Monday, December 7, 2009

Do we need the British honours system?

About now a list of recipients of honours to be announced on New Years Eve will have been decided upon.

Back in March, Prime Minister John Key announced that orders of chivalry would once again be awarded to recognize services to New Zealand. Knighthoods were abolished by the previous government and titles were replaced by the honours Principal and Distinguished Companions of the Order of New Zealand. Mr Key said the replacement honours had no resonance with the public and it was a "pleasure" to reverse the move.

Undoubtedly for most people The Order of New Zealand means about as much as The Order of Guatemala, but do we need British Sirs and Dames? They represent an olde worlde 'old school tie' syndrome and basically you got a knighthood for being where you were, rather than for what you had actually done. With a few notable exceptions (for example, Ernest Rutherford, Edmund Hillary, Howard Morrison) most NZ recipients of knighthoods have been fuddy-duddies at best, crooks at worst (e.g. Messrs Fay & Richwhite).

Order of the Bath, Order of St Michael and St George, Order of the British Empire, Order of the Companions of Honour and Knight Bachelor.... er, yeah, real New Zealand isn't it? Phil Goff, who replaced Ms Clark as leader of the Labour Party said at the time, "It seems odd that we move back to having sirs, madams and dames when we thought that that was part of an English colonial system, not one that reflects New Zealand as a truly independent country."

And by the way, if you happen to hold an honour from any other country, you're out of luck: the official rules state: "New Zealand does not recognize foreign titles of nobility (other than those previously recognised by the Crown under a British Royal Warrant dated 27 April 1932). A foreign citizen holding a title shall cease to use the title in question on becoming a New Zealand citizen."

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