Australian ex-PM 'touched' by Order of Merit award
Former Australian prime minister John Howard on Monday said he was touched by his appointment to the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II, seeing it as a mark of her "great respect" for the nation.
Howard, a staunch monarchist who was in office for 11 years, was named a member of the exclusive order by Buckingham Palace on Sunday for "exceptionally meritorious" service to the Crown.
The prestigious order is restricted to 24 living members, meaning new inclusions -- by personal gift of the sovereign -- can only follow the death of an existing appointee.
Howard was Australia's prime minister in 1999 when the country rejected a referendum on severing ties with the royal family and has never hidden his support for the system of constitutional monarchy.
Howard, 72, said he was "very honoured and quite touched" to become the ninth Australian to join the Order, which was established by Edward VII in 1902.
"It is obviously something that gives me a great deal of pleasure and surprise. I am conscious of the eminent Australians in the past who have received this award," Howard told ABC Radio.
"I also see it as a compliment to Australia and a reminder of the great respect the queen has for our country and the continued interest that she displays in the welfare of Australia and Australians."
Australia is among 16 Commonwealth realms of which the queen is head of state, and she was greeted by enthusiastic crowds during an extended tour of the vast continent as part of a Commonwealth summit late last year.
The honour is a special award presented to individuals of great achievement in the fields of the arts, learning, literature, science and other areas like public service.
British artist David Hockney was also appointed to the order on Sunday.
Other members of the order include former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, playwright Tom Stoppard, architect Norman Foster, former Canadian premier Jean Chretien and Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela is the only honorary member.
© 2012 AFP