House debates

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


Succession to the Crown Bill 2015; Second Reading

4:30 pm

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was saying, the head of the Australian Republican Movement, David Morris, is someone I met in 2013 when I was chairing a panel on the Australian republic at a Progressive Australia conference conducted by the Chifley Research Centre—which, might I say, was an excellent conference. The panel talked a lot about the importance of a republic when it comes to talking about our national identity and our place in the world, particularly our place in the world in the Asian century. The point was made then that it is difficult for someone to understand why Australia—a modern country with important relationships with Asian nations as well as Western nations—would want to have a foreign head of state. As I was saying, David himself is someone who is a very strong advocate for talking about the national identity and what it means to be Australian in the context of thinking about how to have an Australian head of state and whether it is appropriate to have an Australian head of state. And, as I said, I think when you talk about the idea of becoming a republic and of standing on our own two feet you have to think about that in the context about what it really means to be Australian in the 21st century. As you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, we are a multicultural society; we are a society of mixed heritages; we are a society that recognises the contributions made by the first peoples of this country—the first nations people; we are a society that has valued immigration and the contribution that immigrants have made to our nation, particularly in recent decades and since the Second World War.

And I want to mention that our Indigenous culture rightfully has a central place in our understanding of what it means to be Australian and in the international understanding of what it means to be Australian. In fact, Indigenous art is as much a symbol of our national identity as is the kangaroo and vegemite. When one travels overseas all of those things—as well as platypi, for example—get raised, about what it means to be Australian and the images and symbols and emblems and ideas of Australianism that come from our national environment and from our peoples and from our culture that we have developed here. So, I did want to mention the struggles of the first peoples to overcome the adverse effects of the dispossession that arose during British colonisation. It is something that informs our national values as a modern nation state. But, as I said earlier, we still have not recognised those first peoples of this country in our Constitution. And, like many people in this place—hopefully everyone in this place—I believe it is something we should do.

When you are talking about the nature of the head of state of Australia and when you are talking about this bill, which is really about the way lines of succession work—whether a man or a woman gets to be first in place in the race for the British throne or whether an heir to a king or a queen can marry a Catholic—it is, as I said earlier, really a reminder that we should not be talking about a foreign monarch; we should be talking about an Australian head of state, a home-grown head of state. And, as I said earlier, that has to be informed by our values, and one of the fundamental Australian values of course is the idea of a fair go. It is that idea that led to the Freedom Ride of 1965, and it is that idea that leads to overwhelming support for the reconciliation movement, including the apology to the Stolen Generation that my predecessor as the member for Griffith, the Honourable Kevin Rudd, made in this place.

I mentioned earlier David Morris, who, as I said, is someone who speaks a lot about Australian identity in his work leading the Australian Republican Movement. As he said, an Australian republic is an opportunity to 'unite Australians, in our diversity, around an identity that can also strengthen our identity in the world, an identity that is not simply rooted in being comfortable with the past, but one that actively embraces our present and future'.

In the Asian century, the region and the world can better understand Australia if we stand on our own two feet. If instead of having a foreign monarch as our head of state we have an Australian as our head of state, we can better understand ourselves—in the stories that we tell ourselves about what it means to be Australian today, in the way that we understand our values, in the way that we articulate what it means to be a mate, to be courageous, to be bold, to be enterprising, to be caring, to love community, in all of those things, and in forming our identity, in acknowledging our history, good and bad, in acknowledging our diversity, in working towards a particularly Australian multiculturalism which is a spectacularly successful form of multiculturalism, one of the best examples of multiculturalism in the world, where we underpin our respect for each other's cultures and values with our fundamental respect for the rights, liberties and freedoms of an Australian living under the Australian Constitution with respect for democracy and the rule of law. When you put all those rights and values together, when you put all of those shared ideas and values together, it is really one way of giving expression to the fact that we do stand on our own feet, that we do have our own identity, that we are a modern adult nation, a mature nation, no longer hanging from the apron strings of a mother country, no longer dependent on a monocultural past based around a British throne, those things really do lend themselves to becoming an Australian republic.

I of course acknowledge, as I did earlier in the course of this debate, the contribution that the British monarch, the Queen herself and the Governors-General of Australia, have made to our nation. I do say that it would be wonderful if instead of debating a bill about the way succession to the British throne works we were debating a bill to become an Australian republic.

4:37 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise to speak on the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015, which will provide the parliament of Australia's assent on three important reforms. The first reform will end the system of male preference primogeniture, so that in future the order of royal succession in the United Kingdom will be determined simply by the order of birth—female heirs will no longer be sidelined by their younger brothers. The second reform will remove the bar on succession for an heir and successor of the sovereign who marries a Catholic. The existing restriction applies to Catholics alone and not to any other faith. The reform will apply to all existing marriages at the time the law comes into force, as well as to future marriages. The third reform is to limit the requirement that the sovereign consent to the marriage of a descendant of his late Majesty King George II to the first six persons in line to the Crown.

The reforms were enacted by the parliament of the United Kingdom on 22 April 2013 and will come into force on the commencement of the UK legislation as soon as all 16 realms, including Australia, implement the reforms in their jurisdictions. I note that, as agreed at COAG, all states have passed laws authorising the Commonwealth to enact this legislation for the whole of Australia. These reforms serve to modernise the monarchy. I agree with the member for Pearce and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister that this is a landmark reform.

I appreciate that some members today in this debate have used this opportunity to advocate for a republic and an Australian head of state. They have used this opportunity to criticise the English monarchy and some of the—let's face it—antiquated laws on which the monarchy was built. I do not propose to add to that debate other than to say I respect the right of every member of this parliament to advocate for the Australia he or she wants to see in the future. For me, I would like to see an Australian head of state one day. I know many Australians share that aspiration, including members on both sides of the House, but I do not consider now is the time.

Under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, I do not consider we are seeing in this country at this time the appetite to move to another referendum on this question. Queen Elizabeth has provided decades of service to all Commonwealth nations, including to Australia. She is loved and admired by many. I think the Leader of the Opposition has mistimed and miscalculated the start of his campaign for an Australian republic. In fact, on this point it is worth noting that later this year, 11 September 2015, will mark the day that Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest-serving British monarch—63 years, exceeding the length of Queen Victoria's reign.

I have to put on record my disappointment about the very partisan contribution by the member for Canberra in this debate, including the comments that she made that these reforms will have little or no impact on our nation. Regardless of whether members support a monarchy or a republic, these reforms are significant as a strong symbol and in substance. Today in my contribution I choose to celebrate the modernisation of the monarchy in a number of important respects. I choose to celebrate the removal of deeply entrenched discrimination—discrimination against women and Catholics.

The reform that royal succession will be determined by birth not gender applies to any person born after 28 October 2011. This was a proposal reportedly put forward at the urging of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge some two years before their first son, Prince George, was born. I think it is fair to say they are the epitome of the modern Royal Family. Last April, it was a great pleasure to battle the crowd of MPs, many of whom are republicans, to meet the duke and duchess during their visit to Canberra. It was a very special time. I was delighted to present the royal couple with a Rip Curl wetsuit, on behalf of the people of Corangamite, for their young son, Prince George. I had a chat to the duchess about this and she told me the wetsuit would very much come in handy and be perfect for those chilly British summers.

I grew up in a family who believed that anything was possible, regardless of gender. My mother, Ann, was a proud champion of women. She was a Victorian member of parliament in the 1990s. As the minister for housing and Aboriginal affairs, she was also a champion for the most disadvantaged in our community and for Indigenous peoples. Upon my election to this place, we became the first and, to date, only mother and daughter to be elected as members of parliament in this country.

Last week, I attended a wonderful event at the Otway NouriShed held by the Lavers Hill and Gellibrand Community Houses in my electorate of Corangamite, deep in the magnificent Otways. In celebration of International Women's Day, we watched the film Utopia, which told the story of how women won the right to vote in Australia. When I returned home and explained to my nine-year-old son, Jeremy, where I had been, he could not believe that at one stage in our history women were prohibited from voting. He was just as incredulous when I told him that also, in part of our history, Indigenous peoples were prohibited from voting.

Our history is riddled with unjust laws, and it is important we work hard as a parliament and as a nation to right prior wrongs. In the 1930s, my grandfather Ern Henderson, a Catholic, could not get a bank loan because he was a Catholic. He managed to start a haberdashery business without the bank's help. I know many older Australians lived through this era and well remember this type of discrimination. In fact, I might just add, on a personal note, in my final year of school I was appointed school captain of Geelong College—and it caused a bit of a storm. That is because the school I attended was historically Presbyterian and then a Uniting Church school. There was enormous objection to my appointment, because I was a Catholic and because I was a girl. I still am a girl.

This was in the 1980s, at a time when you would not think this type of open discrimination would be alive and well. For women in this country, we live and breathe ongoing discrimination. It is incredibly important as a parliament that we work as hard as we can, in substance, and, with the strong symbols that are so important to people, to rid this country of discrimination, both direct and indirect.

It is significant that the bar on succession for an heir of the sovereign who marries a Catholic is being removed. I do note, with some disapproval, that Catholics continue to be barred from ascending the throne. Young Australians do not understand many of the injustices of our past. For young children—like my son, Jeremy—they simply do not understand the concept of discriminating on the basis of gender or religion. That is something to celebrate. For this reason alone, this bill is important. I commend the bill to the House.

4:46 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Walter Scott said:

Breathes there a man with soul so

dead, Who never to himself hath said;

This is my own, my native land.

These fine words have never been uttered by any Australian head of state about Australia. Under our Constitution, they never could be uttered. That is because, while no British citizen can ever be Australia's head of government, only a British citizen can ever be Australia's head of state.

This bill brings the monarchy into the 19th century. It ensures that the sexism inherent in the current arrangements is no longer present, that a firstborn girl can succeed in preference to her younger brother. It ensures that marrying a Catholic is no longer a bar to ascending to our head of state. But it fails to ensure that any of my three little boys—Sebastian, Theodore or Zachary—could one day aspire to be Australia's head of state or, indeed, that any of the 800 children born today could be Australia's head of state.

The republican movement has a proud history. I look to the Eureka uprising, at which there was a strong strain of republicanism prevalent among the miners. Among the Irish—it is appropriate we acknowledge this on St Patrick's Day—were republicans, because of their hereditary hatred of the English. The Americans were republican because of their long history of struggle against the British, and many of the Europeans bore Republican sympathies, having lived through the 1848 revolutions that swept through Europe.

When we look back at the Eureka charter, it is so easy to understand how republicanism was fired up among those who came to the shores of Australia, a nation where they quickly recognised that Jack was not just as good as his master but perhaps better. Here in the ACT we are natural republicans—the one jurisdiction that in 1999 voted for a republic and the one jurisdiction that voted for Waltzing Matilda as our national song.

In 1999 Australia held a referendum. It was a three-cornered contest between bipartisan parliamentary appointed republicans, direct-election republicans and monarchists. As the member for Wentworth has pointed out, the monarchists 'delightedly, if cynically, exploited the division by promising the direct electionists that if the parliamentary model were defeated at the referendum they could have another referendum on the direct-election model within a few years'. It has been half a generation since then.

Some, like the previous speaker, counsel patience. They argue that the push for an Australian as head of state should wait until King Charles III ascends the throne. That fundamentally misunderstands the argument for an Australian republic. Our quibble is not with Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, their heirs or successors. Each of those individuals has done their job diligently. Indeed, a belief in a republic does not lessen respect for them as individuals. In 2012, when Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Canberra, I was pleased to welcome them on the tarmac of Canberra Airport, representing the government.

Respect and politeness for the Royal Family sits alongside my passionate belief that Australia should have one of our own as head of state. I held the same courtesy in my heart as I went out to the tarmac last year, to welcome Prince William, Kate Middleton and their baby, George, to Canberra. Again, I was representing the Labor Party. I took my son Sebastian out with me the first time, onto the tarmac, and my son Theodore the second time—we see too little of our families in this job and it is nice to be able to spend some time, with your children, when you can.

It was a real delight for me to have my son Theodore meet their son, George. I thought at the time: why is it that baby George is better suited than every Australian baby to grow up to be Australia's head of state? The 800 babies born in Australia today will grow up around gum trees and sandy beaches. They will call their friends 'mate' and they will barrack for the baggy greens, the Wallabies and the Socceroos. Their success in life will not be decided by their surname. If they say they live in a castle, it will be because they are quoting Darryl Kerrigan. In short, every one of the 800 babies born today will be Australians and every one of them should be able to aspire to be our head of state.

Those who disagree with this view sometimes claim that the Governor-General is our head of state. At best, that is a contentious, strained protestation. As members of the parliament of the Australian Commonwealth of states, we all swore or affirmed our allegiance to the Queen, not to the Governor-General. At state dinners, visiting heads of state toast the Queen of Australia. Her image is on our currency. Australian government websites say, 'Australia's head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.'

The slogan 'don't know, vote no' has never been more powerful in Australian public life. The Prime Minister used it when he was campaigning for the monarchy in 1999 and he has deployed it relentlessly in recent years, including against a market-based solution to climate change, fibre-to-the home broadband and fiscal stimulus to save jobs. It is a seductively simple line, but one that is more dangerous than ever as Australia grapples with complex challenges. The member for Griffith went to exactly this point a moment ago in speaking about how the anachronism of the Australian monarchy looks to our friends in the Asian region. What must they think? Looking from Indonesia, China, Korea and Japan, it is that we here in Australia cannot shrug off the 19th anachronism of having a member of the house of Windsor as our head of state. How does it sit with our claimed belief in a fair go when the qualification to be our head of state is that one must be British and white? They are characteristics that remain unchanged as a result of this bill.

While I support this bill, as I suspect everybody in this place will do, I also call upon this parliament to make it a priority to hold a referendum to make Australia a republic. In so doing, we will make it clear to ourselves and the world that, instead of a foreign child in a foreign land, Australians trust an Australian child to grow up and be an Australian head of state. Such a child will be more appropriate for us, more representative of us and more worthy of us—a child who knows their own native land and their living Australian soul.

4:55 pm

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish all of the parliament family a happy Saint Patrick's Day. People have commented that perhaps it is somewhat ironic that this bill, which is to do with the succession of the Crown and Australia's head of state, is being held on Saint Patrick's Day. I think it is really important to make it clear that those of us who see this legislation and the fact that we have a head of state who is a British monarch as ironic is not a result of us having an anti-British sentiment—far from it. It is rather that here—150 years after we became a nation-state that had universal suffrage right at its very heart and where men and women were treated equally—we are dealing with a piece of legislation that seeks finally to catch up and change the gender preference of the British monarch so that female children are treated equally to male children in the order of succession.

I think it is also ironic that it is 115 years since we enshrined our Constitution, which was steadfastly a secular constitution, that we are having to deal with the removal of a religious principle. For the spouse of the head of state, no longer will a concern of Romanism be enshrined into the marriage entitlements of the British monarchy and therefore the Australian head of state. We do note that this legislation, however, does not cease to require the British monarch to be an Anglican. Of course, in Australia we are a staunchly secular country in terms of our political structures, where all faiths and no faith are given equal standing. But we are nevertheless compelled to have as our head of state a member of the Anglican Church. I think probably the percentage of Anglicans in the Australian community now is probably down to around 30 per cent, if that.

Again, I think this legislation that we are dealing with today is a powerful reminder that the structures we have in place for the determination of our head of state are really, really quite inappropriate for that very thing that we are. It is not, as I say, that to take this view one needs to be anti-British. The majority of my ancestry is Irish and German; I did have one great-grandmother who was born on Bayswater Road. But nevertheless, notwithstanding that, whilst genetically I have very little British inheritance, I would believe very strongly that culturally we have a British inheritance. I think that anyone who has studied history, has studied law or has been in this parliament would deeply value those things that we inherited from the British culture. They are not the things that we have inherited through the monarchy; they are those powerful institutions of a parliamentary democracy, a Westminster system, the rule of law and the beautiful practicality of the common law.

All of those things have been very fundamentally at the foundation of Australia as a nation state. What has not been at the foundation of Australia as a nation state is a deeply incensed system of inequality. The whole notion of a monarch is deeply discordant with the whole enterprise that is Australia. The idea that we have a position that one inherits is indeed absolutely antithetical to the very notion of what it is to be Australian. Australia is a land that has offered people from across the globe and people from all walks of life an opportunity to make their own destiny. So the symbolism of a head of state that has that position bestowed on them by virtue of their birth and not by virtue of their attainment is, as I say, deeply antithetical to the whole exercise of Australia and, as such, is very much the wrong symbol for us to have enshrined in modern day Australia.

Whilst I do pay tribute to the British institutions that have very much shaped this country, we have to recognise that we have institutions and cultural influences now from all around the world. It was very interesting at the Simpson Prize awards to talk to a young girl, Alicia, from Western Australia who was the runner-up. We talked about her essay on the young people who signed up from Australia to participate in the war. She made the comment that her research showed that, overwhelmingly, people who were going to fight were going to fight for Britain rather than for Australia and, indeed, the majority of those that she looked at had actually been born or had a parent born in Britain.

But it is vastly different today. We are such a different country. We have people who have been in this country for many generations. We now, fortunately—albeit belatedly—acknowledge the value and the traditions of the original Australians, and they are very much woven into our heritage. We have had the waves of migration from southern Europe, from Vietnam and, more recently, from the Middle East, Africa and other parts of Asia. So we have become a much richer and more complex society culturally. So, again, it seems to me to be totally inappropriate that we have as our symbol this position that one inherits and one that can only be British and be Anglican. We need to recognise that we have this richer society, and we need a symbol. We need a head of state that is drawn from that.

As has been said by many speakers, the idea that we can have a head of state that is one of us—that comes from this country—that we can have a person who is Australian being the symbolic head of our community is really important for the creation of that social glue, the creation of that strong sense of an Australian identity and the value of that Australian identity. Having an Australian head of state delivers value to our community—a value that I think is very much lost by having a British monarch as our head of state.

As a staunch republican—but a staunch republican who values our British heritage—I think it is important that we have minimalist change. I certainly think that the complexities that are introduced by having an elected head of state have undermined the arguments for a monarchy. Notwithstanding what they might think of us individually or as a class, I think that, by and large, Australians are generally pretty happy with the structure of our democracy. So it is really important that we make a change that is very transparent to the community and that we not have a great many unknowns—as people were concerned about. For example, what happens if you have a directly elected head of state? Do you have conflict between that head of state and the Prime Minister, each of them having, arguably, their own mandate?

By recognising the strength of our parliamentary democracy and the system that we inherited and preserving that structure where we have a Governor-General and that Governor-General however becoming the pinnacle of the political structure is, I think, very much the way that we should go. The only thing that would change is that, instead of the government of the day advising through the Governor-General to the Queen who the next person to be appointed to that position would be, that would happen directly to the Governor-General. So, effectively, it would be exactly the same structure and exactly the same rights and obligations would remain, except it would simply not have to be processed through the Governor-General to the British monarch. That is a clear case that I would love to see all republicans get behind. Whilst I can see the superficial appeal of an elected head of state, I think that, unfortunately, the type of person most people would like to see—and have been happy to have—as governors-general would tend not to want to put up their hand to be elected as a governor-general, and I think it creates a difficulty if you have these two offices where there are two competing mandates.

Again, in summary, of course we support this legislation, but it is really quite absurd that, 115 years into our nationhood, we have to have these extraordinarily archaic discussions about the line of succession to a monarchy many tens of thousands of kilometres from this country. In the next decade I would really like to see, and I hope that we will see, Australia reach that final level of maturity where we have a head of state who is an Australian, who is a person that achieves that position not by virtue of the privilege of birth but by virtue of the things that they have achieved within their life, and that that will strengthen this incredible exercise that we have here in Australia, where we are seeking to weld together peoples from all over the world into a single common identity.

5:08 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I feel a familiar sense of embarrassment as I rise to speak on this bill today, the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015. It is an embarrassment that many Australians will have felt, perhaps while they were sitting in the outer watching an Ashes test match and listening to the Barmy Army sing, 'God save your Queen.' Why does this so stick in our craw? Why does the Barmy Army know that it sticks in our craw? Because today, 227 years after the First Fleet and 115 years after Federation, Australia's head of state does not represent us. It is not simply that it is an anachronism; it is that the institution of the British monarchy offends the very things that we are most proud of about Australia. It is utterly out of step with the values and expectations of modern Australia—values like a fair go, egalitarianism and mateship. The British monarchy is an elitist and exclusive institution. There is no way around this. It is an institution that looks backwards to who someone's parents happen to be when determining whether someone is qualified to be a head of state. It is an institution that excludes the millions of Australians whose families, like my own, have come to this country from nations outside the British Empire. It is an institution that, as we see in the bill before us today, continues to discriminate on the basis of gender and religion.

I have no doubt that the individuals, the human beings who are trapped within these institutions, are generally good and decent people like the rest of us. But we can do better as a nation than the British monarchy. Indeed, we have already built something better in this country. That is why the Barmy Army mocks us, because even they can see the incongruity between the nation that we have made for ourselves and the outdated and unrepresentative head of state at the apex of our system of government.

I have heard some members in this place lament that this bill is a waste of time and that the parliament has more important, more substantive things to deal with. I could not disagree more. Symbols matter, and national symbols matter a great deal. Our national symbols matter to the sense of connection that Australian citizens feel with other Australians, with their nation and with the government. It matters whether Australians feel like they share a common stake in the hopes and achievements of their fellow citizens and that we are all in the same boat. We on this side of the House believe in the potential for what we can achieve together and the power of collective action. Too often, progressives discount the important role that a sense of unified national identity can play as an enabler of collective action. Think of the things that we have built in this nation through this sense of shared endeavour. As Tim Soutphommasane has argued in his book Reclaiming Patriotism, progressives, people who believe in collective action, should readily embrace the label of patriot. Soutphommasane argues that a love of country also includes an obligation to improve your country in any way possible. To do so, we must engage in nation building. It is progressives who have been the instigators of the major nation-building initiatives that have made our country great. They have been the ones pushing the nation building reforms such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, Medicare and Australia's superannuation savings schemes.

But we must also engage in the building of national identity on the symbolic level. Edmund Barton may have said that 'we have a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation', but we are not defined by our landmass. We define ourselves through the national culture, values and symbols that we build together as a people. National identity is politically constructed, and it is up to all of us, MPs and citizens alike, to build it. We do this every day.

Conservatives and reactionaries like our current Prime Minister like to suggest that Australian identity is somehow immutable and that the concept of what an Australian is is somehow set in stone. To see how this national identity is politically constructed, consider how just a few of our national symbols have evolved since Federation. Our flag is a powerful symbol of Australian identity. Its place in the Australian consciousness is now so strong that to many it feels like an unchangeable part of our national identity. But, if you look at Tom Roberts's iconic big-picture portrait of the opening of the first Australian parliament, in Melbourne in 1901, you will see three flags in use: the Union Jack, the red ensign and the blue ensign that we today recognise as the Australian flag. Through the early years of our nation, there was confusion over who was permitted to fly which flag and when they were able to do so. As a result, the Australian red ensign was commonly flown by Australians until 1953, when Prime Minister Menzies passed the Flags Act and made the blue ensign the national standard. It is notable that our conception of something as seemingly unchanging and fundamental as Australia's flag has actually changed substantially over the last 100 years of our nation's history.

The concept of citizenship—the right to be a full participant in our community and our democracy—has also changed significantly over time. In 1901, down the road from the opening of the Federation parliament in Melbourne's Exhibition Building, in Little Bourke Street's Chinatown, there was a celebration to mark the presence of the Duke and Duchess of York in Australia for the opening of the Federation parliament. The Chinese traders of Little Bourke Street decorated Swanston Street with flags and lanterns and a Chinese arch with two pagoda-style towers adorned with a banner for the royal party that read, 'Welcome by the Chinese citizens.'

Unfortunately, despite their obvious civic pride, this banner was erected more in hope than in truth, as at the time the vast majority of Chinese Australians were not Australian citizens. Before Federation most Australian colonies passed laws banning Asians from being naturalised in Australia, and despite the presence of this civic-minded Australian community at the opening of parliament, just nine sitting days after the opening, the Immigration Restriction Act, better known as the White Australia policy, was introduced into the parliament. As Timothy Kendall has written in an excellent monograph on this period:

Federation was a moment of self-determination which presented the new nation with a unique opportunity to reflect upon matters of identity, citizenship and nationhood. … the first Parliament of Australia drew upon this opportunity—this moment of sovereignty—to construct deliberately discriminatory and racially exclusive legislation.

No-one in this place today would deny that Chinese Australians deserve the right to be recognised as equal Australian citizens, yet it was not until 1949 that a legal mechanism to do so was introduced to this country.

The ethnically and culturally diverse Australia of today is very different from the official White Australia of the era of Federation. Is there anyone among us who would say this is not for the better—that the Australia of the start of the 21st century is not a far greater nation than the Australia of the start of the 20th century? Is there anyone among us who would not be proud of how far we have come as a country since the days of Edmund Barton? If we can recognise that our nation has changed and changed for the better, we should also recognise that the symbols of our nation that have become outdated as a result of this change should also change. It is time to reprise the words of Mr Kendall, reflect again upon 'matters of identity, citizenship and nationhood' and embrace a system of government that gives everyone in our nation a stake in the symbols of Australia.

The British monarch is no longer the single thread that unites us as a nation. It is at best an irrelevance and at worst a symbol of our inability as a nation to recognise who we really are and who we have become. This is why I welcome the leadership being shown by the Leader of the Opposition on this issue. His efforts to put an Australian republic back on the national political agenda are timely and will reinvigorate the campaign for an Australian republic within the community. Recent years have been difficult times for the republican movement. We have had a Prime Minister and a federal government who are slavishly devoted to the monarchy and anachronistic symbols of it like knights and dames. We have a media that are obsessed with the celebrity of Wills and Kate and baby George and baby No. 2, devoting almost 100 articles in Australian print media to it in the month leading up to the announcement of the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy. Finally, we have a growing group of young Australians who are too young to remember the republican movement of the 1990s and so are not even aware of the possibility of change in our community. Support for the republic amongst this group of young Australians is at an all-time low.

In this context, it may seem an odd moment to argue that we must begin the republican debate anew, but it is important to remember that a similarly desolate situation faced young republicans back in the late 1980s. There was a similarly popular young prince, a princess and two little princes who were gaining huge media attention. There was also lukewarm support throughout Australia for the republic. Opinion polls found that support for a republic in the late 1980s hovered around 40 to 41 per cent. In fact, a commission established to review the Constitution in time for Australia's bicentenary in 1988 concluded that there was no republican movement in Australia. It argued that a referendum could not be held because:

… on the evidence available to it, and regardless of the merits of the arguments, there was no prospect … of a change in public opinion in the near future which would result in there being majority support for a republic.

In fact, it believed that the Australian people favoured the monarchy so overwhelmingly it was not worth including a recommendation to hold a referendum, as it would detract from other elements of the report. Just 10 years later, we were heading into a referendum, with the majority of Australians supporting some sort of constitutional model removing the Queen as our head of state.

How did this happen? It was republican activists that put the question back on the agenda. In 1991, we saw the Constitutional Centenary Conference, convened by legal experts from around the country. The conference aimed for a full and frank discussion of the parts of Australia's constitution that needed to change and be updated. Its discussion of the constitutional mechanics needed to put a republic in place raised awareness of the republican cause. The conference also led to the creation of the Constitutional Centenary Foundation, an invaluable source of impartial legal advice on the republic as the debate gained momentum. Nineteen ninety one also saw the creation of the Australian Republican Movement. The activists of the ARM were able to work with the Keating government to further awareness of the need for a republic. By February 1993, Prime Minister Keating was ready to announce the formation of a committee to analyse potential forms that an Australian republic might take.

It was a long journey, however, from this moment to counting the votes on referendum day. The formal process to determine whether Australians wanted to become a republic at that time was complex. It started with the investigation and report of the Republican Advisory Committee into potential options for a republic in 1993. In 1995, we saw a commitment by the Keating government to a republic by the Centenary of Federation in 2001, but it took until 1997 to pass the legislation establishing the Constitutional Convention and another year to hold the convention. Finally, in November 1999 the referendum was held. Yet, throughout this period, republican activists were working hard to find grassroots support and they were succeeding. During this period, support for the republic shot up from the 40 per cent of the late 1980s to 60 per cent in 1994 and 66 per cent in 1996, where it remained until the referendum. Of course, this process was not perfect, to say the least, and there were many disappointed republicans on referendum night. I remember it well. It was also the night of the Holt by-election and the election of the current member for Holt, so there was some consolation for Labor supporters in Victoria. Let's not forget, though, that support for a republic survived the referendum and, even in 2004, in the depths of the Howard years, it stood at a strong 57 per cent.

We can take away from this experience two important things. First, it was republican activists that spurred the debate. Activists needed to engage with Australians to convince them of the need for the republic, not the other way around. As I said earlier, national identity is politically constructed; it does not happen by accident. Second, the time frames for referenda of this significance are long. It took almost a decade to cover all the legal and political considerations of such an important constitutional change and to build support.

This brings me to my second point: why the time for the republic conversation to begin anew is now. We know that the movement will take years to result in any lasting change and we also know that it takes republican activists to drive support for the movement, and that sort of awareness does not happen overnight, considering significant constitutional and political change requires long-term planning, which should not be affected by transient political circumstances or moods. The weather at the bottom of the mountain should not stop you from starting your journey to the summit.

All of this being said, I will attempt to engage with the substance of the bill before the House. To begin, I will relay some of the embarrassing content of this bill. This bill abolishes the rule of succession under which a man precedes his sister in succession to the throne, even if she is the elder sibling. The bill removes the rule disqualifying a person from the succession if that person marries a Roman Catholic. The rule established in the Act of Settlement that the monarch must be an Anglican is, however, maintained. There are also a range of bizarre provisions about approval from the monarch of the marriages of junior royals in which I am frankly and utterly uninterested and will not engage with. The bill, as a total, is a nonsense. I commend the bill to the House, but I hope that MPs who follow me in this place do not have to engage with similar absurdities in the future.

5:22 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I, as do my Labor colleagues, speak in support of the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015. This bill will ameliorate some of the worst elements of the rules of succession to the British royal crown, including providing that men will no longer take priority over women in the line of succession—priority will simply be determined by the order of birth. Finally, some 30 to 40 years later, we have the British monarchy catching up with the antidiscrimination and equal employment opportunity laws that exist throughout the Commonwealth. The bill also removes the bar to succession for an heir of the king or queen who marries a Catholic—an outdated and archaic restriction that existed in respect of the operation of the British monarchy. The Labor Party support these reforms, which are consistent with our commitment to gender equality and religious freedom.

I am pleased to see that the British monarchy has finally brought their lineage practices into the 21st century. However, I despair that we are debating this bill in the Australian parliament at all in 2015. I look forward to the day when the parliament of Australia no longer needs to debate and determine issues such as this. I look forward to the day when an Australian is our head of state and when we as a nation finally have confidence in one of our own to hold the pinnacle position in our nation's Constitution—a constitution that truly reflects our identity and our independence as a people and our confidence and certainty about our future.

Comments that members on this side have made regarding our support for Australia becoming a republic are not monarchy bashing. I have no criticism of the British monarchy. The British monarchy has served Australia and been very generous to Australians over the last couple of centuries. But our future, our identity and our place in the world have very little to do with mother England these days. Our trading relationship, our economic relationship, our cultural and people-to-people links are very much linked with our region of the world—the Asia-Pacific. China is now our nation's largest and most important trading partner. Our security comes from the ANZUS Treaty, principally our relationship with the United States. It is time that our constitutional arrangements reflect that independence, our position in the world, those relationships and that confidence that Australians have about our future.

It is also time that we correct some of the inconsistencies that still exist in our Constitution relating to Australia having a head of state that is the British monarch. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states that no religious test can be applied to positions of public service under the Commonwealth. That principle in our Constitution, which is represented in our antidiscrimination legislation that governs not only how employment in the public service is undertaken but also how it is undertaken in most private institutions throughout the country, is upheld as a modern aspect of Australia's democracy. It is enshrined in our Constitution, committed to in our laws and upheld in everyday Australian society, except in the operation of the most important position under our Constitution—our head of state. Only the King or Queen of England can be our nation's head of state, and only an Anglican can be the King or Queen of England. There is a massive inconsistency in the way we operate as Australians that still exists in our Constitution and relates back to our relationship with the monarchy.

I have two young daughters and, like every proud Australian father, I want the best for them. I despair that they cannot aspire to hold the position of head of state in our nation. In this modern day and age, a young Australian child cannot aspire to be our nation's head of state. There is only one question that Australians need to ask themselves in respect of the republic debate, and that is: is an Australian capable of performing the duties of our head of state? The answer to that question is, of course, yes. We have a Governor-General and have had several governors-general who have been very proud and performed capably in that position. If the answer to the question is that Australians are capable of performing the role of head of state, then why in 2015 can we not as a nation undertake the necessary mature debate and constitutional reform to bring about that ideal? It is incredible that in 2015 the Australian parliament is debating a bill relating to changes to the hereditary succession of the British monarch. How does this in any way relate to the lives of ordinary Australians?

Why on earth is this parliament devoting several hours to this issue? Surely, in 2015, we as a nation and as a people are mature and confident enough to appoint one of our own as our nation's head of state.

Curiously and interestingly, when we meet with representatives of other nations, particularly ambassadors and high commissioners in the Asia-Pacific region, those in our neighbourhood, they cannot believe and, quite frankly, bizarrely, do not understand why we do not have an Australian as our head of state. You notice it in the big functions that often occur in this parliament, in the Great Hall, when a foreign dignitary or a foreign head of state visits. The cringe that goes around the room when the head of state of a foreign nation gets up and proposes a toast to the Queen of Australia and its people, and the confusion shown by foreign dignitaries around the room when that toast is given, is a great symbol of the complete misunderstanding and disbelief that exists amongst other nations in respect of our head of state. They often ask: why don't you Australians have the confidence to appoint one of your own as your head of state? Why doesn't your Constitution reflect your independence?

I want to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, for putting this issue, again, on the agenda here in Australia. It is about time we had another mature debate about our constitutional arrangements and Australia becoming a republic. It is clear that it will not happen under this Prime Minister—we know that—but we need to begin the discussion. We need a champion for a republic in Australia and, in my view, we have not had that champion since Paul Keating was our nation's Prime Minister.

However, I do believe that we now have it in the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. I congratulate him for the role that he is playing in putting this issue back on the agenda and for prompting Australians to question where our identity lies, what our future is about and why we cannot recognise our independence by having an Australian as our head of state.

We need to have a mature debate about our future identity and our Constitution. That debate must include the significant role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders have played in the development of our nation. I am thankful and grateful that we are having that debate in respect of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians.

In conclusion, can I, again, say that I support this bill. It is a great pity that we have to debate these issues here in the parliament in 2015. It is about time that we got on with ensuring that we have a mature debate in Australia about our constitutional arrangements into the future and about Australia finally becoming a republic.

5:33 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I grew up during my childhood watching the great Australia-England Ashes test matches, watching Geoffrey Boycott bat. That gave me a distinct dislike of the English! I was originally in Germany when I first visited the UK. I flew across from Germany into London airport. That was the first time I, as a young man, was going to England where my heritage and roots were and where the British monarchy was.

I remember going through Customs and there was one line for EU residents. As I was on the plane from Germany I was about the only person who was a non-EU resident. All the Germans went straight through Customs there in London. I was in another queue that basically had the sign 'Aliens.' I was in a queue with South Americans, Africans and people who hardly spoke English, thinking, 'Hang on a minute, I'm actually going to where my Queen lives.'

It made me question and think about the legitimacy and whether we actually should have a constitutional monarchy in this country. After a lot of thought, I came to realise that we truly have the best system and that we are very lucky.

There is an old saying: 'If it ain't broke, don't try to fix it.' Our constitutional monarchy has served us well for well over a century. I remember a few years ago when the Queen visited our parliament here, in the Great Hall. We were there with our wives and friends. Many staffers were there and the Great Hall was full of people. Everyone was mingling in the middle of the hall. The Queen made her entrance and walked up through the middle where the official platform was. Everyone basically had to part way. I can remember at the time being pushed and shoved to the back by all those avid republicans. They were so keen to get to the front of the line—elbowing, shoving and stamping on people's feet so they could get to the front of the line to ensure they could see their Queen. In fact, it was the most avid republicans who were pushing to the front.

I heard the member for Griffith speak in this debate. I hope I do not misquote her here and I apologise if I do. I believe the words she used were: 'Labor have a clear platform for a republic.' We know that the Labor Party have a great hang-up on this issue, going back to the dismissal of their great hero Gough Whitlam. They see that his reign as Prime Minister was somehow stolen by the Governor-General. But of course they forget our history, that the Governor-General basically brought on an election. We know that, at that election, the people of this country said that the Governor-General was right and voted out the Whitlam government in one of the biggest landslides in this country's history.

The member for Griffith said that Labor have a clear platform for a republic. I say it is as clear as mud. Firstly, what type of republic are you proposing? If you think that there is a better system than we have here in our constitutional monarchy, stand up and tell us what type of republic you would like. Whether we call them the President of the head of state, how would that person be selected? Would it be a popular vote? If it is a popular vote, it simply then becomes a political contest. If we have a political contest with popular vote, we simply elect another politician. Do we want another elected politician in a popular contest to be the President of this country? What powers would they have? To those that think it would be better to have another elected politician, Margaret Thatcher said:

Those who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead than a hereditary monarch might perhaps make the acquaintance of more politicians.

As I said, if it simply ain't broke, you don't try and fix it. We should be looking for whether there is a better system. If we look through our history, in fact, if we look around the world today at all the countries in turmoil, we realise—

Photo of Ewen JonesEwen Jones (Herbert, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Will the member yield to a question?

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I will yield to a question.

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do you appreciate that those that have been advancing republicanism today have been proposing that we fundamentally keep the system that we have for the Governor-General and we just elevate the Governor-General to the head of state?

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Perth obviously has not been listening to this debate. It is easy to stand up and say we should replace the system. How do we have a vote? Should it be voted on? Should the people be denied a vote on who the head of state is? This is the downfall of the republican movement. They simply fail to fully articulate what they actually propose.

Getting back to our Westminster system, our constitutional monarchy has served this country well for over 100 years. If I look throughout the world at the different types of governments available, we are so fortunate here in this country. We are very lucky. If we look at all those countries in the Middle East struggling to come to terms with some type of democracy, what better system could they have than a Westminster constitutional system?

I will finish with a quote which I think sums up why there is simply no case for change. It was in a letter from DGO Hughes to the Daily Telegraph on 1 September 1998. He said:

We should all bear carefully in mind the constitutional safeguards inherent in the monarchy:

While the Queen occupies the highest office of state, no one can take over the government. While she is head of the law, no politician can take over the courts. While she is ultimately in command of the Armed Forces, no would-be dictator can take over the Army.

The Queen’s only power, in short, is to deny power to anyone else.

That is why our current system is the best system for this country. Unless and until someone can come up with an alternative model, fully articulated and fully detailed, I will be supporting our constitutional monarchy.

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to start by congratulating the Leader of the House and those responsible for organising the order of debate today, because today, being St Patrick's Day, the Australian parliament joins with others to amend the act of succession. As a Catholic of Irish descent, it gives me enormous pleasure to be debating the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015 on this day. The bill is going to fix an anachronism that should have been addressed long ago. It will amend some of the worst parts of the rules of succession to the British royal crown, rules that were born of prejudice, of discrimination and of imperial intrigue and politics from a time long ago that have absolutely no place in modern Australia.

What it will mean is that men will no longer take priority over women in the line of succession. The heir born first will assume the Crown regardless of that child's gender. Also, a king or queen who has the good fortune to marry a Catholic will not be barred from the line of succession by that act. I support the bill. However, I have to say that it is incredible that in the year 2015 these rules still stand at all. I mean absolutely no disrespect to the Queen, her heirs and successors, the governors of this fine country or the Governor-General or any of the predecessors to those roles when I say that I sincerely look forward to the day when Australia has no formal interest in the issue of who becomes queen or king. We can all read about it in the women's weekly, we can watch about it on television, but it will not occupy time in this parliament because we will no longer be tied to the monarchy. We will be a nation that has, on that day, truly grown up, a nation that is proud of its past, certainly not dismissive of its history, but confident as a new republic.

I think it is time. I do not think this has to be a partisan issue, and I know that there are many women and men on both sides of the House who share this view. I think that there are many people on the other side of the House who believe it is also time for this to occur. On this, we might, as we do, parry around issues, as we have today on issues of higher education, on health care, on the budget and on fiscal matters. It is right and proper that we parry on these matters to thrash out where the best plan for the country is. But on the issue of the future of the country, constitutional arrangements and our future as a republic, I believe we can and should come together as one.

In 1890, 400 guests gathered in Melbourne for the Federation Conference, and they were addressed by Sir Henry Parkes. He uttered those famous words:

The crimson thread of kinship runs through us all. Even the native-born Australians are Britons, as much as the men born within cities of London and Glasgow. We know the value of their British origin. We know that we represent a race … for the purposes of settling new colonies, which never had its equal on the face of the earth.

He was greeted, according to the record of that debate, by loud cheers. He went on to say:

We know, too, that conquering wild territory, and planting civilised communities therein, is a far nobler, a far more immortalising achievement than conquest by arms.

It is true that this speech, and all of those which surrounded it, is a part of the foundation of our nation. But it is equally true that no sane person cognisant of all that had been before and all that came after could utter these words in this parliament or anywhere else today. When we sing our national anthem we sing the words 'Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free'. It is true that we are a young nation; but we are a very ancient country. Those boundless plains that we sing of in our national anthem were not empty when the forebears of Henry Parkes came ashore in 1770. They were occupied by a people who had lived in this country and practiced their customs and ceremonies for in excess of 40,000 years.

I argue that, just as our founding fathers were blind to any notion of nationhood other than one that gripped to the British Empire and all that went with it, they were blind to the 40,000 years of history that they had crashed into when the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour. It is time that we changed this. It is time that we united our 200 years of European settlement and hundreds of years of European tradition with the 40,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and have that recognised in our Constitution. We should do this. There is a national appetite to do this, and I also believe there is a national appetite to look at our constitutional arrangements about the future structure of the monarchy and a yearning for an independent Australian republic. I look forward to the day when we have a prosperous, stable, outward-looking democracy that is a republic—a day when we are reconciled with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I fundamentally disagree with much of what the member for Hughes said in his contribution but I do agree that there is no contradiction between us being proud of our British heritage and confident in knowing that we can go forth as an independent Australian republic.

A lot has been said about the symbolic notion of Australia as a republic. Our national identity, values and vision inform the way we engage with the rest of the world. When it comes to discussing whether Australia should become a republic, I reflect on the words of the current leader of the Australian Republican Movement. He said: 'Our national reputation and relationships will become more important in selling high-value goods and services than was the case in selling coal and iron ore, which virtually sell themselves.' What he is saying is that it is in so many ways in our national interest that we modernise the way we govern ourselves in this country. We cannot view the country as merely a quarry and born of British ancestry; we must consider how the world views us. Anybody who has travelled overseas and engaged with a conversation with a friend from another country would have come away from that conversation feeling a little bit embarrassed about having to explain why the monarch of another country is Australia's head of state. It simply befuddles all of those who are not from this place. I argue that it is long overdue that we make this change.

The history of every movement shows that support and momentum sometimes come from the most unlikely sources—and so it was with the great Australia Day knighthood debacle. What we saw in that one event was the galvanising of opinion and the Australian people focusing on what is truly an anachronism. I have absolutely no problem when people, including our Prime Minister, cling to a fondness for life as it was in the 1950s, but what I do have a problem with is when they try to drag the whole country back there with them. When the Prime Minister decided on Australia Day, of all days, to grant as his captain's call a knighthood to Prince Philip, most Australians stood around scratching their heads saying: 'What is this all about? Surely you cannot be serious!' At moments like this, people focus their attention and say: 'Is this really who we are today? Is handing out a knighthood, of all things, to the prince of a foreign country a true representation of what it is to be an Australian?' All right-thinking Australian say that that is not what Australia is in the 21st century and this is not how we want to be reflected to the rest of the world. I join with the rest of Australia in saying the Prime Minister was wrong on this. He was completely out of touch. To his credit, he has acknowledged this.

But I think we need to go further. There is some unfinished business—this succession bill. It must strike many in the United Kingdom as passing strange that the parliament of a foreign country has to pass a law such as this to give effect to an act of succession in their country. It must strike many in the United Kingdom as very strange indeed that we down here in Australia are debating this bill to give effect to a decision of their parliament—and they are right. Labor supports the bill but we wish it were not necessary. We say it is time to grasp this and all that goes with it and have a debate about the future of Australia—an independent Australia, a republican Australia, which is as proud of its British heritage as it is of its 40,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and confident of its future in this region and in the rest of the world.

5:52 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with pleasure that I rise to support the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015, and in the process take the opportunity to give my views to this House about our future constitutional arrangements. In respect of the bill itself, of course I echo the sentiments of others on this side of the House and indeed of those across the parliament: that we do support a change to royal succession so that it is determined by birth and not by gender. We also support removing the bar on succession of an heir of a sovereign who marries a Catholic. These are utterly anachronistic measures which date from a different time and should be changed, and so the substance of this bill of course should be supported.

But the bill does squarely raise the question of Australia's constitutional arrangements and our future identity, and in that, Mr Deputy Speaker, I stand before you as somebody who is passionately of the view that Australia ought to become a republic. In this day and age, it is utterly inconceivable that we see ourselves as anything other than a confident nation which can have its own institutions, and we should present to the world as a confident nation with our own head of state. That is obviously what a modern country should be about, and indeed the country from which our head of state currently comes would never put itself in a situation of imagining that it would have a head of state who was a citizen of anywhere else other than Great Britain.

None of that is to deny the importance of British heritage within our national story. It is obviously critically important, and many Australians trace their heritage back to Great Britain and indeed to the British Isles. But today, so many more Australians have heritage from parts all over world. Critically, we need to ensure that our first Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, are given their place in our national story, and are given their special place and acknowledged in our constitutional arrangements.

For me though this is an incident, albeit perhaps the most important incident, of a bigger issue, and that is having a growth in the sense of our national identity: what we have been, where we have come from and how we stand in the community of nations today. From all of that, most importantly, we learn where we are going in the future. There are obvious components to our national identity that we could state, and many have in the context of this debate: we are an optimistic, proud country; we are democratic; we are free.

But I believe that there are other aspects to our national identity that merit discussion, merit exploration and need to be thought through. In my first speech in this parliament, I spoke a fair bit about the question of Australia's national identity. I made an argument at that time, one that I would maintain, that there has been throughout Australian history, from the time of European settlement, a tension between two issues. One is a wonderful sense of mateship borne out by one of the most egalitarian societies in the world. That can be seen in the way Charles Bean described the way the Anzacs, the Diggers, related to each other in the First World War. It can be seen in so many other ways in which we go about supporting our passions in Australia. The idea that you can be on the shop floor at LinFox, or that you can be Lindsay Fox, and on Monday, after the weekend, the thing you are most concerned about is what happened in the footy the Saturday before. We are a remarkably classless society, and that sense of mateship is really very much at the heart of that.

But I also argued that you can trace through our history, in my view, a more negative trait, and one that we need to confront and deal with. That is essentially a trait borne of fear—a fear of having established a colony back in 1788 about as far away from what was then the motherland as it was possible to be. David Day, one of Australia's most eminent historians, describes this idea as well with a sense of what that first community must have been like—and it must have been utterly terrifying. Indeed, mateship must have been critical for that community to survive. Being so far away from England, being in a completely different part of the world and having a fear of the Indigenous population at the time was part of what defined Australians then.

That perhaps is an important point to think about now, because the reasons for our fear then—which I think does rear its head at times in debates now, when we see the worst of ourselves—have well and truly gone. We need to be reconciling with our Indigenous population. So much of the wonderful discussion that we have seen with the national apology has been about attempting to walk down that path, and that is predated by the 1967 referendum. Ultimately, finding an appropriate and proper constitutional recognition of our first peoples in our Constitution is a critical part of reconciling what has been a difficult part of our history, borne of the early fear of the very first settlement that was here. The reasons for that fear simply do not exist today. They are just my views on some of the traits that go to the make-up of the history of Australia's identity, but I think what is really important is that we have a discussion about it.

I will make one other point, in terms of an observation that I have made since my first speech and having had the opportunity of campaigning for Australia for a seat on the UN Security Council, which was an incredible privilege—to, in a sense, speak to the world about the kind of Australia that exists today and what role we might play on what is really the most powerful forum in the world. What became clear to me in that process was that for Australia, as a confident and as an activist middle power, playing an appropriate role of leadership—not beyond what is our ability but very much within our ability—is what we should be about, but it is absolutely welcomed by the rest of the world. All of these, I think, are traits of what Australia has been, part of what our make-up is and where we should go. But if there is a point I really want to make in identifying all of that it is that we need to have a discussion about our national identity, because if you look back at our history we have never really had it.

That goes in part to the way in which Australia was founded. If we think about the day on which Australia first became Australia, we would imagine that as being 1 January 1901. But no-one on that day imagined that they were creating a new nation. People on that day imagined that they were amalgamating six colonies into one colony. People very much believed, at that moment in time, that we were still part of Britain. There were the constitutional conventions in the lead-up to 1901, which talked a lot about how we were going to frame the governance of this region. In terms of a national discussion about what our identity is—where we have come from and what we would be—those discussions did not happen. Yet you do find those discussions in the histories of other countries, and you only need to look at the kinds of debates that were occurring in the United States in the lead-up to 4 July 1776 to get a real sense that it was a country that was absolutely going about the business of trying to determine what they were about, why they wanted not to be a part of a greater British Empire, how they saw themselves going forward, the role they saw themselves playing in the world and what values they stood for. That was an utterly critical discussion that has set the US up, I think, in terms of the way in which it has played its role ever since, both domestically and going forward. It is a discussion that in my view we need to have, and it is something that I called for in my first speech and that I call for again today.

The reason for raising these thoughts in the context of this bill, in talking about the importance of the republic, is something that the Leader of the Opposition said this morning in his contribution to this. He said:

The Republic debate, and becoming a Republic would signal a constitutional renaissance, it would provide blood energy to the nation.

Hear, hear! The becoming of a republic is critically important in itself, in my view. It is critically important as an incident of a confident, optimistic nation going forward, but it provides the perfect opportunity to have the kind of national discussion, to have a growth in our national identity, to develop some kind of national consensus about who we are and where we are going in a way that we have not actually had. There is no independence day in Australia, when you think it through. We have never had that discussion that led to us being an independent nation, and this is the perfect opportunity to do it. So, I think the Leader of the Opposition was right this morning when he said that the time is right to reinvigorate the debate around the republic, and I think this is a very appropriate point to make in the context of supporting this bill.

So, I very much hope that what we see from this is the first step down a path of becoming an Australian republic and beginning the discussion around that and, I hope, beginning a really deep discussion about who we are as a nation. In saying that, obviously I reiterate that of course we support the specifics of this bill. They themselves are a step that Great Britain should be taking in relation to its monarchy, and that they remain our monarchy is a step that should be taken by us in respect of that monarchy as well. But really, now, in 2015, the time is absolutely right to move down a different path and take Australia towards a republic.

6:04 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

In providing the closing address at this second reading stage of the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015 I should note formally that the bill will provide the Parliament of Australia's assent to modernise the law relating to royal succession. The reforms were enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 22 April 2013 and will come into force on the commencement of the United Kingdom legislation as soon as all 16 realms, as they are correctly known, including Australia, implement the reforms in their jurisdictions. I should formally thank the state premiers and territory chief ministers for their support for the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015, which implements the reforms in Australia. All state parliaments have enacted legislation requesting under section 51(xxxviii) of the Constitution that the Commonwealth enact legislation for the whole of Australia. The territories did not need to enact such legislation. However, the Northern Territory parliament enacted symbolic legislation and the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory wrote to support the reform.

It is at this point that it is traditional to thank the speakers who contributed during the second reading debate, which I shall do. But I might make some comment about the nature of some of those speeches. The member for Kingsford Smith raised a question—which I do not think was rhetorical—which was: why is this House spending so much time on this bill? And the trivial answer to that question is: because members opposite outnumbered speakers of the government, two or three to one, to talk about the republic. I guess the more complicated answer to that question is that the bill is, notwithstanding some of the contributions from members opposite, very, very significant.

If you consider that the bill's content and the reform that it achieves is insignificant, then you are simply mistaken. If you take a view that the bill is anachronistic because it engages in significant reforms of a British institution—that is, the monarchy—which is constitutionally inherited in Australia, then I think you make an even graver error of judgement, because if you do not wish in the future to see the continuation of the Australian inheritance of the British constitutional monarchy and thereby consider reforms to it to be anachronistic, then you misunderstand one of the fundamental and further Australian inheritances from the British constitutional system. And that is that Australians—like our British counterparts who toiled for hundreds of years to bring about democratic government in Great Britain—have inherited a great respect and an enormous preference, when it comes to matters of constitutional governance, for cautious, pragmatic, piecemeal and progressional reform.

To those members opposite who would prefer, at some point in time, a republic but who, in that preference, consider these reforms to the existing system anachronistic, you are—with respect—completely missing the point. Indeed, the level of surety by members opposite in expressing what they consider to be the perceptions of the Australian public—that this or that is cringe-worthy and that people much prefer this than that—near verges on arrogance as to what people's views about our constitutional arrangements and inheritances are.

I will say that all but one of the contributions were exceedingly civil. It is probably instructive at this point to speak about the Leader of the Opposition's recent contributions on the issue of an Australian republic. I certainly class his contribution this evening as one of those that was civil. He said the debate about something such as a republic should proceed 'somewhere in the middle of the road, not punctured by extremes, or by incivility or rudeness.' Obviously that was a memo that the member for Isaacs did not receive at any point about the republic debate. But all the contributions were civil, other than that of the member for Isaacs, and all of them pointed to a view that this legislation is somehow anachronistic because it does not do what some people opposite think the Australian people want—and I would say that is a very big 'if'—or what they themselves would prefer.

Let me address the issue of why this bill is important. Both sides of politics support this bill. Procedurally, the bill had its genesis in the former Labor government. The procedure, and the use of section 51(xxxviii), is somewhat tortuous, although it is worth noting here—again, I think this speaks to the importance of the bill—that, other than the Australia Act 1986 and perhaps the Coastal Water (State Powers) Act 1980, which was itself enacted as part of the offshore constitutional settlement, I think, based on my limited research, that this bill is only the third time in Australia's history that the section 51(xxxviii) power has been used. This is a power in our Constitution which, as I understand it, is unique. It does not exist in the constitutions of Canada or the United States. The way in which this has happened is a great example of the merits of cooperative federalism.

The process has been somewhat laboured and tortuous, but it is a fair and good process. Both sides of politics were committed to the process and forbore the process. In fact, the process was started under the previous government. Why has there been complete bipartisanship? Why did the previous government start this process, which some members opposite now describe as anachronistic? The answer is: because what this bill achieves is something very, very important. The end of male preference primogeniture, or the 'younger brother' rule, as it has sometimes become known, is an incredibly important constitutional reform and one that we inherit. The bill is far from insignificant. It is ends a 300-year old rule of male preference primogeniture which prejudiced the interests of earlier born female members of the Royal Family in favour of elevating the interests of their younger brothers. That was a rule which was inequitable, unfair and deeply impractical. It is ironic when you consider that the great English monarchs of the modern age have all been female—Elizabeth I, Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria. And this is a change which would allow for a further great English monarch who is a female.

The rule survived for far too long, and the importance of its final demise should not be underestimated here. It is a little bit of a shame that that has not been the focus of this debate, but rather it has drifted onto the issue of republicanism. But the long-awaited establishment of a non-discriminatory rule of succession to the throne means that equal rights and non-discriminatory treatment for women have been achieved in a field of great importance, and a conservative field where those important principles have failed to penetrate for hundreds of years. It is a very significant reform in that respect.

This reform was instituted at the time of the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I recall at CHOGM—being the state Attorney-General at the time that it was held in Perth—these words from the former Prime Minister:

These things seem straightforward, but just because they seem straightforward to our modern minds doesn't mean that we should underestimate their historical significance, changing as they will for all time the way in which the Monarchy works and changing its history. So I'm very glad this moment in history has been made in Perth.

That gave due credence to the very significant changes that have been brought about in this bill.

I will now make a short comment about the member for Isaac's contributions. How do you manage to turn a speech about legislation that you support, that you commenced when you were in government and that you entirely agree with, into a political point-scoring opportunity? It is an impressive effort, but of course the habits of barristers die very hard. How do you describe something that you support, that you commenced, that you agree with in every way, and that many of your own members agree is of some serious significance, as anachronistic?

The rhetorical question was put by the member for Isaacs: 'How will the member for Pearce explain this in his electorate?' Well, rather simply really. My electorate, like most Australian electorates, has a mix of people, some who are republicans and some who are monarchists and then a whole bunch who think there are probably more important issues facing the nation, given the strengths of our structural system as set out in our present Constitution. To the monarchists I will say that this ends an inequitable and gender discriminatory rule, the continuation of which would have weakened the institution itself which a monarchist might favour. To republicans I would point out that, even though you might prefer some other model of selection for the head of state, structurally this is a fundamental and critical improvement on the present system.

Given that both sides support it—it was commenced under Labor and finalised by this government—why is it that members on this side of the House can be characterised as anachronistic, or 'reactionary' was a word used, or conservative, or 'fuddy-duddy' might be the expression, but members opposite can support the bill but be bold and progressive? It seems to be because some members opposite who would prefer a republic support the bill in the context of preferring a republic. On this point, I might raise one observation. When you support progressive causes, as moving to a republic may well be, at what point—and I think the question arises fairly—is it that you have so little progress towards your stated goal that you are no longer progressive?

To restate it: how timid can a person's actions be towards a stated goal when they actually have the ability to move you towards the stated goal—that is, in government—before their progressive credentials can be called into fair scrutiny?

I asked this question because many members opposite seem to think that any progress from this point—very significant constitutional form that we adopt through these acts towards something else—is somehow a matter of simplicity or clarity and that there is not good debate to be had. The member for Perth, my old friend, in a matter of an intervention, simply said, 'We would just be moving from one system to another, where the Governor-General would just be called something different.' But that is not the case.

If you did not move to a system of a head of state appointed in a different fashion you must work out how you would point that head of state in a different fashion. That is a matter of enormous controversy. It then follows that you would have to think about whether or not you codify the reserve powers. But if you change an appointment for the head of state—that you would necessarily have to do under a republic—do you change the reserve powers to write them up, or do you write them down?

In any event, if you appoint a new head of state who has something that is either a direct or indirect mandate, do you create a situation that makes a 1975 constitutional crisis more or less likely? And if it is more likely, is that a good thing? If it is less likely, does that mean that the executive government loses many of the checks and balances that have existed over it by virtue of the operation of the Governor-General at the moment? These are constitutionally complicated questions that lend themselves far more to sober detailed debate than they do to notions such as national identity, which is not to deny that those former notions are a part of this process.

I do not necessarily blame members opposite—or indeed the Leader of the Opposition—for, at times, appearing a lion in the republican cause in opposition and a lamb in government, because the reality of the situation is that any such progressive moves would be very complicated and very difficult. What I found very instructive was that after the Leader of the Opposition's very well written and delivered speech on 26 January, about moving towards a republic, he said afterwards at a press conference: 'Let's rally behind an Australian republic.' But in the same press conference Mr Shorten said that while he was not yet pushing for a second referendum on the proposal it was time for a debate about national identity.

It raises the question, when we hear so much fervent republican spirit here and so much confidence that this is a simple thing to do that everyone agrees with: why has there been such immense timidity by members opposite when for six years in government they had the opportunity to raise this issue? Looking at the Leader of the Opposition—just doing a quick search of HansardI could only find six occasions in his entire time in parliament, other than today—

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Only six!

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

Only six, where the word 'republic' has been mentioned. In one of those it was a rather veiled criticism of the member for Wentworth. I do not count that one. It is an impressively more complicated issue than has been revealed today, by the level of debate—this assumption that somehow the next step is easy. What is absolutely clear about today, notwithstanding a bit of theatre, is that there is complete bipartisan support. This does strengthen the existing regime of governance. In a significant way, it modernises the monarchy. It is an institution that we have inherited and, whatever one's preferences, it is an institution whose inheritance—with all of its caution, with all of its great British virtues of pragmatism and thoughtful piecemeal change—has served Australia incredibly well in its governance arrangements.

My own view on these issues, if I might be indulgent—unlike the view of the Leader of the Opposition—is that you must argue about models if you are to rationally and soberly and truthfully argue about republics. That has definitely been missing this evening.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.