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Why can the French award Australians a knighthood but our Queen cannot?

By David Flint - posted Thursday, 16 October 2003

Richard Butler's other conversions

Just as the nation was getting over its rejoicing on the conversion of Richard Butler on the road to Hobart, news came of even further conversions.

Admittedly, one of the nation's sharpest commentators, Andrew Bolt in The Herald Sun of 25 September, cruelly referrred to these as further "flip-flops", rather than conversions. Tim Blair, writing in The Bulletin (24 September), pointed out that the man who will soon represent The Queen of Australia - not as he says The Queen of Tasmania - now believes that the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia were justified in liberating Iraq from the yoke of the dictator Saddam Hussein.

"No one could say this was wrong" said His Excellency-well His soon-to-be-Excellency, although he says he would prefer to be addressed as "Governor".


The trouble is that among those who were saying an invasion would be wrong was none other than our Richard Butler. That was precisely what Mr Butler was saying at the time when the Coalition of the Willing was assembling. Indeed he called for the resignation of the Prime and Foreign Ministers for their participation. At this time, Mr Butler declared that any invasion by the US led Coalition would "deeply violate any notion of fairness"

Then there was also another flip-flop, sorry conversion, on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Believe me, he has recently told his American audience, they existed-I handled them, he said. And yet, when the UN headquarters were bombed by terrorists-or as one of our media outlets calls them, Iraqi resistance fighters, Mr Butler told SBS they had killed the "wrong people". The question was not asked, who then are the right people?

This is all very strange. But surely Australians can assume that when Mr. Butler puts his hand on The Bible and swears allegiance to his Sovereign, he will make no mental reservation. After all, nobody could say that he was forced to take the position of Governor. And Australians will also assume that thereafter he will do as he has done before - attribute to Her Majesty words which were never uttered, nor refer to her in demeaning or insulting terms. Rather they will assume that he will bear true allegiance to her and the system of constitutional governance which has made Australia one of the world's oldest and most successful democracies.

The Order of Australia

Not so long ago, I attended a function given by the French Consul General at Parliament House in Sydney.

Towards the end, there was an impressive ceremony during which the Consul General conferred on a distinguished Australian a French knighthood, that is, the rank of Chevalier. From the citation read by the Consul General, the award was well deserved. And no one criticised it. But imagine what would have happened if the Governor had conferred a knighthood on the recipient!

At the conclusion, I turned to former Prime Minister, the Hon E.G. Whitlam, who was sitting just behind me, which makes me wonder about the standards of protocol observed at Parliament House. I said, with mock seriousness:


"Mr Whitlam, it is because of you that Australians have to go to foreign republics to get a knighthood!"

Gough roared with laughter, and replied, "Yes, I've got half a dozen of those!"

Actually, the Whitlam government only introduced the Order of Australia. It did not end the conferring of knighthoods. The States - at least where Labor was not in power - continued to recommend imperial titles, including knighthoods. Then the Fraser government added the ranks of knight and dame to the Order of Australia - and an angry Patrick White gave back his OA!

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This article was first published in the Australians for A Constitutional Monarchy e-newsletter Hot News.

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About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

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