New Zealanders and Australians have much in common, but not everything. Our respective attitude to knighthoods is one area we, in general, differ. While New Zealanders can hardly wait to see titles bestowed on their homecoming All Black captain and coach today, Australia has just abandoned the practice - again.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced its royal honours, abolished long ago but reinstated by Tony Abbott last year, will not be continued.

In this country, the Prime Minister has practically promised Richie McCaw a knighthood and the Labour Party, which abolished them when last in government, endorses the offer. Its deputy leader, Annette King, yesterday said the party had not reviewed its policy on royal honours since they were restored by National in 2009 but she saw no appetite in this country for "chopping and changing" the system.

She is right. When Helen Clark abolished the titles in 2000, she did so without much public discussion and not all in her party were comfortable with it. Her deputy, now Sir Michael Cullen, thought it a mistake. The country missed them during those nine years. Without a few titles conferred, the annual New Year's and Queen's Birthday honours lost much of their focus and public interest. Their reinstatement was well received.


Many Australians regard royal honours as irredeemably British and, in Mr Turnbull's words, "not appropriate" for modern Australia. In New Zealand, though, the titles now sit fairly comfortably within an honours system that has been restyled our way. If its supreme award, the Order of New Zealand, does not have the mana it should, this is not entirely the fault of knighthoods. The ONZ has been devalued over the years by some uninspired appointments and the failure to limit its ranks to 20 living achievers.

Though knights and dames remain nominally royal appointments, New Zealanders treat them as the indigenous decision they really are. So much so that John Key does not pretend he would need to check McCaw's chances with the Queen. These decisions are effectively made by an honours committee of the Government, which receives recommendations from people and organisations far and wide.

Indeed it might be better if the task of selection was passed to the monarch's local representative. The office of Governor General would be capable of forming an honours panel to receive recommendations and decide who was worthy of what. That would lessen the suspicion that honours are sometimes used for political reward and, conversely, it could allow knighthoods to be conferred on Prime Ministers who win a third term. Sir Robert Muldoon was the last of them to receive the title when still in office and he was accused of knighting himself.

Australians may be uncomfortable with titles, seeing them as carrying airs and graces incompatible with the Australian character, but we are slightly different. New Zealanders like to elevate respected fellow countrymen and women with a title to their name. Many of those so elevated do not use their titles except in formal settings, and we like that too. Even formally, it is likely to be Sir "Richie". We are fine with that.