I woke to the news yesterday that former Prime Minister John Key has been awarded a Knighthood.
Mr Key’s Knighthood – I will never call him SIR – smacks of everything that made the Queens Birthday Honours list a way of aggrandizing the entitled elite. And whilst there have been many noble New Zealanders thoroughly deserving of such titles, I am after yesterday’s sorry news wondering how much credibility this titular ritual of the Governor General awarding them will have when all is said and done.
When Prime Minister Helen Clark did away with Queens Birthday Honours, I thought New Zealand was taking a major step backwards. But I stopped and had a thought about it over a period of time and came to believe that perhaps Ms Clark had a point. The honours, which are steeped in English tradition are all very well and I can understand the older generations being attached to them. But New Zealand is a grown nation now – we are 177 years old if you mark our birth as being on 06 February 1840; or 110 years old if you set at New Zealand Dominion Day (26 September). It is time for New Zealand to develop its own system of honours. And in saying so, I have an idea of how one may look.
So when Mr Key announced that he was going to bring back the Dames and Knighthoods to Queens Birthday Honours, many people knew what was going to eventually happen – they just had to wait for it. Whilst not being terribly surprised by a lot of things happening in the world today, I was however surprised and disgusted to awake to the news that a divisive Prime Minister had arrogated himself this award.
My reaction is also not knee jerkism gone mad either. I spent a bit of time when Prime Minister Helen Clark announced Knights and Dames were being scrapped, trying to conceive a replacement. This, instead of applauding Mr Key, I would like to take a moment to announce an alternative awards system. It shall have the following notable features:
- Order of the Kiwi – there is no higher honour than to become a Companion of the Order of the Kiwi
- The Edmund Hillary Award – for outstanding services to philanthrophy; the Kate Sheppard Award for services to community; the Ernest Rutherford Award for outstanding scientific endeavour
- The Charles Upham medal for military bravery in a conflict zone; the Cyril Ellis* medal for civilian bravery
- A set of lesser categories for recognizing individual fields such as medicine, social services, education and so forth
The names of the awards and medals to be bestowed in the absence of the Queens Birthday Honours shall be awarded on New Zealand Dominion Day each year.
*In 1945 Mount Ruapehu erupted. When the eruption was finished a debris dam blocked the crater lake outflow. On 24 December 1953 the lake had reached a level where it over topped the dam causing a lahar (volcanic mudflow)to rush down the Whangaehu River. It knocked out the railway bridge moments before a passenger train with 285 people on it crossed. The train plunged into the river killing 151 people. Cyril Ellis saw the train approaching but the driver could not stop. He clambered aboard and managed to evacuate a whole carriage before it plunged into the river. For his extreme bravery he was awarded the George Cross.