The queen last April presenting her husband Prince Philip with the insignia of a Knight of the Order of Australia

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has scrapped a recently revived knights and dames honours’ system, highlighting a break with his conservative and royalist predecessor, Tony Abbott.

Mr Turnbull, a former leader of the republican movement in Australia, said Mr Abbot’s decision to reinstate knights and dames was “not appropriate” in a modern Australian honours system. The policy U-turn underscores a change of emphasis within the governing Liberal-National coalition following the ousting of Mr Abbott by Mr Turnbull in September.

“We haven’t had a big sea change in policy yet but what we are seeing is a change of tone,” said Peter Chen, politics lecturer at Sydney University. “In part, this is because Turnbull promised to run a cabinet-led government and consultation takes time. He also needs an electoral mandate to make significant policy changes.”

Australian politics has undergone a traumatic period, with five prime ministers in as many years. Mr Turnbull’s challenge is to restore stability to government at a time when the economy is weakening amid the unwinding of a decade-long mining investment boom and a collapse in commodity prices.

Mr Turnbull has the advantage of replacing a deeply unpopular prime minister and a weak opposition Labor party headed by Bill Shorten, which trails in polls. An election is expected next year.

Mr Abbott reintroduced knights and dames in 2014, almost three decades after they were abolished by Labor prime minister Bob Hawke. Mr Abbott, a monarchist, did not consult cabinet on the change and was widely ridiculed when he awarded one of the first honours to Prince Philip.

The issue became a lightning rod for opponents within the Liberal party, who questioned whether Mr Abbott was out of touch with voters and in September mounted a successful leadership challenge.

On Monday, Mr Turnbull issued a statement saying Queen Elizabeth II had agreed to a government recommendation that knights and dames would no longer be appointed. Australia’s republican movement lost a referendum in 1999 to remove the British monarch as head of state.

Since winning the Liberal leadership, Mr Turnbull has tried to differentiate his administration from that of his predecessor without alienating a conservative wing of his party, which supported Mr Abbott.

A former lawyer and Goldman Sachs director, he has installed five women in his cabinet and prioritised the economy, innovation and tax reform while refusing to roll back conservative policies on asylum seekers, climate change or same-sex marriage.

He has adopted a less strident tone than his predecessor on the threat posed by terrorism by highlighting the need for greater engagement with Muslim communities to tackle extremism as well as introducing new antiterrorism laws.

“Turnbull has a delicate balancing act to perform and is taking a pragmatic approach which is proving popular with voters,” says Ian McAllistair, professor at Australian National University. “He has performed well in parliament and is not ruling out policy changes.”

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