Australia bemused by decision to knight Prince Philip

Mr Abbott had been expected to put the annus horribilis of 2014 behind him and squash the leadership speculation by starting 2015 in decisive fashion

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The Independent Online

It was Australia’s national day – but many Australians, waking to the news that their Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, had made Prince Philip a Knight of the Order of Australia, wondered if it was really April Fool’s Day.

Last year, the Prime Minister was ridiculed for reviving Australian knighthoods and damehoods, after they were abolished in 1976. Today, his most loyal supporters questioned aloud his decision. “We’re expected to go out and defend it,” fumed one MP, calling it “beyond the call of duty”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

A cabinet minister described the move as “stupid”, while Adam Giles, chief minister of the Northern Territory and usually on Mr Abbott’s political wavelength, lamented: “It’s Australia Day, we’re not a bunch of tossers.”

The decision was all the more extraordinary given that, barely a year after he swept the Labor Party out of office, Mr Abbott is already so unpopular that there is talk of him being ousted by his own conservative Liberal-National coalition.

 

With federal politicians preparing to return to Canberra next month after the long summer break, Mr Abbott had been expected to put the annus horribilis of 2014 behind him and squash the leadership speculation by starting 2015 in decisive fashion.

Instead, “Libs must wonder who can help a PM apparently determined to be seen as a joke”, tweeted respected political journalist Laurie Oakes.

Conservative commentators were aghast. “Is there no one in the [Mr Abbott’s] office capable of uttering the simple phrase ‘This is a dumb idea that is all pain and no gain’?” asked Chris Kenny, a columnist.

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In spite of the rain, people in Sydney Harbour turned out to celebrate Australia Day (AFP)

Mr Abbott dismissed critics, describing Prince Philip as “a great servant of Australia”.

Although Australians, like many Commonwealth subjects, are enamoured with the younger royals, the Queen’s husband of 62 years is less well regarded. Today there were fond recollections of the Duke’s many gaffes, particularly an incident in 2002 when he asked an Aboriginal leader and businessman, William Brim: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”

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