Honours Changes Needed

Says Former Minister

By the Hon. Russell Marshall
15th January 2010

Our Honours system is still closely related to the British Honours system from which it derived, the more so with the recent reinstatement of knights and dames.

There have been several rounds of tinkering with the system in the last 35 years and I believe that what we now have is something of a mess. In the mid 1990s, Jim Bolger, a republican-inclined National Prime Minister, set up a committee to review the old system.

There were two major elements in the committee’s recommendations. One was to repatriate, as it were, our Honours, and to turn the three lower levels of existing British system into a New Zealand Order of Merit – Companion, Officer and Member.

The other was to replace the titles of Knight and Dame with those of Distinguished Companion and Principal Distinguished Companion. The committee had come to the conclusion that Sirs and Dames no longer fitted the New Zealand context.

This latter conclusion was a step too far for Bolger’s Cabinet colleagues, who adopted the main recommendation but kept the provision for titles. The new system applied for two or three years before the incoming Labour led government reverted to the original recommendation and abandoned the titles, since reinstated after the change of government.

There are two other sets of New Zealand Honours. In the mid 1970s, the Queen’s Service Order and the Queen’s Service Medal were instituted to honour community or public service.

The Order of New Zealand (ONZ) was established in 1987 and intended for those considered to be New Zealand’s twenty greatest living citizens. It is belatedly being observed that the ONZ was probably not meant to include so many former politicians.

Both Canada (since 1967) and Australia (since 1975), our closest historical counterparts, have simple, well accepted systems.

The Order of Canada has three levels – Companion, Officer and member; the Order of Australia has the same three plus a Medal.

Neither of the lists is determined by members of the ruling government. Each list for the Order of Canada is determined by the Advisory Board of the Order and the Australian list is determined by the Council for the Order of Australia. (Australia reinstated Knighthood and Damehoods in 1976 and dropped them in 1986.)

Instead of PDCNZM etc, Canada has CC, OC, CM, and Australia has AC, AO, AM, and OAM.

It is time we too had such a simple system.

P.S. from Russell Marshall   (Declaration/confession – I declined a CMG in 1991 but accepted a CNZM in 2001)