The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, announced a ‘bold’ decision to award an Australian knighthood to the husband to the Queen of England, Prince Philip. I will provide background for the world majority with zero exposure to Australia’s relationship to the British royal family, but Australia ceased awarding knighthoods in 1986 as part of a long term attitude trend for Australia to distance itself from the days of the British Empire. Tony Abbott brought Australian knighthoods back in 2014 in a bold statement potentially against that long term attitude shift and this latest step goes much further in testing how far a government can go in 2015 to against that previous long term attitude shift.
There has been quite a large and widespread negative reaction to Tony Abbott award a member of the British royal family this newly reinstated award.
It is possible that Tony Abbott had focus groups and market research conducted that show such a ‘bold’ step could assist his own popularity as national leader. However public statements made by Tony Abbott himself suggest this was a personal decision.
Another possibility is that Tony Abbot made his own decision that taking this step would increase the popularity of his position as Prime Minister. It is clear already that the decision to award an Australian honour to someone not only not Australian, but also a member of the British royal family, will attract substantial negative press and public reaction. Perhaps the Tony Abbott is simply an immensity clever politician and this award will serve to increase his popularity, but that just seems highly unlikely. So we have to consider a third possibility.
Most likely it appears that Tony Abbott was prepared to give this award knowing that such a step will actually hurt his popularity. Politicians do not get to the pinnacle of their profession by taking steps the know will not be popular. It is also difficult to image that the need for Prince Philip to recognised by such an award can come from some deep passionate conviction of principle, especially given it is inconceivable that giving this award will change the opinion of people in Australia to the British monarchy. Perhaps Tony Abbott has a passionate admiration of Prince Philip the individual, but not for the principle that British royals should receive awards. Giving this award on this occasion will polarise as many against further awards to British royalty as those in favour, if not more. Surely as a principle anyway would be too superficial for a national leader given the challenges facing the world.
So we are left with a national leader deliberately taking an unpopular step with voters the cannot realistically be on the basis of principle.
This award will promote Tony Abbott amongst monarchists both in Australia and the UK and if the decision was not simple foolishness this means that it is a case of a national leader making a decision to appeal to a very specific group where he desires to socialise, but knowingly unpopular overall in the nation he governs.
If it is not foolishness, then one logical interpretation is self promotion for the life ahead in retirement. Could the London born Australian prime minister be contemplating retirement in Great Britain, or does he just envisage regular visits?