The Labour Party says its support for knighting All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw does not equate to a vote of support for the honours system.

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed he will offer McCaw a knighthood after the veteran All Black led NZ to two World Cup victories in a row.

Labour leader Andrew Little said a knighthood would be appropriate for McCaw, but added that the issue should not be debated in public.

The discussion of potential honours comes as Australia announced plans to scrap knights and dames from its honours system.


New Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed yesterday that he would remove the titular honours, reversing his predecessor Tony Abbott's decision last year.

In New Zealand, the titles were scrapped in 2000 under former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark, but Mr Key reinstated them in 2009.

Labour deputy leader Annette King said yesterday that her party's support for knighting McCaw did not reflect its position on the honours system. She said it was an appropriate honour because knighthoods were part of the existing system.

Ms King said Labour's policy on the issue had not been reviewed for 15 years.

"Our policy was to abolish them, they have been brought back, and we haven't addressed it again since," she said. "No doubt at a suitable time we will look back into it."

Ms King said she personally believed that there was no appetite in New Zealand for "chopping and changing" the system so soon after Mr Key reinstated the titles.

Both Labour and National's changes to the honours system took place without public consultation or a vote.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said if a change was being considered in New Zealand, it should come only after full public consultation and a parliamentary vote.


Like Mr Little, Mr Peters said the Prime Minister should not be discussing potential knighthoods in public.

"It's tasteless and graceless."

Green Party co-leader James Shaw agreed that formal recognition "in the order of" a knighthood would be appropriate for McCaw "as long as we have that system". His party wanted an honours system that reflected NZ's unique culture and identity.

Mr Shaw said he was unsure what form this could take. He said Labour's replacement of knights and dames with principal and distinguished companions of the NZ Order of Merit had confused the public.

Roll of honour

Sporting knights and dames include:

Sir Wilson Whineray, Sir Brian Lochore, Sir Colin Meads, Sir Fred Allen, Sir John Graham, Sir Graham Henry, Sir Gordon Tietjens, Sir John Kirwan, Dame Lois Muir, Sir Murray Halberg, Sir John Walker, Sir Peter Snell, Sir Mark Todd, Sir Bob Charles, Dame Susan Devoy.