she told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Plibersek said the announcement that up to four knights or dames would be appointed in any year showed the government had got its "priorities all wrong".

"It is true that you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time but they're not doing much of either," she said.

"The fact that they're focusing on distractions like this when we've got cuts to health and education, jobs being lost, cutting benefits to orphans of war veterans, it just strikes me as really missing the main game."

Labor MPs have also ridiculed the move as a retrograde step.

Western Sydney MP Ed Husic said questioned whether Abbott could "get the Back to the Future franchise back".

"Sure as knight follows dame, Tony Abbott's going to take us back to the good old days," he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

"I think Tony Abbott wants to play Marty McFly."

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen labelled the decision as "extraordinary".

"Is he going to announce his car plan today is Toranas and Cortinas?" Bowen said.

"Are we are about to see him announce vinyl records are coming back? We've got a prime minister who's in the reverse gear when it comes to Australia's national political system."

Meanwhile, comments by Liberal MPs that they were not told of the intention to reinstate the honour has raised questions about how the move was planned.

Abbott's parliamentary secretary Josh Frydenberg told reporters on Wednesday that he personally did not know the Prime Minister was going to announce a return to knights and dames.

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Liberal MP Russell Broadbent said the Prime Minister did not take the matter to the party room cabinet and Tuesday's announcement was an "interesting surprise".

Despite the topic becoming a running joke on social media overnight, Attorney-General George Brandis told Radio National on Wednesday that the decision was "emblematic of the way in which Australia sees itself".

"Australia dallied in the 1990s with the idea of becoming a republic and turned its face against it," Senator Brandis said.

"If you look at any opinion poll you will see a gradual weakening of support for republicanism.

" Abbott . . . is absolutely in sync with the trend of opinion in the Australian community."

The Greens' Adam Bandt also poked fun at the "absurd" decision.

"This is not Game of Thrones," he told reporters. "It shows a government bereft of ideas, and a social policy that isn't even stuck in the last century, it's stuck centuries ago."

Independent senator Nick Xenophon joked that instead of knights and dames there should be "bonza blokes" and "grouse sheilas".

Labor senator Doug Cameron said he was gobsmacked by the announcement. "We're going back 100 years to have Lord Brandis finally get his wish that we become a monarchy," he said.

- AAP

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