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In Australia, decision to knight a prince becomes a royal hassle for PM

Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 25, 2014.

LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

Australia's Prime Minister on Wednesday promised to consult more widely before bestowing knighthoods in the future as he weathered an avalanche of criticisms over his decision to make the husband of Queen Elizabeth II an Australian knight.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, would be awarded Australia's highest honour on Australia's national holiday on Monday, prompting some to question the wisdom of knighting a British royal on a day meant to commemorate Australians.

WHAT IS THE ORDER OF AUSTRALIA?

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The Order of Australia replaced the British honours system for Australians in 1975. It first introduced categories for knights and dames in 1976, and awarded 14 people those honours until the categories were abolished a decade later. Abbott reinstated them last year.

Phillip is not the first royal to be awarded an Australian knighthood: His son Charles, Prince of Wales, was knighted in 1981.

Its Canadian equivalent is the Order of Canada, which inducted Prince Phillip as the first-ever extraordinary companion in 2013. Non-Canadian citizens are not eligible for admission to the order, but Canada created a new category so it could include members of the Royal Family.

THE BACKLASH

The most stinging criticisms of Abbott's decision have come from within the conservative government's ranks, with some lawmakers questioning the Prime Minister's political judgment and whether he should retain the leadership of the nation.

"It's hard to imagine a way more likely to antagonize people," an unnamed member of Abbott's Liberal Party told the Wednesday edition of Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper. "This is the first time I've stopped defending Tony. I've had it with him. This is total craziness," the member said.

"Giving Prince Philip an Australian knighthood is the worst decision of Abbott's prime ministership," wrote Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of The Australian.

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THE PM'S RESPONSE

Abbott said Wednesday that he had consulted on the decision only with Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, and Angus Houston, chairman of the Council of the Order of Australia.

"I stand by the decision. I understand why some people don't like it," Abbott told reporters. "I do want to assure people that I have heard and there will be considerably more consultation around these awards in the future."

Abbott declined to say whether he regretted making the decision, which he described as "contentious" and "a distraction" for his government.

With a report from Bill Curry

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