Kōrero: Royal honours system

Whārangi 4. Bestowing honours

Ngā whakaahua

Nomination and selection

Anybody can nominate anyone (except themselves) for an honour by completing a nomination form and sending it to the Honours Unit, Cabinet Office, in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Nominations are considered by a cabinet committee comprising a group of ministers of the crown chaired by the prime minister. Recommendations for most honours go, on the advice of the prime minister, to the governor-general for informal approval, then, again on the advice of the prime minister, to the queen for formal approval. Between 1,400 and 1,800 nominations are made each year, from which roughly 400 honours are granted.

For services to…

New Zealanders in many walks of life have been honoured for their contributions to a wide range of fields. In 2010 and 2011 these included services to agriculture, Antarctic engineering, the arts, astrophysics, brass bands, specific communities (including the Chinese, Deaf, Greek, Indian, Tokelauan and visually impaired communities), emergency management, forensic science, gymnastics, health, historic places, Māori, marching, netball administration, photography, recreational fishing, senior citizens, shearing, solo long-distance rowing and typography – and many others.

The choice of those to be honoured is sometimes controversial, with commentary in the written media regularly accompanying the publication of each honours list.

Women’s recognition by the honours system has increased over time. In 2010–11 around a third of honours recipients were women.

Checking with nominees

Successful nominees are asked by the official secretary to the governor-general whether or not they will accept an honour. This process is called ‘sounding’. Sometimes people decline, for a variety of reasons. However, very few people offered an honour refuse it. The published lists are of those people who have accepted the honour offered.

Announcement of honours

New Zealand royal honours are announced regularly twice a year: at New Year, and on the official observance of the queen’s birthday in June. Sometimes additional ‘special honours lists’ are published. Honours lists are gazetted (formally published) in the New Zealand Gazette.

‘After you, madam’

New Zealand society is relatively classless. However, on some formal occasions the ‘order of precedence’ is observed. This puts in order the royal, vice-regal (the governor-general), governmental, diplomatic and other positions of note in New Zealand’s society for practical purposes such as seating and order of speech. ‘The precedence of orders’ – a different concept – determines the order in which honours are announced and gazetted. The order in which people should wear various individual honours insignia, decorations and medals is prescribed by ‘the order of wear’.

Bestowing honours

The procedure of formally conferring an honour and its insignia is called investiture. Investiture ceremonies are generally conducted by the governor-general, usually at Government House in Wellington or Government House in Auckland. New knights are still tapped on their right then left shoulder with a sword, in an ancient ritual called the ‘accolade of knighthood’ but better known as ‘dubbing’. Dames are not dubbed.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Mandy Wong, 'Royal honours system - Bestowing honours', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/royal-honours-system/page-4 (accessed 17 September 2019)

Story by Mandy Wong, published 20 Jun 2012