It was Nelson Mandela that said, ‘Since the dawn of history, mankind has honoured and respected brave and honest people’. Certainly the announcement of the New Zealand Royal honours is highly anticipated.
Announced twice a year – on the official Queen’s Birthday in early June and New Year’s Eve – the awards recognise New Zealanders who have served their country or who have made significant achievements in their lives.
Usually the list is headed up by people whose names are synonymous with great achievements in philanthropy, the arts, politics, industry and sport – names that are very familiar to many people – but further down the list you will find people from your local area who have been recognised for their long years of service to the community.
A brief citation is given for every recipient – for example, ‘Mr Neil Lawrence Pugh, of Christchurch. For services to the community.’ Yet behind the statement will be years and years of exemplary service, very often voluntary. It is a huge mark of respect to be nominated for a New Zealand Royal honour.
You might be aware that the New Zealand Royal honours system is one that is uniquely Kiwi. Prior to 1996, New Zealanders could be recommended for various British or ‘Imperial’ Royal honours. In 1975, a distinctive New Zealand honour – the Queen’s Service Order (QSO), with its associated Queen’s Service Medal (QSM) – was added.
A second honour, the Order of New Zealand (ONZ), was introduced in 1987. This is the highest honour in the New Zealand Royal honours system and recognises ‘outstanding service to the Crown and people of New Zealand in a civil or military capacity’. Ordinary membership is limited to 20 living members; additional members may be appointed to commemorate important royal, state or national occasions.
Since 1976, other New Zealand medals have been added, included awards for military, police, fire and prison services personnel.
In 1995, following a significant review of the system, a completely New Zealand Royal honours system was established, with the introduction of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1996. Recipients are appointed to one of five levels, including two levels of titular knights and dames, as well as Companion, Officer or Member of the Order.
Today, our system comprises the three ‘Orders’ – the Order of New Zealand, the New Zealand Order of Merit, and the Queen’s Service Order – along with other awards, including the New Zealand Bravery and Gallantry Awards, the New Zealand Distinguished Service Decoration, and the New Zealand Antarctic Medal.
Making a nomination
The electorate office where I work receives a number of enquiries each year from people who believe they know of a deserving person who should be nominated for an honour and would their Member of Parliament be willing to submit an application. However, nominations for honours may be made by anyone, though self-nominations are not accepted.
There’s quite a process to go through though, and if you are considering nominating someone for an honour, you should familiarise yourself with the guidelines (information at the end of this article). An MP’s office can certainly help – we have nomination forms on hand and can provide guidance that will help you with the application process.
One of the key things to consider is the deadline for applications. Processing the forms and compiling all the supporting evidence takes time. It’s not a process that should be rushed. You will need at least two letters from people other than yourself as the nominator who can provide information about the nominee’s contributions and achievements and who believe that person is worthy of receiving a New Zealand Royal honour.
You will need to think at least six months ahead of when the awards are announced: nominations for the Queen’s Birthday list should be submitted by before Christmas the preceding year and nominations for the New Year list before mid-June.
You don’t nominate someone for a particular honour. The decision as to what level and sort of honour is recommended for an individual is made by the Prime Minister, supported by a committee of senior ministers.
Within your nomination, you will need to state very clearly how the nominee’s achievements stand out or how their contributions have made an impact – in a nutshell, you will need to demonstrate why they are eminently suitable for a New Zealand Royal honour. The same goes for the people writing the letters of support – they will need to write with conviction. We have helped with numerous nominations and this is important in making the case for your nominee among the hundreds of nominations considered each year.
Bear in mind that the person being nominated must have gone above and beyond what may be considered ‘normal’ for a role. You will need to emphasise how your nominee stands out above and beyond their peers. For example, it’s not enough for a person to have held a position of leadership in an organisation or a community for many years. They will have had to have been more successful than others in that role, or have had a greater impact than others in that role – and you will need to provide evidence of this as part of your nomination, as will those who write the letters of support.
Another consideration is that honours – with the exception of those for gallantry and bravery – can only be made to living people; they can’t be awarded posthumously. The reason behind this is that the nominees have to indicate their acceptance of an honour before it is approved by The Queen. People who have died cannot indicate their acceptance.
Has my nomination been successful?
The Honours Unit receives around 800 to 1000 nominations each year. Every nomination is considered by the Prime Minister, who, with the assistance of a Cabinet committee of ministers, decides which nominations are most worthy and agrees a shortlist of nominees who will be offered a proposed honour.
With the exception of New Zealand Defence Force personnel, all nominees on the shortlist are contacted by the Honours Unit on behalf of the Governor-General and asked whether the proposal to include their name on an honours list is acceptable before The Queen formally approves the honour. Nominees may choose to decline a proposed honour.
Around 350 to 400 honours are granted each year across the combined Queen’s Birthday and New Year lists. Every application is treated in strictest confidence, and once your nomination has been lodged and acknowledged for consideration on a particular honours list, the Honours Unit will not disclose information on the status of the application.
Other than the nominee being contacted prior to accepting an honour, no news is issued until the announcement of the honours list. Not even the person who submitted the nomination finds out ahead of time; everything is a very closely guarded secret. The media are provided with the honours list under strict embargo so that they can prepare background stories on the recipients for publication on the day of announcement.
If your nominee is not included on an honours list, you can write to the Honours Unit to request that your nominee be reconsidered for a future list. If you wish to re-nominate someone, you don’t need to resupply the original material. You should, however, focus on any new service or achievements that your nominee has made since the original nomination was submitted.
Honours insignia – the badges or medals – can be kept by the recipient’s family after their death, apart from Members of the Order of New Zealand. Order of New Zealand insignia needs to be returned to the Honours Unit when the recipient dies, as recipients sign a covenant to return these badges on their death for re-issue to new members of the Order.
Honours can also be removed, although this is very rare – there have been just four occasions since 1980 where honours have been forfeited. Most recently New Zealand businessman Ron Brierley, who pleaded guilty to charges of possessing child abuse material, resigned his knighthood in May this year after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced in April that she would begin proceedings to remove his title.
No greater honour
The title of this article sums it up: there is no greater honour than to serve. When you read through the upcoming Queen’s Birthday honours list, take a moment to consider just how many years each person may have dedicated to serving their country and communities.
Then think again – do you know of someone who may be suitable?
More information and guidelines can be found at https://www.dpmc.govt.nz/our-programmes/new-zealand-royal-honours