Mixed reaction to reinstatement of titles

There was a mixed reaction tonight to the Government's announcement that the titles of Dames and Knights are to be restored to the New Zealand honours system.

The Labour Party says it is a move back toward the British Empire, while the Green Party said New Zealand's Honours system should remain independent.

But some of the 85 New Zealanders who were given honours which used to come with a title are not so sure.

Former long-serving New Zealand Netball coach Lois Muir, a Distinguished Companion, said it was nice for recipients to have the choice.

In 2000 the then Labour government dropped titles from the top levels of the honours system, but from June they will be restored to them both - Knight and Dame Grand Companion (GNZM) and Knight and Dame Companion (KNZM/DNZM).

These titles will replace the appointment of Principal and Distinguished Companion of the order which were instituted in May 2000.

Muir told NZPA tonight that being honoured with a title was a form of recognition.

"You know, when you do get these honours they're not really just for you, they're for people, the people that have worked in the sports or in sports administration that I've been in and I think it's a recognition for that."

She said her late husband was ill when she received her honour and could not attend the investiture.

"He was always disappointed I wasn't called a dame, so it's one of those things," Muir said.

"I certainly will consider it, but it's nice to have the choice."

Distinguished Companion and Olympic gold medallist Peter Snell is expected to follow the changes to the New Zealand honours system and become Sir Peter.

He was asleep when called by NZPA, at midnight Texas time, but his wife Miki said she believed he would "go ahead and go with the change".

The titles were more recognisable, particularly internationally, she said.

Mrs Snell said the changes were a "good thing" and there was no difference because Peter had already been honoured.

All Black Colin Meads, another Distinguished Companion, told TV3 News he had never considered himself to be all that distinguished.

"I'm still just ordinary old Colin Meads, and say what I think and have a few beers down the club," he said. "Too often, the wife tells me."

Meads is now entitled to become Sir Colin if he wants to, but he is not sure it sounds like something for him.

"I still live in Te Kuiti, and all my mates around here might give me a hard time."

Founding director of the Liggins Institute Professor Peter Gluckman, one of New Zealand's best known scientists, is also a Distinguished Companion.

He pointed out that a title was of great value in terms of gaining recognition when working overseas.

Principal Companion Professor Paul Callaghan, director of Victoria University's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, said it was personal decision whether or not to pick up the title and he'd think on it.

Prof Callaghan said he did not have a proplem with the system being reinstated, but he had not had a problem with the previous system either.

Maori academic and Distinguished Companion Dr Ranginui Walker said he had previously been scathing of knighthoods because of the wealthy businessmen who were getting them.

"I didn't want to be in the same boat as Sir Michael Fay and Sir Roger Douglas. I felt that the knighthood system had been rather denigrated, or degraded."

But he said he had softened his stance, and had not ruled out upgrading his honour to a Sir.

"Very often they get upgraded and get number one service, so that's one of the perks that goes with knighthoods, I guess," Dr Walker said.

But Labour said it was a move backward.

"It seems odd that we move back to having sirs, madams and dames when we thought that that was part of an English colonial system, not one that reflects New Zealand as a truly independent country," leader Phil Goff told TV3 News.

Green Party Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said the party was surprised at the priority the topic had received when the country faced an economic and environmental crisis.

"We should celebrate outstanding New Zealanders as New Zealanders rather than as part of an outgrown relationship with the British Empire," she said.

- NZPA

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