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New Year Honours List

  • January 12th, 2008

I was out of newspaper reach when this list came out. I returned to the net, newspapers and television yesterday. Working through the backlog, the honours list is put aside for the kind of study that may not happen. 

I’m usually thankful it hasn’t disturbed the even tenor of those out of touch days. Perhaps the Order of New Zealand for Johnathon Hunt came at New Year, because I don’t remember feeling the outrage that surely would have come if I had not heard it as old news. He is simply not one of the 20 greatest living New Zealanders.

On the other hand, by missing these lists I’ve probably puzzled or even hurt a few friends by failure to even mention their honours I’ve not heard about.

I was recently canvassed for my views on restoration of the system dumped in 2000 (knighthoods etc).

My answer was unequivocal – apparently an unusual response. The group campaigning for the restoration tell me that most politicians duck the question.

I suspect that many of those asked are still baffled by or indifferent to the new system. I can never remember what the alphabet mysteries mean. But most would equivocate for fear of seeming fuddy duddy – a worse crime to the NZ elite than almost any other.

To me its a no-brainer.  I’d restore the former honours system, but give recipients a choice between that and our new brands. We’re supposed to be honouring them. What about doing them the honour of letting them say what they prefer?

They could get the old description, or its new indigenous equivalent. Over time the preferences of those we’re honouring would prevail.

I believe in collectively giving formal thanks and credit for outstanding contribution. We need heroines and heroes to lift our sights. But praise should be sincere, it should mean something.

So my preference for the known system is ruthlessly practical. The ‘indigenised’ system means virtually nothing, and with the best of intentions it cannot acquire much impact for decades to come.  Power in a brand is acquired only by performance over time. The simple fact is that people are rightly suspicious of honours. Praise is cheap. Until gongs have centuries of provenance, so that their worth can be measured by revealed standards (i.e. the kinds of people who’ve held them) they mean little.

Their creators’ glowing claims will be completely discounted. The wisdom of that scepticism can be seen in our so-called ‘top’ honour – “The Order of [the kakapo] New Zealand” is limited to 20 living persons at any one time . Last time I calculated the most telling feature of that order was its unique recognition of the stunning contribution to New Zealand of Labour party trusties. Surprise, surprise – seven of the 20 were superannuated Labour politicians, of course excluding the truly outstanding one, Sir Roger Douglas.

One of the rewards for us of our veneration of Sir Ed was the fact that we feel the satisfaction of having so clearly recognised him during in his life, with an internationally recognised honorific. 

We inherited a branding system with the kind of brand integrity that can only be built over centuries. It is irrelevant that there were some (and sometimes many) unworthy recipients, purchasers of honours etc. The key thing was that the brand had predictive value – the holder of an honour was much more likely than not to be outstanding. Inevitably there will be merited suspicion about the integrity of application of the criteria from time to time, but the fact is that a British ‘sir’ is still recognised throughout the world as likely to have distinction.

The socialist have never understood that market capitalism needs fewer police and rulers than socialism because its power lies in the market rewards for good reputation, and punishment for bad. It is called brand value, and it can only be built up over time.

The abolition of the old system was a casual phony war skirmish for Labour, conducted to reassure their ‘working  classes’ that Labour was still against privilege. I doubt that it delivered more than a moment’s distraction from the bureacracy and university class privileges they’ve been establishing.

The cost has been high.

We’ve spurned a valuable inheritance, like silly teenagers who reject their family name in a kind of “I’ll show you” gesture. It says much more adverse about them than their family. It can even be a relief to the rest of the family.

If we let those we would honour choose between the two systems, we might learn something similar from their choices. 


  • sfranks
  • January 12th, 2008
  • 5:51 pm

My attention has been drawn to Dean Knights’ blog on the topic ( If his bill is up to his usual standards I’m sure it would work well.


Yes indeed Dean knight’s bill is spot on – it would be great if an MP would pick it up and run with it as a Private Member’s Bill. I’d hope that it would be National’s policy when they form the next government of new Zealand, but one can imagine how it would be a lower priority matter compared to the work on tax cuts, prison reform, health system improvement and public service streamlining which will be required.

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