Australia PM scraps knighthood honors, shows republican colors

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Prince Philip Knighted in Australia


SYDNEY, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Australia's pro-republic Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday scrapped knights and dames from the nation's honors system, less than a year after a furore sparked by the award of a knighthood to Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's husband.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch monarchist, reintroduced the antiquated honors in 2014, provoking criticism that he was out of touch with public sentiment. Abbott was ousted by Turnbull in a party coup in September.

The politically disastrous decision to give Prince Philip the nation's highest honor, Knight of the Order of Australia, on Australia Day, has been cited as the beginning of the end for Abbott.

See photos of the knighthood controversy surrounding Prince Philip:

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Australia PM scraps knighthood honors, shows republican colors
FILE - In this June 15, 2009, file photo, Britain's Prince Philip joins other members of the royal family in the procession of The Order of the Garter in Windsor, England. Australia is dumping the titles "knights" and "dames" again. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, that the queen had agreed to an Australian Cabinet recommendation to remove knights and dames from the Order of Australia. The government had scratched the honorary titles, granted for public service, in 1986 as anachronisms. But former Prime Minister Tony Abbott revived them in 2014 during his time in office and was widely ridiculed for making Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II's husband, a knight on Australia's national day in 2015, instead of honoring a worthy Australian. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's Prince Philip, centre, talks with the Australian High Commissioner, Alexander Downer, prior to the Prince Philip being presented by the Queen Elizabeth II, with the Insignia of a Knight of the Order of Australia, in the white drawing room at Windsor Castle Windsor England Wednesday April 22, 2015. (John Stillwell/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (L) presents Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (C) with the Insignia of a Knight of the Order of Australia as Australian High Commissioner Alexander Downer (R) looks on in the white drawing room at Windsor Castle, west of London, on April 22, 2015. Queen Elizabeth II presented her husband Prince Philip with an insignia of his Australian knighthood, the awarding of which plunged Prime Minister Tony Abbott into crisis earlier this year. AFP PHOTO / POOL / JOHN STILLWELL (Photo credit should read JOHN STILLWELL/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2014 file photo, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott address the Australia China state and provincial leaders forum in Sydney, Australia. Abbott on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 promised to consult more widely before bestowing knighthoods in the future as he weathered an avalanche of criticisms over his decision to make the husband of Queen Elizabeth II an Australian knight. (AP Photo/Jason Reed, Pool, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2011 file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, and her husband Prince Philip board a plane flying to Perth from Melbourne airport, Australia, on their way to attend the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth. Australia's prime minister on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 dismissed criticism of his decision to the Duke of Edinburgh an Australian knight, saying Philip has a long history of service Down Under. Prime Minister Tony Abbott's announcement that the duke would be awarded Australia's highest honor came on Australia's national holiday, prompting some to question the wisdom of knighting a British royal on a day meant to commemorate Australians. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2011 file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, left, and her husband Prince Philip attend the opening of the new Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. Australia's prime minister on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 dismissed criticism of his decision to the Duke of Edinburgh an Australian knight, saying Philip has a long history of service Down Under. Prime Minister Tony Abbott's announcement that the duke would be awarded Australia's highest honor came on Australia's national holiday, prompting some to question the wisdom of knighting a British royal on a day meant to commemorate Australians. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 21, 1956 file photo, Britain's Prince Philip, right, is welcomed to Olympic Stadium in Melbourne, Australia by Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies as the Duke of Edinburgh officially opens the Olympic games. Australia's prime minister on Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 dismissed criticism of his decision to make the husband of Queen Elizabeth II an Australian knight, saying Philip has a long history of service Down Under. Prime Minister Tony Abbott's announcement that the duke would be awarded Australia's highest honor came on Australia's national holiday, prompting some to question the wisdom of knighting a British royal on a day meant to commemorate Australians. (AP Photo/File)
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The decision to scrap the honors by Turnbull, a former head of the national republican movement, may be interpreted as a signal of his willingness to revisit the thorny question of Australia's relationship with the monarchy.

"The prime minister announced today that Her Majesty the Queen has agreed to the government's recommendation to remove knights and dames from the Order of Australia," Turnbull said in a statement.

"The Cabinet recently considered the Order of Australia, in this its 40th anniversary year, and agreed that knights and dames are not appropriate in our modern honors system."

Others who received the honors were governors general Quentin Bryce and Peter Cosgrove, former air chief marshal Angus Houston and New South Wales state governor Marie Bashir, which Turnbull has said they will retain.

Queen Elizabeth is Australia's largely ceremonial head of state, but has the power to approve the abolition of parliament, which last happened in the controversial 1975 toppling of Gough Whitlam's government.

Australia's sometimes strained relationship with the British crown came to a head in a 1999 national referendum, when almost 55 percent of Australians voted against breaking with the monarchy, defeating Turnbull's republicans.

A poll this year on behalf of the Australian National University showed that public support for a republic has fallen further since the referendum, while the royals' popularity has risen.

Support for a republic stood at 54 percent, down from 66 per cent in 1998, according to the telephone poll of 1,200 people conducted by the Social Research Centre in March, before Turnbull took office.

But Turnbull's move into the leadership has buoyed the hopes of republicans eager to revisit the issue in a fresh referendum, despite his ranking of the faltering economy, not the monarchy, as his government's top priority.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are expected to receive a warm welcome when they visit Australia and New Zealand next week.

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