Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott has awarded Australia's highest honor to Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, sparking a barrage of criticism across the country on its national day of celebration.
Prince Philip was made a Knight of the Order of Australia, awarded as part of the country's honors system announced on Australia Day on January 26.
“Prince Philip has been a great servant of Australia. He's been a great servant of all the countries of the commonwealth. Here in this country he's the patron of hundreds of organizations,” said the prime minister.
The award grated republicans who want to sever ties with Britain and appoint an Australian president.
“The Abbott government couldn't find an Australian to give one of these awards to. Labor doesn't believe we should have gone back to dames and knights, but if we're going to have the system, let's give it to Australians,” said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Many people were bewildered by the prime ministers choice.
“I was a bit surprised, I'm thinking, what has he done lately, for this country? I think a lot of Australians will be surprised about that,” said public servant Barry Hughes.
“Well, I think it's a bit ridiculous that the prime minister of Australia's giving knighthood to royalty,” said Tenday Thompson, a high school student.
“I was a little surprised. I figure that there's probably more Australians here that are as deserving, if not more deserving. There's a few people that should be recognized,” said Maggie, a part time worker.
Australia is a constitutional monarchy, with the British monarch its head of state who acts in predominantly a ceremonial manner but has the power to approve the abolition of parliament, which happened in 1975, toppling the then government.
Australians also questioned the procedure for issuing knighthoods, which are awarded solely on the recommendation of the prime minister to the queen. Any Australian can nominate a fellow citizen for other honors.
Abbott's surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the country's honors system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment. At the time he said they were intended to recognize “pre-eminent Australians.”
Abbott, whose popularity has fallen sharply in recent months, said he stood by the decision to award the knighthood to 93-year-old Prince Philip because “the monarchy has been an important part of Australia's life since 1788.”