Originally published in The Canberra Times on March 29, 2014

Like his decision to spend $5 billion a year on a new paid parental leave scheme, Tony Abbott didn’t seek cabinet approval to restore knights and dames to Australian society. While Joe Hockey might want to end “the age of entitlement”, the Prime Minister certainly seems to feel pretty entitled to do as he pleases.

Like fairness and justice, the definition of the word entitlement is complex and highly political. But the problem for members of the Abbott government is that they don’t have an agreed sense of what they want to do, and who they want to do it for. The restoration of medieval honours this week highlights the philosophical and political tensions that the Coalition is yet to resolve.

Conservatives typically use the term “entitlement” in a derogatory sense. They use it, for example, to draw a distinction between the income support that a single mother relies on (a welfare entitlement) and the income that rugged, hard-working individuals “earn”. Needless to say, conservatives are typically silent on whether inheriting a fortune from your dad is best thought of as an “entitlement” or “earnings”.

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