Archive for the ‘Honours System’ Category

Need To Look Again At The Honours System

January 3, 2009

There has been much comment in the last few days about aspects of the Honours system.  Some feel that there is too much of a political taint to the Honours bestowed in recent years.  I tend to agree.  As with SOE and other Government Board appoitments there has been undeniable taint.  Others are suggesting that the new Honours system has not really caught on.  Again I agree.   I haf no issue with those who had attained the highest Honours in the land being given the “Sir” or “Dame” title.

I therefore welcome an Editorial from the NZ Herald which I have just caught up on.

In both Australia and Britain, the selections are now made by independent committees. In Britain, the committee’s recommendations are passed through the Prime Minister to the Queen. In Australia, the potential for political interference is reduced even further with recommendations bypassing the Prime Minister altogether and going direct to the Governor-General.

Not only is the taint of political honours removed but these systems potentially make better selections in specialist areas. For instance, in Britain there are eight specialist subcommittees which consider nominations in the arts, sport, health, science and technology, among other things.

The Key Government would do well to consider following the British and Australian leads but the presence of an Act representative on the Cabinet honours committee does not augur well. Despite cultivating the image of an anti-sleaze party, Act’s insistence on this position in the coalition arrangement suggests that when faced with reality, the possibility of rewarding supporters with honours is just too tempting.

Which is a pity. Much as the honours system is valued, it has never quite recovered from the former Government’s decision to abandon titles such as knights and dames. These titles were thought to be redolent of the English class system and not appropriate for an egalitarian country such as New Zealand.

The argument was never wholly convincing. But what seems certain now is that the egalitarian version has not caught on as well as was hoped. Moreover, it is not likely to while the public sense that some appointments are political or simply matters of form. What is needed is a system that is thoroughly independent and that recognises outstanding contributions rather than just time served.