Award of knighthood may cost Abbott dearly

Award of knighthood may cost Abbott dearly

When Australians woke up on their national holiday on Jan 26 to discover that their Prime Minister had awarded the country's highest honour to the 93-year-old husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, many wondered if it was actually April Fool's Day rather than Australia Day.

The decision made personally by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to award a knighthood to Prince Philip was greeted in Australia with a mix of collective shock and hilarity. "Who needs satire?" tweeted Sydney resident Kevin Airs.

It is a decision that could cost Mr Abbott his job.

When it became clear that the mockery was not abating and was leading to questions about his political judgment, Mr Abbott backed away and admitted that most Australians would regard the decision as a "stuff up".

He promised in a national address to make no more "captain's calls" and to allow a committee to decide future awards.

But the damage was done.

Mr Abbott's decision was the catalyst for a backbench revolt and then a leadership vote last Monday, which he won by an unconvincing 61-to-39 margin. If, as many analysts believe, he is eventually ousted as leader of the Liberal Party, the knighthood fiasco will be seen as a turning point.

This was not a decision that cost jobs or wasted money or involved a political scandal, but, even according to many of his own MPs, it lost Mr Abbott the respect and trust of the Australian public.

It suggested that the Prime Minister was out of touch with the changing face of his country - a 114-year-old nation that has developed a character that is less and less consciously connected to its historical roots or its past as a British colony.

As a staunch conservative and former monarchist leader, Mr Abbott has long insisted that Australia's strong ties to the British monarchy are part of the nation's "fundamentals".

But the backlash against the knighthood decision suggested a failure to grasp that his nation has evolved, and that a decreasing proportion of Australians today regard the monarchy as a fundamental part of the country's culture or future.

This changing view is partly a reflection of the changing face of Australia. The nation has become increasingly demographically diverse, particularly because of rising immigration from across Asia.

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