Now that knighthoods have been restored to the Order of Australia, the question that is next asked is - who (and what) next?
The Prime Minister has said that there will be no more than four Knights and Dames of the Order of Australia each year. Presumably that excludes the ex-officio appointment of the Governor-General as the Principal Knight or Dame of the Order.
If so, we might see two recipients in the next Queen's Birthday list, due in early June - just two months away. What do we know about Tony Abbott's history and passions, and what might they tell us? After all, the nominations of AKs and ADs to the Queen are solely in the hands of the PM, although the Chairman of the Order of Australia Council will be consulted.
First, Tony Abbott was the founding executive director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, the organisation that provided much (though not all) of the structure for the successful No campaign during the republican referendum of 1999.
Second, Abbott is passionate about indigenous issues. He volunteers in remote indigenous communities every year, and strongly supports recognition of first peoples in the Australian Constitution.
Third, Abbott's education at Australia's most prestigious Jesuit-run school and training as a Catholic seminarian inform his hybrid of social activism and muscular Catholic traditionalism. His detractors have previously nicknamed him as "Captain Catholic".
While little or none of this is immediately relevant to "The Monarchist", in my opinion these areas give us some insights into who Abbott might recommend for receiving titles in the future.
In my opinion, the number one candidate for a titular honour is Professor Marie Bashir, the Governor of New South Wales. Prof Bashir has been the governor of Australia's largest state since 2001 and is retiring later this year. She is widely admired and respected throughout the community, has hosted several royal tours and is technically already titled (Lady Shehadie) as her husband is Sir Nicholas Shehadie. As the senior state governor, she is the defacto deputy governor-general of Australia and acts as Administrator in the absence of the governor-general from Canberra, regularly.
Prof Bashir is unusual in that she is also an obvious candidate to be made a dame in the Royal Victorian Order as well, if the Prime Minister has advised that there is no bar on titular honours from within the Royal Prerogative. Prior to the ending of regularly awarding knighthoods to vice-regal figures, it was the convention that if a governor-general or governor hosted the Queen during a visit in Australia, they would be recognised with the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO for the GG, KCVO for governors).
With the return of titles, a K/DCVO is the usual rank for a state governor but given her length of time in office, a GCVO is not impossible either. Although Sir Roden Cutler VC served longer as Governor of NSW (1965-1981), and was not made GCVO despite hosting the Queen several times, he did receive the AK unlike any other state governor, and which is a first-class honour like a GCMG. In my view it is now highly unlikely that Prof Bashir will not be a titular dame of some kind before 1 January 2015 (she is of course already a Dame of the Order of St John).
Hon. Bill Hayden AC (Governor-General 1988-1996) wearing the insignia of the Chancellor of the Order of Australia, and Mrs Dallas Hayden
The probable return of titular honours from the Royal Victorian Order prompts all sorts of questions. Will the Queen take care of a vice-regal backlog of title-less former and current governors? Will future governors be given one on swearing in? Who knows, but it is interesting. Bill Hayden is a former governor-general, Labor opposition leader, foreign minister, and quasi-monarchist. However, as he accepted life membership of the Labor Party in 2007 he may not want to renounce it for the sake of a knighthood. The controversy surrounding the resignation of Dr Peter Hollingworth as Governor-General in 2003 further complicates creating such a precedent. Or will knighthoods within the Royal Victorian Order remain solely for the purpose of visits to Australia by the monarch?
I consider it highly likely that, because of Abbott's passion for indigenous issues, an indigenous figure is likely to be a recipient of an AK or AD at some point. Noel Pearson, Marcia Langton, or icon of the 1967 referendum Faith Bandler are all possibilities. However surely the one that lends herself most to a ceremonial function is Lowitja O'Donoghue, the inaugural head of the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. She is a former Australian of the Year, holds both the AC and CBE, and is also a Dame of the Order of Malta. In Abbott's mind, she could be a uniter on several fronts - a former public servant seen as friendly to (but not a member of) Labor, the most senior living Aboriginal holder of an imperial honour, a practising Roman Catholic, and she is from a small state (South Australia). Her likely preference for a republic (she was on Paul Keating's Republic Advisory Committee in the 1990s) will not discriminate against her. Virtually all prominent indigenous Australians are declared republicans of some kind, although the first indigenous member of Federal Parliament, the late Neville Bonner AO, was active in Australians for Constitutional Monarchy. Nonetheless, Abbott will want these recipients to reach right across public life and an indigenous knight or dame would be a powerful symbol of that.
Lowitja O'Donoghue AC CBE
Beyond these, others amongst those that could feature are Nicole Kidman, David Gonski, Angus Houston and Murray Gleeson. All currently hold the AC, all are pre-eminent in their field and none have sought elected office. Nor could any be accused of being apologists for the governing Liberal-National coalition. Some (if not most or all) are republicans, but recent evidence suggests that is unlikely to turn them off accepting a traditional title. Kidman would bring relative youth and an international name from the entertainment world, Gonski is the best networked figure in Australian corporate life, Houston is a recent former Chief of the Defence Force and Gleeson is a highly regarded former Chief Justice who was also the first Chief Justice of Australia not to be a knight.
His Eminence, Cardinal George Pell, AC DD
There are many "pre-eminent" Australians, to use the Prime Minister's term, who could be considered to be potential recipients of a titular honour. But this small selection seems as plausible a list as any. Let's see how I go with these predictions!