They say a knight is a long time in politics - or at least they should be saying it in Australia.

The Australian PM Tony Abbott has given up defending his decision to give Prince Philip a knighthood a week ago.

Abbott is now in survival mode and requiring his cabinet to publicly close ranks behind him as criticism continues to rain down.

I thought it would die down after three days. Instead it gained momentum over the week and has been blamed in part for the shock result in the Queensland elections at the weekend, which was a disaster for Liberals.


The cruel but fair Courier Mail in Brisbane reflected or set the public mood with its
depiction of Abbott as a court jester over the knighthood.
So how can it have come to this in just a week?

John Key bestowed the highest New Zealand honour on the Prince in 2012 and never got the same degree of grief.

Key got a invitation for the family to Balmoral in 2013 (in fairness, it had originally been issued in 2010 but postponed by an earthquake), he has maintained his stellar ratings and according to TV3's poll last night, is regarded by 81 per cent of voters as a capable leader.

There was some criticism but not a lot. It was a good chance to give the Prince's better known gaffes another spin.

It's highly possible that Abbott got the idea of honouring Prince Philip from Key.

But the difference in response between New Zealand and Australia has been staggering.

Can Australians be such rabid republicans, disrespect Prince Philip so much, or have so little regard for the Queen's sensitivities, that a Prime Minister giving an honour to her 90-year-old imperfect husband jeopardises his grip on power.

One doesn't presume to know what Her Majesty thinks, but one imagines she would be feeling pretty hurt and mortified at the turn of events.


Like Abbott, John Key made a so-called "captain's call" to reintroduce knighthoods in 2009, five months after becoming Prime Minister. He had mentioned nothing about it on the hustings.

Not quite a broken promise but it was calculated and therefore underhand.

But there was no great groundswell of opposition on the grounds of stealth because Helen Clark had abolished knighthoods five months into her Prime Ministership, also with no hint of it during the campaign.

These are the factors I believe explain the differences in response between Australia and New Zealand.

1. Australia's reaction is much more about Abbott, than the Prince. Abbott's popularity slumped last year after his first Budget, in which he broke election promises such as no change to pensions - their indexation has been changed meaning lower increases.
(for more on broken promises): Click here

Once you're in a negative spiral, you can do no right and poor judgments are amplified 100 times. If he had been popular, there would be criticism, not outrage.

2. John Key is a more deft leader than Tony Abbott. Abbott says he has learned in the past week that it is important for Governments to take the public with them as they reform. No one ever needed to tell Key that.

3. John Key did not give the Prince a knighthood. He has the highest honour in the New Zealand system - being made a member of the Order or New Zealand - which has no title and little sentimentality attached to it by Kiwis.

4. Because it was announced in the Queen's Jubilee year in New Zealand, it was seen as a gesture for the Queen to appreciate as much as it was for Prince Philip.

5. Tony Abbott named only four knights and dames since reintroducing the title - two last year and two this year, which gave the Aussie public only two to talk about.

John Key has been dispensing honours for Africa. When Philip was made a member of the ONZ, Queen's Birthday in 2012, he was joined by Sir Peter Jackson, Dame Malvina Major and Dame Margaret Bazley. HRH was not the main event.

Public attention was also diverted by the fact that rugby great Sir John Kirwan had been knighted.

Key continues to devalue the currency; In the New Year's honours list, there were seven new knights and two dames.

As the cabinet rallies around Abbott, their declarations of confidence sound more dutiful than heartfelt.

Fortuitously, Abbott is due to speak to the Press Club in Canberra today in a previously scheduled speech.

It is a prime opportunity to try to instil some confidence in his leadership.

In only 16 months into a three-year term, Abbott has worked his way into an unenviable position. It's a lot easier to get there than to get out of it.