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Dames and knights restored to NZ honours system

Sunday 8 Mar 2009 5:05 p.m.

Prime Minister John Key has brought back the titles of Sir and Dame to the New Zealand honours system.

Then Prime Minister Helen Clark did away with them in 2000, replacing them with new honours called Principal and Distinguished Companions.

People who received those honours will now have the opportunity to accept a traditional title if they want.

Eighty-five people have been made Principal and Distinguished Companions over the past eight years, but not every one of them is keen on the idea of being called 'Sir' or 'Dame'.

Legendary All Black Colin Meads is what is called a Distinguished Companion, but he has 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 says. "Too often, the wife tells me."

He 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," he laughs.

Mr Key has announced he is bringing back knighthoods and damehoods, meaning our best and brightest will again be granted the titles of Sir and Dame.

"Roughly six or seven New Zealanders every year are selected and given a very high honour to celebrate a lifetime of service and achievement, and it's my view that this visible titular honour is a very public way of celebrating their achievements," says Mr Key.

Miss Clark scrapped the titles nine years ago, saying they overshadowed another one of our highest honours - the Order of New Zealand. Instead, people were made Principal, or Distinguished Companions - titles that Mr Key believes have no resonance with New Zealanders.

"It's my view that they found that quite confusing. There wasn't a visible recognition of such distinguished honours."

The Queen has already given her approval, and the titles will be offered retrospectively to those awarded under the old honours system.

The Labour Party says it is a move back toward the British Empire.

"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," says leader Phil Goff.

The response from others was mixed.

"Wwe're ambivalent to the whole thing," says Lewis Holden, Republican Movement campaigner. "There are a lot of republics in the world that have titular honours, so it wouldn't be impossible for New Zealand to be a republic and have knighthoods and damehoods."

Maori academic and Distinguished Companion Dr Ranginui Walker used to be 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 now he has softened his stance, and has 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," says Dr Walker.

The first new knights and dames will be appointed in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in June. The five people who received honours under the old system, but have since died, will not be eligible for the new titles.

So what will be the take up?

While some like Meads are not sure about being a sir, others 3 News spoke to today say the title can open doors. Professor Peter Gluckman pointed out it is of great value in terms of gaining recognition when working overseas.

3 News

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