On Australia Day 2015, the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, awarded his nation’s highest accolade to our very own Prince Phillip. Media outlets worldwide described their shock at such a decision. The most pressing question concerning the whole event is why, in a 21st century world is one of the most powerful nations honouring a man who in 2002 visited Australia and asked a group of indigenous Australians if they “still threw spears at one another?”.
Prince Phillip is famous for his cultural faux pas during his international royal visits. In 2003 he told the Nigerian Prime Minister at the time, who was wearing his cultural dress, that he looked like he was “ready to go to bed”. Not to mention his notorious 1986 remark to a group of British students at a Chinese university where he told them that they would go “slitty-eyed” if they stayed there any longer.
Bill Shorten, the leader of Abbott’s opposition, correctly stated that it was “anachronistic” to give their “top award to a British royal”. The obvious criticism of Abbott’s actions is that on Australia day he chooses to honour a man that seems to remember a time when the British happily colonised Australia and claimed it as a country for themselves. A more pressing concern should be the cultural impact of awarding Australia’s highest accolade to a man who has time and time again proved that he in incapable of understanding other cultures besides his own.
We appear to often excuse people of the older generation for their soft racism and bigoted remarks as they were ‘raised in a different time’. Yet in excusing them we are expecting that they do not change and continue to disrespect the people that make up our 21st century, multi-cultural society.
It is wholly concerning, therefore, why Abbott has chosen to honour Prince Phillip. In doing so, he is worryingly perpetuating the belief that people ‘of a certain age’ do not need to learn and understand and appreciate other cultures as they were raised in a ‘different time’. It is exactly this stereotype that is upsetting. We so readily excuse people that are ‘different’ in opinions because of their age even when they target people who are ‘different’ in culture and background.
Shorten was correct when he said that Abbott was being anachronistic. Abbott has taken a huge step back in terms of 21st century racial and cultural understanding by celebrating a man who seemingly stands opposed to the cultural differences that Australia should be celebrating. The only enlightening part of the whole event is the unsurpassed criticism from the world’s media of Abbott. It is refreshing to live in a world that stands up against its political leaders.