Prince Charles is in line to receive the Australian Army’s highest rank but that privilege will be denied to one of the country’s greatest war heroes.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has decided not to posthumously promote General Sir John Monash to field marshal after military leaders lobbied against the change.
It’s a decision that stumped former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer.
“John Monash has received zero awards from the Australian government since 11am on the 11th November, 1918 to this moment today,” Mr Fischer told reporters on Wednesday.
“As things stand, Prince Charles would be an Australian field marshal on accession, his father Prince Philip is an Australian field marshal, his grandfather King George VI is an Australian field marshal.
“It would be curious in the extreme if that happens and John Monash is still not an Australian field marshal.”
The WWI general is widely regarded as Australia’s greatest military commander by senior government ministers and past politicians, including Mr Fischer.
Supporters, including Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and various Coalition MPs, had hoped Mr Turnbull would announce a posthumous promotion ahead of next week’s opening of the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux in France.
Even Mr Turnbull has previously backed the move, at the 2013 Sir John Monash Oration saying he fully supported the push “to have the great man posthumously appointed field marshal”.
But Defence Personnel Minister Darren Chester said Sir John had been duly recognised, with a freeway, university and federal electorate all named after him.
“We believe he’s been well recognised and there’s actually not a precedent for posthumously promoting a military figure in this way,” he told ABC TV on Wednesday.
Mr Chester said one of the prerequisites for promoting someone is to be on the active service list and Sir John died decades ago.
“I can’t think of a single serving senior military person in Australia right now who believes that a promotion is warranted. That is not being disrespectful in any way to Monash himself.”
Some in the military had been against the promotion, saying it would undermine Defence Force ranks.
“I have the greatest respect for Sir John Monash, a very fine corps commander and contributor to Australia in other aspects of life,” retired Major General Michael Jeffery told Fairfax Media.
“A lot of this is being done out of emotion and not out of a considered, merit-based case.”
Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister, that “unlike some overseas nations which award promotions posthumously, Australia has no legal precedent for this action”.
Mr Fischer said he had spoken with Sir John’s great-grandson Michael Bennett, who is on his way to the French centre, adding the family was staying neutral on the matter.