Prime Minister Tony Abbott has defended his call to restore knights and dames to Australia's honours system, in spite of gleeful mockery in federal parliament and on social media.

He confirmed the decision to restore the titles was his alone and not taken to the cabinet or party room.

"I consulted with a number of senior colleagues. I took some soundings in the community but in the end it was my recommendation to the Queen which she graciously accepted," he told Fairfax Radio.

He has the support of Attorney-General George Brandis who believes it's a dignified way to honour some of our greatest citizens.

But Liberal West Australian Premier Colin Barnett is unimpressed.

"I think we've moved on," he said.

"When people look back in history, the last vestiges of colonial history, you know, time to stand up Australia, be a big country in your own right."

And Liberal Senator Sue Boyce was also disappointed.

"Those sorts of titles don't fit in Australia, to me, they never did," Senator Boyce told the ABC.

Liberal front bencher and staunch republican Malcolm Turnbull, however, urged fellow republicans not to lose sleep over the move because many countries have similar honours, including republics like France, Italy and Peru.

"Most countries have an honours system and many of them have an order of knighthood," he wrote on his website.

Wisecracks were flowing freely from MPs in Canberra.

"Sure as knight follows dame, Tony Abbott's going to take us back to the good old days," Labor's Ed Husic said.

During question time, he claimed Mr Abbott had spectacularly advanced the cause of republicanism in Australia.

The Australian Republican Movement reported it had been flooded with new members signing up following Mr Abbott's announcement.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen described the decision as "extraordinary".

"Is he going to announce his car plan today is Toranas and Cortinas?" Mr Bowen said.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce, who finished her five year term on Wednesday, has become the first new dame and her successor Peter Cosgrove will become a knight under the restored system.

Dame Quentin's son-in-law, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, said while they were worthy recipients, the titles were outdated.

"I think everyone thinks they are. I just think everyone thinks 'Are we on a time warp?' John Howard wouldn't do it," he told the National Press Club.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon joked that instead of knights and dames there should be "bonza blokes" and "grouse sheilas".

Greens leader Christine Milne said Mr Abbott was trying to create a fake class system in Australia that would distort our current honours system.

Up to four knights or dames can be appointed each year.