Monarchist Prime Minister Tony Abbott was accused yesterday of sending Australia into a "time warp" by reintroducing knights and dames to the country's honours list.
The conservative leader announced the move on Tuesday with ministers revealing he went straight to Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Australia's head of state, for approval without consulting his Liberal Party colleagues.
Opposition Labor lawmakers ridiculed the move, asking why he was not focusing on issues such as unemployment instead.
"I'm concerned the Abbott government thinks this is a priority," Labor leader Bill Shorten said. He later asked the National Press Club: "Are we in a time warp?"
The Australian Republican Movement was equally dismissive, saying its website nearly crashed yesterday from the flood of new members signing up.
"This is turning the clock back to a colonial frame of mind that we have outgrown as a nation," said its national director, David Morris.
Ahead of elections last September, state broadcaster ABC asked more than 1.4 million people their views and found 38 per cent in favour of cutting ties to the British monarchy, while 20 per cent were neutral.
Abbott said on Tuesday that up to four knights or dames could be appointed each year, starting with the queen's outgoing representative Governor General Quentin Bryce and her successor Peter Cosgrove.
"I believe this is an important grace note in our national life," he said. "This is for pre-eminent achievement."