Rupert Murdoch has bought into the row over Tony Abbott’s decision to give Prince Philip a knighthood, calling it “a joke and embarassment”.
In a tweet to his more than half-a-million followers, Murdoch derided the PM’s decision and said it was “time to scrap all honours everywhere, including UK”. In a follow-up tweet he described himself as a “small ‘r’ republican” since childhood at “my Scottish-Australian father’s knee!”
The media tycoon’s tough stance is likely to increase the pressure on the Prime Minister who has been roundly condemned since the announcement of Prince Phillip’s gong.
Murdoch’s daily newspapers were similarly dismissive of Abbott’s move, the Courier-Mail in Brisbane describing it as a “jolly odd show”. Elsewhere the move was labelled an “early April Fools Day joke” which showed the PM was “out of touch”.
Mr Abbott has admitted the decision to recommend the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband and a British citizen, as a knight of the order of Australia for his services to society, was a “captain’s pick”.
Barrister and former director of the Australian Republican Movement Greg Barns told The New Daily the prime minister’s decision was “embarrassing”.
“I think it shows just how out of touch the current prime minister is with 21st century Australia,” Mr Barns said.
“Most Australians think this is an early April Fools Day joke.”
“The fact that we have knighthoods at all is insulting and fundamentally undemocratic, and to give it to a bloke whose interest in Australia is at best marginal, is extraordinary.”
@sprocket___ Abbott knighthood a joke and embarrassment. Time to scrap all honours everywhere, including UK.
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) January 27, 2015
Mr Abbott reintroduced the knight and dame honours to the Order of Australia last year after they were scrapped by the Hawke Labor government in 1986.
Speaking to reporters at an Australia Day ceremony in Canberra on Monday, Mr Abbott said he “absolutely” stood by his decision to select the British royal to receive Australia’s highest honour, alongside Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
He accepted suggestions the decision was a “captain’s pick”, but said he consulted with the Governor General and Chairman of the Order of Australia.
“Knighthoods are designed to recognise lives of extraordinary service,” he said. “I’m pleased the Queen has seen fit to award knighthoods to Prince Philip and Angus Houston.”
In response to questions about public criticism of the prince’s knighthood, Mr Abbott attempted to discredit those using the internet to voice their opinions.
“Social media is like electronic graffiti,” he said.
“It has it’s place, but it’s anonymous and often abusive and has about as much credibility as graffiti.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the decision to make Prince Philip a knight was outside the mainstream of Australian thinking.
“It’s a time warp where we’re giving knighthoods to English royalty,” Mr Shorten told Fairfax Radio on Monday.
“On Australia Day, we’re talking about Australia, Australian identity, the government’s managed to find a British royal to give a medal to, a knighthood to.”
Mr Shorten reignited the republican debate on Sunday, saying it was time for a model that reflected Australian values.
“Let us rally behind an Australian republic – a model that truly speaks for who we are, our modern identity, our place in our region and our world,” he said.
Mr Barns said the public’s reaction to the Duke of Edinburgh’s knighthood showed Australia was ready to become a republic and congratulated the Opposition Leader on his “political leadership”.
Victorian President of the Australian Monarchist League Bryan Stertern-Gill, on the other hand, weighed into the debate to express strong support for Prince Philip’s knighthood.
“He’s the husband of the sovereign of Australia and has been for 60 years,” Mr Stertern-Gill said. “He’s worked completely and totally for Australia and the Commonwealth for that period of time. He even protected us during WWII.”
“I think somebody who has worked in the interest of Australia, somebody who has supported the Queen in her role, is very deserving.
“They’re Australian royalty as well. She is the Queen of Australia. They also give orders of Australia to actors – I’m pretty sure Mel Gibson was given one.”
He also fired a salvo at the Opposition Leader over his support for a republic.
“I see Bill Shorten has reignited the republican debate. The French still give knighthoods, and they’re a republic. Many countries give knighthoods.
“He thinks it’s anachronistic but his mother in law (former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce) a dame of the order of Australia.
Monash University Australian studies lecturer and author Dr Nick Dyrenfurth said he didn’t think the knight of the order of Australia award would survive Tony Abbott’s term.
“I think he’s alone on this matter. Even his mentor John Howard made no attempt to bring back these honours,” he said.
“The danger for Abbott is that he’s adding to the caricature of a man who belongs very much in the past and it points to the contrast with Bill Shortens’ speech yesterday.”
On Twitter, Nine Network political editor Laurie Oakes said Tony Abbott was doing more for the Republican cause than Bill Shorten, adding the hashtag ‘#jokeknighthood’.
“Libs must wonder who can help a PM apparently determined to be seen as a joke,” Mr Oakes said.
Twitter users said the move took Australia back to the Middle Ages, while others said cricketer Shane Warne was more deserving of the honour.
So proud. Australia knights Prince Philip. Who needs satire?
— Kevin Airs (@KevinAirs442) January 25, 2015
Congratulations Prince Philip on your knighthood, and congratulations the Middle Ages on becoming a thing again!
— Jesse Thompson (@jethom17) January 25, 2015
Sir Alfred James Stewart of Summer Bay, Knight Of The Order Of The Flamin’ Galah. Now *that* would have been an Australia Day honour. — Scott Ellis (@blahblahellis) January 25, 2015