National leader Don Brash intends to restore knighthoods if he is elected prime minister.
He said few people could name the new top honour - the Order of New Zealand - or name anyone who had held it other than David Lange. He would like to blend the existing honours with restored knighthoods in his first term.
The Order of New Zealand can have no more than 20 living members. Former Speaker Jonathan Hunt was controversially awarded the honour this year, and Lange's death leaves open a place.
Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday dismissed Dr Brash's plan as "19th century thinking". "I've been aware over the years of New Zealanders who just wouldn't accept an honour because they wanted something distinctively New Zealand, and that's what we've got now."
One of the last recipients of a New Zealand knighthood, Treaty settlements architect Sir Douglas Graham, said knighthoods meant "people can aspire to something and that other people recognise that person's made a contribution".
- HERALD ON SUNDAY