Australia Day 'Knightmare' as Prince Philip gets top honor

Prince Philip seen in happier times with the Australian public during a royal visit to Perth in 2011.

Story highlights

  • Social media storm over Australian PM's decision to knight Prince Philip
  • One of two knighthoods announced on Australia Day
  • Tony Abbott dismisses social media reaction as "electronic graffiti"

(CNN)Prime Minister Tony Abbott has shirt-fronted the Australian public by awarding a Knighthood to a foreigner who already has a lot silverware in the pool room: Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

As the nation choked on its cornflakes, many took to social media to express shock and dismay and repeat the question, "Is this a joke?"
    At an Australia Day function in Canberra, Abbott was forced to defend his decision and dismissed the reaction on Twitter as "electronic graffiti."
    "I think that in the media, you make a big mistake to pay too much attention to social media. You wouldn't report what's sprayed up on the walls of buildings," Abbott was quoted as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald.
    Of Prince Philip, Abbott said: "He's the patron of hundreds of organizations. He's the inspiration and wellspring of the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards which have provided leadership training for tens if not hundreds of thousands of Australians over the years."
    The 93-year-old duke is the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece, whose ancestors hail from Danish royalty. He married in Queen Elizabeth II in 1947, who is head of the Commonwealth and is required to sign off on Abbott's decision, an irony not lost on Australia's comedians.
    Gift for Santa? More like a gift to Republicans, some said.
    Abbott reintroduced damehoods and knighthoods last year, 28 years after they were retired under the leadership of Bob Hawke's Labor government.
    At the time, Abbott said the honor of becoming a "Knight and Dame of the Order of Australia" would be extended to "Australians of extraordinary and pre-eminent achievement and merit."
    "My intention is that this new award will go to those who have accepted public office rather than sought it and who can never, by virtue of that office, ever entirely return to private life," he said.
    So far, only one dame and three knights have been appointed, including Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, who has most recently led operations to recover lost Malaysian flights MH370 and MH17.
    Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Australia had entered a timewarp to extend the honor to English royalty.
    "It's not about him, but he's a British royal -- why would we give him our top Australian honor? He's already got a lot of them," he said.
    Some wondered how Prince Philip would react to the announcement.
    For others, it was an opportunity to revive some the Duke's famous quotes.
    Some thought it was sure sign Phil could take some of Australia's other top honors.
    And then there was the lone voice, calling for calm... sort of.
    At the time of writing, Buckingham Palace had yet to release an official statement. Though its Twitter account posted a link to learn more about "the Australian Royal Family."
    Abbott didn't take to Twitter to try to stifle the spray of e-graffiti.
    His contribution to the great wall of outrage was a simple.
    Not likely, 'Straya says.