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Bill Shorten would reverse reinstatement of knights and dames if elected prime minister

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says he will reverse Prime Minister Tony Abbott's reintroduction of knighthoods and damehoods if Labor wins the next election.

Labor has accused Mr Abbott of throwing Australia into a "time warp" by bringing back the honours, scrapped by the Hawke government in 1986.

Mr Shorten told ABC Radio on Friday morning that he would reverse the decision if Labor is elected.

"I think everyone was simply stunned and bemused the priority for the Abbott government this week was to reintroduce knighthoods," he said.

"What an anachronism. The Labor Party since 1918 has been against imperial honours. We didn't ask Prime Minister Abbott to define himself by knighthoods and damehoods."


If Labor were to scrap the honours, those who have been awarded them – including Mr Shorten's mother-in-law, outgoing governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce – would be unlikely to lose their titles.

The categories of Knight and Dame of the Order of Australia were created by the Queen, on advice from the Fraser government, in 1976 and were discontinued under advice from the Hawke government in 1986.

Knights and dames will be approved by the Queen on the recommendation of the prime minister. The chair of the Order of Australia Council will be consulted on any such recommendation.

The Knights and Dames of the Order of Australia kept their titles after the Hawke government abandoned the honours.

Earlier this week Mr Shorten praised Dame Quentin, a republican, as a "formidable woman" who is leaving with the goodwill of the Australian people.

Peter Cosgrove, who is being sworn in as governor-general on Friday, will receive the first knighthood under the new system.

Mr Abbott, who bypassed discussion with his cabinet before making a surprise announcement on Tuesday, has attracted widespread ridicule on social media, where the Prime Minister was likened to Marty McFly from the Back to the Future trilogy, and from Labor MPs, who described the decision as "missing the main game".

Staunch republican Malcolm Turnbull gently mocked the return of knights and dames as a step that is in keeping with the honours system of esteemed republics such as Peru and Guatemala.

Former prime minister John Howard also weighed in, saying reintroducing the titles would be seen as ''somewhat anachronistic'', even by conservatives and he would most likey refuse a knighthood should it be offered.

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