Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill 2019. As you know, the bill amends the Governor-General Act 1974 to set the salary for the next Governor-General, His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley AC DSC (Retd). On 16 December 2018, the Prime Minister announced that the Queen had approved his recommendation to appoint His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) as our next Governor-General following the retirement of His Excellency General the Hon. Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd). General Hurley will be sworn in as Governor-General in June 2019.
Section 3 of the Constitution provides that the salary of the Governor-General shall not be altered during their continuance in office. As such, the salaries of governors-general are set prior to the commencement of their tenure. The bill amends the Governor-General Act 1974 to change the sum payable for the salary of the Governor-General from $425,000 to $495,000. In line with past practice, the proposed salary was calculated by reference to the estimated average salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia over the notional five-year term of the appointment of the Governor-General. The salary figure has been reduced to take account of General Hurley receiving a Commonwealth funded military pension.
Labor supports this bill. I, like other members of the Labor caucus and the opposition, welcome the appointment of General Hurley, and we're looking forward to his taking up of the office as Governor-General in June 2019. I want to take the opportunity, in speaking to the topic of governors-general, to place on the record some comments supporting the office and the work that it does. I'm well-known as being an avowed republican. I worked on the republican referendum in 1999. I was out there staffing the booths and encouraging a change, but that does not diminish my respect for the Queen and nor does it diminish my respect for the Queen's representative in Australia. I've long been a supporter of the important work that this office does, obviously not just in its official capacity of assenting to bills passed by this parliament but in the important leadership that the role shows. I want to pay tribute, of course, to our current Governor-General and to a couple of previous governors-general who I've certainly taken a lot of heart from in the work that they've done.
In respect of our current Governor-General, I have such great respect for him. He's been an excellent Governor-General, and I'm sure those opposite would agree. You see him at all sorts of community events. He's a well-known supporter of some of the most important cultural events that we have but also of some of the more grassroots style events. For example, you often see the current Governor-General at the annual walk for organ donation that takes place right here in Canberra. I see the Minister for Health nodding his head. I know he's a great supporter of organ donation, and it is very much a bipartisan position that we are lucky to have here in this House. I think it's important to pay tribute to the Governor-General for his support of such important causes. For many of us, organ donation is very dear to our hearts, particularly those who have lost loved ones, family and friends, and someone has then had to make the decision about whether to approve organ donation when registration may not have been filled out. It's a good reminder to all of us to make sure we do update our health records and get on the Organ Donation Register and have the conversation about organ donation with our family and friends.
I also wanted to mention that the current Governor-General is a much loved figure in Australia not only for the work that he did in East Timor in the time of the Howard government but, closer to home, for the work he did during Cyclone Larry. It is particularly pertinent to me because I've got family from Innisfail. I'm sure you will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, the devastation that was wreaked on Innisfail by Cyclone Larry. Cyclone Larry, named after my father! As you would expect, he got a few jokes about that. But those jokes did really fade once the extent of the devastation on Innisfail was felt. Of course, you can't help but think of Cyclone Larry now, when you hear of the devastation of Townsville that has been caused by the recent floods. But our current Governor-General, well before he was Governor-General, was tasked with heading to Innisfail and helping to repair some of the devastation that had been caused, and that took many years. I know that my colleagues from the far north of Queensland, and from the north of Queensland, no matter which side of the House they might be on, would see that as a real template for modern responses to disaster relief.
Obviously, we've had some discussions in this House about the current response to the Townsville floods. I myself was in the 2011 Brisbane floods. We had a 10-month-old baby at the time, Deputy Speaker, so you can imagine that wasn't the most pleasant time, with all the power going out and people being flooded in. We were living in Bulimba. I digress, but it's important that disaster relief continue to be a focus for the Commonwealth, and of course, at the time, there was significant support provided by the Commonwealth to Brisbane through additional people from the Department of Human Services, and others, getting to Queensland to make sure that people were able to get the support that they needed.
So I know that people will very fondly miss the current Governor-General when he leaves the role. I'm quite sure that he will continue to be an active member of our community and a leader within our community.
In that respect, it would be remiss of me not to mention Dame Quentin Bryce, his predecessor as Governor-General. I am always so grateful for Dame Quentin Bryce's continued participation in important matters in our community. She regularly attends the Greenslopes Private Hospital's Anzac Day dawn service. For those who haven't been to that service, it's a beautiful dawn service, and I can recommend it if you do get to the electorate of Griffith. Greenslopes Private is an old Army hospital. It still has very strong focus on veterans. It's an excellent institution. You've probably heard, Deputy Speaker, of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation which is associated with that hospital and does very good work for veterans, including in relation to PTSD, a very important issue for veterans in our country and across the world. Former Governor-General Quentin Bryce continues, after leaving that office, to be a regular attendee of that beautiful dawn service and to lay a wreath, which I know that the veterans community and the broader community around Greenslopes and the suburbs that surround it really appreciate. We've certainly lost some veterans in recent years. Anzac Day morning is always very moving in my electorate, but having the former Governor-General attend is very special.
Since I'm mentioning governors-general, I should say, in respect of Dame Quentin Bryce, that, as she had such a sterling career prior to taking on the vice-regal role, she is a real role model and inspiration for a lot of women—young women, women my age, women who are older—about the role of a woman in public life. I know you would agree, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, that she is someone who has always conducted herself with great grace but, at the same time, has been a real trailblazer—someone who stepped up into the law but also into community service well before it was common for women to do so. As well as acknowledging her community service post the role of Governor-General and, of course, the great work she did as Governor-General, I should recognise that she was an inspiration well before taking on the vice-regal role.
But I also want to mention the first Governor-General I ever saw in person. The reason I want to mention that is that I have been thinking of the people of Townsville in recent days and thinking of how that community comes together. I lived in Townsville for a few years a long time ago and I know firsthand how resilient the community is. Of course, everyone in this House will recall the Black Hawk disaster of the late 1990s. I was there at the time and, believe it or not, I was a student representative at the memorial service that was held at the Palmetum in Townsville in the wake of the Black Hawk disaster. Sir William Deane, who was Governor-General at the time, brought the best wishes of the entire Commonwealth with him, telling the community of Townsville that the nation's thoughts were with them at that horrible time. It's an Army town. It's an Air Force town. Everyone who lives in Townsville feels such an affinity with the Defence Force. They feel so close to those who serve. It's just inherent for someone who lives in Townsville to support the Army and support the Air Force, so it was a tragedy that really rocked the entire community and people were devastated. Having Sir William Deane come and express, with such grace, the wishes of the nation was really important for the healing in the wake of that terrible tragedy.
Showing leadership, speaking on behalf of the nation and being the democratically elected representative for the nation is something prime ministers can and should do. But, because the role of Governor-General is removed from political cycles and elections, it has a really strongly complementary role to the role of democratically elected representatives in bringing the nation together and showing great leadership.
The first time I really understood the office of Governor-General was in the wake of that disaster. So, in speaking to this bill, which relates to the rather less elevated matter of salary, I did want to place on record my thanks to all of those who've served in that office. But, of course, it's not really a salary; it's more in the nature of an honorarium. It's an acknowledgement of the weight upon the shoulders of the person in the office, and that's a very great weight to bear. We don't know what the future holds. Of course, none of us do. But, given the times that we live in—uncertain international times, uncertain times in relation to the impact of climate change on natural disasters and the likelihood of further significant weather events, and, of course, we've got a cyclone brewing off the coast of Queensland as we speak at the same time as Queenslanders are responding to an environmental disaster around Townsville—I think we can confidently predict that there will be challenges for the Governor-General into the future and, similarly, there will be a lot of pressure on that person. So I certainly wish General Hurley very well as he prepares to take up this important role. In a very real and practical way, our nation will rely upon him to help guide us through the challenges that are to come. Obviously, I don't wish to take up too much of the House's time on the Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill 2019—
Opposition members interjecting —
I hear some calls for an encore from colleagues on the backbench.
I'm very grateful for the suggestions from colleagues in the caucus on other governors-general that I might wish to mention. I take the interjection on Sir Isaac Isaacs. He was the first Australian-born Governor-General, as the shadow minister for defence said. His name was very influential in the naming of our son, Isaac, at the encouragement of my husband. So, thank you—I do take that interjection. Thank you to the member for Gellibrand, and I encourage the member for Gellibrand to continue to make suggestions for the improvement of my speeches to the House. Clearly, that was a very good one, and he ought to keep going. I'm not as convinced about the member for Hume's interjections. He is obviously welcome to speak in this debate about whichever governors-general he might choose, but he should continue—
An honourable member: Do you mean the member for Bruce?
I do mean Bruce. Who is Hume?
In that case, I deeply regret the implication that you might be in any way connected with Hume. I'm sure the people of Hume will look forward to finding another representative in the future. But the people of Bruce are very fortunate to have you, of course, Member for Bruce. But I digress.
It's an absolute honour to speak in relation to this bill. I wish the new Governor-General all the best with the important responsibilities that he assuming, and I certainly look forward to seeing him play an important role in our nation's future.
I take great pleasure in rising to talk to the Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill 2019. It's good to see that the opposition are in support of this bill. Obviously, the purpose of the bill is to set out the salary of the incoming Governor-General, knowing that the salary is in place for five years and knowing that convention has it that we don't alter the salary of the Governor-General throughout the course of his term, and, therefore, it is set in line with the salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court. It has also been a practice that when incoming governor-generals have a pension associated with their term in the military that is taken into account. We have set the annual salary for the incoming Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley.
General Hurley is a former Chief of the Defence Force and he's been a very popular governor of New South Wales. General Hurley is known as being generous and very approachable with both young and old alike. This is seen in his weekly boxing work-outs with Indigenous children. He's got a program running called Tribal Warriors. He's a prodigious traveller throughout regional New South Wales. He's dedicated his life to serving and supporting the Australian nation, and his compassion and commitment to Australia was displayed during his 42 years in the Australian Army, for which he was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to the Australian Defence Force. Also, he received the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership and service during Operation Solace in Somalia in 1993. I don't think anybody can have any doubt about the pedigree of the honourable David Hurley and the fact he's in line to become our next Governor-General. It looks like he's been an exceptional choice.
Under section 3, as I said, the salary of the Governor-General cannot be altered for the term of the appointment. So, whatever we set it at at the commencement of his term will be for the continuation of his term. We also know that the appointment of the Governor-General is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. It has to be subject to the approval of Her Majesty the Queen, but that tends to be acknowledged as just par for the course. Once someone is put forward, they are always accepted.
We have also through our history had a range of appointments that have happened very close to elections. I know that we've had noise coming out of the opposition, perhaps saying maybe this appointment could have waited till after the election, but Sir William Deane was appointed 15 days prior to John Howard winning his election in 1996, and we also know that Gough Whitlam chose John Kerr as Governor-General in May ahead of a July election in 1974.
So I would think that we understand that the time is coming for Sir Peter Cosgrove to step aside and, like the previous speaker, we need to be very respectful and mindful of what a fantastic job Sir Peter Cosgrove has done in the role as Governor-General. I too was there only last week when he started off about 10,000 walkers around Lake Burley Griffin to raise awareness for organ donation. It's a great cause to promote, because we tend to think that we must have thousands and thousands and thousands of people that are beneficiaries of organ donation, but in Australia, because of the unique way in which an organ donor has to pass away, it's a very small selection of Australians who are actually able to have their organs reused. We need to keep the message out there. Have that conversation with your families because everybody in your family has to know it is your wish, as it is mine, that, if you happen to die in the circumstances that allow the surgeons to prepare somebody to use your organs—and Peter Cosgrove has been out there pushing this cause for years and years.
The other aspect that Peter Cosgrove is well known for within the coalition government is with the ministers. It's his knowledge of the bills. As we understand our political system, it has to go over to the Governor-General for his sign-off, but the Governor-General is very adept, very good at questioning the ministers on each of the legislation, so he's taken the time to understand what the legislation is about and understand the impacts, positive and negative, about legislation that's put through. So, when asking for the royal assent, it's not unusual for Peter Cosgrove to be really putting the ministers under the grill and asking them all about the legislation that he is expected to be just signing off.
I was unaware of the work that Sir Peter Cosgrove did during Cyclone Larry and the work he did around Innisfail, but again it comes as no surprise that he is well regarded by the people there at the time. So I think that, again, this is a really fantastic time, and I must also add that there are always going to be some what are going to be calling for an end to our monarchical system. However, in my opinion it also needs to be acknowledged that it's one of these First World problems that people have. Nobody's life at the moment is diminished one iota by the fact that we have a monarchical system with a Governor-General as our head of state. If we change it tomorrow, no-one's life is going to be enhanced one iota. No-one's going to get a job. No-one's going to actually wake up and all of a sudden have their life improved in any material way. Will they have some greater sense of pride? If that's what floats their boat, fine, but, with all of the real problems this nation has—the real challenges that this nation has—with all the work, the effort and the energy we need to be putting into helping our farmers, our industry, our unemployed, our aged, our children and our First Peoples, we have so many challenges that are real and genuine needs for energy, effort and resources. To be worried about this First World problem that we've got a monarchical system that seems to be the envy of the rest of the world and yet we've got these people who are super concerned about it—I just don't quite get that. As I said, as we get up out of bed and we work as hard as we possibly can through every day to try to achieve outcomes. As an issue of global significance, this just doesn't even quite get onto the radar.
I want to thank the opposition for supporting this bill. I want to pay tribute to the outgoing Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, and thank him for the work that he has done in a million different areas—not just in his official capacity but in all the other extracurricular work that he has taken on board because he's a quality person. I also want to congratulate the incoming Governor-General, General Hurley. I congratulate him on his appointment. I'm sure he's going to be an amazing Governor-General for this great country.
Sometimes in the life of a parliamentarian you see the list of legislation coming before this House and you do start to scratch your head at some of the truly remarkable things that we have to turn our attention to! It's remarkable that today, as we get ever closer to the next federal election, and as we think about the dying minutes of this parliament's capacity to debate important legislation, we bring ourselves now to debate the Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill 2019. This is a piece of legislation that reminds us deeply of the anachronism that is the constitutional monarchy that we exist within today.
It is an important piece of legislation for a number of reasons, though. It's important because, under the terms of our Constitution, the salary of the Governor-General cannot be amended during the term of that Governor-General. So it is absolutely vital that we as a parliament turn our minds to that salary before the term of a new incoming Governor-General commences—in this case, the Hon. David Hurley AC, who will be sworn in in June. It is important that this legislation passes the parliament properly so that his salary can be set in accordance with section 3 of the Constitution.
But in doing that, it does remind us all that what we're doing here is not in terms of setting the salary of the person who is our head of state and we're not setting the salary of the person who is actually the head of our government. What we're doing is setting the salary of a person who is, effectively, the viceroy of Australia—the person who comes into this place when we convene for the first time as the nation's parliament after an election to commence the parliament in the place of a person who is our monarch; in the place of the person who very rarely ever visits this great country of ours. This is a person whose opportunity to hold that office as our head of state is dictated by who their parents were.
Now, I don't cast any aspersion on the individual person who is currently our head of state, our monarch, because people who have done that previously in this parliament have been found ejected from their seats and by-elections called. What I do draw to the House's attention is that in having to have this discussion and this debate, and in having to deal with this legislation, I think it is worthwhile remembering and thinking about who the representative of the monarch in Australia, the holder of the office of Governor-General, is and what it is that that office represents.
As I said before, that is the office, effectively, of viceroy—an office that has been overthrown in so many other parts of the world where they have recognise the importance of having one of their own as their own head of state. They have recognised the deep discrimination that exists in the concept of monarchy. I say that particularly as someone who comes from a long line of Irish Catholic stock. It is not just the fact that I'm not a member of the royal family that would prevent me from ever becoming the head of state of Australia but it is my religious faith that would prevent me from ever becoming the head of state of this nation under our current constitutional arrangements.
This brings me to the very interesting fact, I think, that the first Australian-born Governor-General—the first Australian-born to hold that office—was also the first Jewish person to hold that office. Interestingly enough, there is no prohibition on a Jew becoming the head of state. They would have to be head of the Church of England, but there is no expressed prohibition, as exists for Catholics, to become the head of state. As such, I think that highlights just one part that the anachronism that is our constitutional arrangements.
I'd also like to draw the attention of the House to the point that when it comes to the very specifics of this bill: it's setting the salary. Rightly, the salary is determined by reference to the head of another arm of government, the Chief Justice of Australia. In this particular case, the salary of the incoming Governor-General will be slightly reduced to account for the fact that the incoming Governor-General is already receiving, rightly, a military pension. Usually the amount of money that will be paid to a Governor-General is much more than the holder of that office may have ever earnt in their entire life. For the person who holds the office of Chief Justice of Australia, usually their salary amounts to about 10 per cent of what they earned before they became a judge in our judicial system. There's quite a difference in the nature of the work performed.
In saying that, the role of Governor-General is not to be diminished; it's incredibly important. It's incredibly important in two ways. It's incredibly important because it holds the very serious role of attesting to bills that come through this parliament. It holds the very important role of providing some advice back to the executive. It performs the very important role of signing off matters that come through the federal executive council, largely in the forms of regulation and other forms of lower legislation that are handed over to the responsibility of the Governor-General in council. Those are very important roles. They performs a very important function. But, at the end of the day, that function is effectively one done only ever at the advice of, and because of the advice of, the democratically elected executive that comes from our parliaments, which shows the distinction that exists there in the functional role.
This is why the symbolism of the role is so important. It also provides an important function in representing our nation because, as I said before, our actual head of state never actually comes here. So we do need to have someone who is able to perform that role as the head of our nation that is above politics, that is not partisan, that is able to perform the role of bringing people together in many different ways and at different times—often at times of great national tragedy. Other speakers have spoken about the works of governors-general that have visited communities that have suffered from bushfire, have suffered from flood or are suffering from drought. That is an important role. It is important for those communities. My own community suffered devastating bushfire only a few years ago, and I know how important it is to have someone that is seen as the head of our nation visiting those communities, consoling those communities and letting them understand that the nation mourns and suffers with them. That is an important role that the Governor-General performs.
But there's a gap. There is a gap in the way the Governor-General can do that because they do that not as a representative of the entire polity of Australia; they do it as a representative of the monarch. Imagine how much more powerful the holder of that role would be in the eyes of the Australian community if they were able to visit those communities, to console, to offer support, to lend strength and to stand for the entire nation if they were able to do that as a truly Australian representative of Australians. That, I think, is something we should continue to strive towards. It's why it is so important that we don't just push the concept of an Australian head of state off to the side, off to the never-never, because we don't see it as the most pressing issue confronting our nation. I don't say that that is an issue more pressing than proper funding of our schools. I don't say that's an issue more pressing than the proper funding of our hospitals. But, unlike the current government, we believe that it is possible to walk and chew gum. It is possible to work on multiple issues confronting the nation at once, and that people want to be engaged in those discussions.
The office, in and of itself, is a historical anachronism. As I started these remarks, I highlighted that point. You pick up the list of legislation for this week and you think: 'We've got to do what? We've got to come in and set the salary for the Queen's representative here in Australia? Again?' Whilst it is an important constitutional requirement that the parliament does it, it does, as I say, continue to highlight this issue that we cannot just leave to the side—that we need to move forward as a nation and leave these shackles behind us. As I say at every citizenship ceremony that I attend, which I so love attending, we are a nation that is made great by our own diversity. We are a nation that continues to improve because of the diversity that we have in our nation, that continues to come here and that adds to the great, complex tapestry of over 60,000 years of Aboriginal history here.
I love going into my schools in my electorate and talking about the fact that, in Perth, we have had continual settlement on the banks of the Swan River, the Derbarl Yerrigan, for over 40,000 years. Everyone knows about the Colosseum, but it has only been there for a few thousand years. There has been continual settlement for 40,000 years on the banks of the Derbarl Yerrigan. The Aboriginal people of Perth, the Noongar and Whadjuk people, tell a great story of the Swan River and its making via a sea serpent and the path that it travelled to sea. What's fascinating about that story is that, in the story, the path that it takes is a pathway that has not been visible to human eyes for hundreds of years—indeed, thousands of years. We now know the path as Gage Roads, a deep trench off the shore of Western Australia, which our largest ships travel through out of port. It was the extension of the Swan River. During the Ice Age was the last time that it was seen. We need to capture that sort of history, and that is what has made Australia great. It is through adding diversity to that.
The issue that I have with having a constitutional monarchy is that that doesn't reflect Australia today. It doesn't even reflect the Australia that existed before colonisation. Australia has grown in different ways since that time, and all of those things should be celebrated. I am concerned that a constitutional monarchy does not reflect that.
I mentioned Sir Isaac Isaacs a little while ago, Australia's first Australian-born Governor-General. He was an outstanding person for that role and an outstanding leader. Indeed, before being appointed to that role, he was Chief Justice of Australia. He took a very significant pay cut to take up the role of Governor-General and lived that role in a frugal way, but as a representative of Australia. He was the first Governor-General to live full-time in Yarralumla. The people of Australia took it with such great pride and honour that there was a Governor-General actually resident in the Australian capital. The interesting thing about this is, firstly, that he was appointed by a great Australian Prime Minister. That great Australian Prime Minister was cut down because of world financial events and the way in which, again, the British aristocracy decided to dictate terms to Australia's finances.
Most importantly is the way in which that appointment came about. It was an appointment that was opposed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was an appointment that was opposed by the English government. It was an appointment that was opposed by George V. George V, in fact, did not want to take the advice—and I use that term legally—of the democratically elected government of Australia. But Scullin held firm. Prime Minister Scullin made it clear in a personal meeting—I tell you, I would love to know the transcript of that meeting—between George V and Prime Minister Scullion, and George V ceded. He ceded to the democratic sovereignty Australia to nominate and to advise the king as to who should hold the office of Governor-General of Australia. That was the turning point. That is a significant turning point that is not often reflected upon in Australian history or in this House. That was the first point, really, that an Australian Prime Minister literally stood up to an English king and told him how things were going to be in Australia.
It also highlights the problem that I started this contribution to the debate about. Why should an Australian Prime Minister have to travel to London to tell a king how Australia is going to be governed, how Australia wishes to have its affairs managed and who our head of state's representative—merely a representative—should be? No, it's rightfully time that Australia has its own head of state, Australian-born and Australian-selected. With that, of course, I support the bill. It's important that we support this bill for its passage before the end of the financial year and before the swearing in of the Honourable David Hurley AC, who I have absolutely no doubt will be another fine Governor-General for our nation. I merely hope that he's one of the last.
The bill before the House, the Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill, goes to what seems to be a narrow administrative question, but it belies a much bigger question—a question about what it means to be Australian. The Governor-General Act was introduced by the Whitlam government to set the Governor-General's salary, and the Whitlam government believed that the Governor-General's salary should recognise the importance and place of this high office and be dealt with in a non-partisan way. It acknowledged that the appointment of the office of Governor-General should not depend on a candidate's personal wealth or their availability of other income to support them in the role.
It is ironic, then, that these egalitarian values do not extend to the nature of the office itself—a delegate of the Queen of the British monarchy, an institution where selection for the position is determined by birth. We have had a succession of esteemed Australians appointed as Governor-General, all of whom have carried out their duties with grace and honour. But in 2019 it is wholly outdated that Australia's head of state is the Queen and that her duties are delegated to the Governor-General in Australia. That's because today, 232 years after the First Fleet, 118 years after Federation, Australia's head of state does not represent us. It does not reflect us as a country.
It's not simply an anachronism. The institution of the British monarchy offends the very things that we are most proud of as Australians. It is utterly out of step with the values and expectations of modern Australia—values like the fair go, egalitarianism and mateship. The monarchy is an elitist and exclusive institution—there's just no way around this. Just say it: 'the Australian monarchy', 'the Queen of Australia'. If our constitutional arrangements remain unchanged, in the not-too-distant future we'll have a 'King of Australia'. Just feel those words in your mouth—it offends what it means to be Australian.
The monarchy is an institution that looks backwards to who someone's parents happen to be when determining whether someone is qualified to be our head of state—the governors-general representing them in Australia. It's an institution which excludes our First Australians. It's 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 continues to discriminate in the line of succession on the basis of gender and religion.
Australia was built on the very idea that we can do better than the United Kingdom. And we have built something better here—a nation of radical egalitarianism; a country where, as historian George Nadel wrote:
… arrogance is the worst sin and deference the next. The Australian likes to call no man his master and likes to think of no man as his servant.
We certainly do not like to call any man or woman our king or queen.
When some misguided types sought to set up an antipodean aristocracy and a House of Lords in Australia in 1853, Daniel Deniehy, a son of convicts and a radical republican, scathingly labelled these Australians desiring of a British-style class system of a hierarchical system of honours as promoting a 'bunyip aristocracy'. We bestow mockery on those who think that they are better than anyone else, not titles—other than the member for Warringah, that is.
I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker. I withdraw. I was trying to draw reference to the reinstitution of knights and dames under the Abbott government. I was not reflecting on the member for Warringah as an individual.
Thank you, Deputy Speaker. Over time we've slowly learnt how egalitarianism, the fair go and mateship should apply beyond the Anglo-Celtic men who championed these values for each other from the 1860s onwards to include women and people of colour who have also embraced these values and helped build the nation we enjoy today.
As historian Clare Wright has recorded, 'Australian women helped stoke the fires of rebellion at Eureka, and Australian suffragettes led the world in the fight for women's political empowerment.' Australian trailblazers like Muriel Matters, Vida Goldstein, Dora Meeson Coates and Dora Montefiorie taught the United Kingdom a thing or two about how a nation's democratic institutions, how its symbols, must give voice to everyone within the nation. Slowly, this realisation was also extended to people of colour. Australia has travelled an enormous distance since the days of terra nullius and the Immigration Restriction Act to become the most successful multicultural nation in the world. We are a nation of over 500 Indigenous nations, 250 ethnicities. Collectively we speak over 350 languages and worship 120 religions.
We are only now learning the stories of people of colour who have helped build the nation of radical egalitarianism we have become—people who are not reflected in the institution of the British monarchy, the Australian monarchy and their representative in Australia, the Governor-General. They include people like Chinese-Australian Billy Sing, a Queensland drover, a kangaroo hunter, a cane cutter, an opening fast bowler and one of our greatest Anzacs—the most successful sniper in the trenches of Gallipoli and a winner of the Distinguished Conduct Medal; other Chinese-Australians like Caleb James Shang, whose fearless service patrolling enemy territory, attacking enemy snipers and acting as runner under fire on the front lines of the Messian Ridge, Passchendaele and Dernancourt near the Somme, won him a DCM, a DCM with bar and a military medal, making him one of our most dedicated Anzacs; and John Wing, who, as a 10-year-old, embodied Australian egalitarianism by writing to the Melbourne Olympic committee to suggest that athletes march not as separate nations in the closing ceremony but as one nation of friends in the 1956 Olympics—an Australian contribution of egalitarianism that the Olympic Games has adopted and continued to this day.
Our national symbols and institutions need to reflect these radical egalitarian values that we have built in this country. These symbols and institutions matter; they aren't just administrative issues. Our national symbols matter to the sense of connection that Australians 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 in this endeavour.
We, on this side of the House, believe in the potential for what we can achieve together with the power of collective action. Too often, progressives on my side of politics have discounted the important role that a sense of unifying national identity can play as an enabler of this collective action. There is a growing body of literature in sociology and political science that shows the very damaging effects that countries experience when they don't have this binding form of national identity when tribal identities, ethnicities and religion are the dominant forms of identity in a society. Think of the things that we have built in this nation together through this sense of shared endeavour, not just the physical infrastructure like the Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme but the social infrastructure that relies on these common bonds of trust and national identity to establish. Institutions like the Australian welfare state and Medicare—an institution, I might say, that is the great legacy of one of our former governor-generals, Bill Hayden. We need to invest more time in the cause of nation-building in Australia. We need to invest more in building symbols and institutions that unite us in mutual sympathies and in common endeavour.
Upon our Federation, our first Prime Minister, Edmond Barton, said 'we have a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation' but we're not defined by a geographical land mass. We define ourselves through the national culture, values and symbols we build together as a people. Our head of state ought to embrace this, ought to reflect these common values and ideals. National identity is politically constructed and it's up to all of us—MPs and citizens alike—to build it. We do this every day. Prime Minister John Howard once declared that he and his supporters 'knew what an Australian was and always will be'. That was a nation-building statement from John Howard. He had a view of what it meant to be Australian. He didn't think that it needed to change. Perhaps it was bestowed by Sir Henry Parkes to Charles Bean and handed on by Bradman to us today and it has been carved in stone and not changed since that time. You'll be unsurprised to hear that I think that is a nonsense.
The idea of what an Australian is has changed radically since Federation and is continuing to change today. At Federation, we did not have room in our conception of Australian identity for women, for Indigenous Australians or for people of colour. We denied them equal status in the law in our democracy, in our institutions and in our symbols. The ethnically and culturally diverse Australia of today is very different to the official white Australia of our Federation. Is there anyone among us who would say that 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, then we should also recognise that the symbols and institutions of our nation have also become outdated as a result of these changes and should change as a consequence.
There's a chance that we're about to enter a new period of nation-building in Australia, a new period of nation-building that will impact directly on the roles of the Governor-General and the monarchy in Australia. If the federal Labor Party wins the next election, the next term of the parliament will see the implementation of an Indigenous voice to parliament, constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians and a plebiscite on whether Australia should become a republic. We should not miss this opportunity. Properly seen, these processes are a chance to reflect on the way in which we think of ourselves as Australians. The British monarch, who our Governor-General represents, is no longer the single thread that unites us as a nation. The 'crimson thread' of the days of Henry Parkes is an irrelevancy to Australia today. At best, it is an irrelevancy; at worst, it's a symbol of our inability as a nation to recognise who we really are and who we have become. Our nation has been transformed by immigration, but our national identity has not evolved to reflect that demographic change. We need a truly representative national identity that would equally recognise the talents and experiences of members of the many Indigenous Australian peoples and our new diaspora communities.
As Noel Pearson powerfully argued in the 2018 Lowitja O'Donoghue Oration, Australia has a lot of symbolic nation-building to do: grappling with the legacy of 1788 from the perspectives of Indigenous Australians and European settlers, honestly dealing with our nation's fraught racial history through the White Australia policy, committing to land stewardship, making good on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and including a statement of Australian values. Pearson engaged with this symbolic nation-building in the form of a new 'Declaration of Australia', transcending and supplanting the outdated symbolism of our moment of sovereignty at Australia's Federation. Pearson began his proposed declaration with a statement:
Whereas three stories make Australia: the Ancient Indigenous Heritage which is its foundation, the British Institutions built upon it, and the adorning Gift of Multicultural Migration:
Pearson finished this declaration by saying, 'Three stories make us one: Australians.' It's a bold, confident vision of Australian exceptionalism that grapples with the often difficult path we have taken to become the nation that we are today. But it's a story that's not reflected in the office of the Governor-General or in the Australian monarchy. I believe this is a national conversation that's worth engaging with.
On the narrow substance of the bill before the House: I support it. The convention for settling the Governor-General's salary is uncontroversial. The amount references the expected salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court, whose remuneration is determined by an independent tribunal, and General David Hurley is of course deserving of this appointment as Governor-General and this salary. He is an outstanding Australian. Many members contributing to this debate have outlined the extraordinary work that he has done, particularly on organ donation, and I'm certain that he will comport himself with grace and honour in the role. For 42 years General Hurley served in the Australian Army and concluded his service as Chief of the Defence Force before being appointed Governor of New South Wales in 2014. Nothing in this debate detracts in any way from his status as an outstanding Australian.
But we need a new way of choosing the next David Hurley. We can do better as a nation. And we should do better, because these symbols and institutions matter. They matter to the way that we see ourselves, they matter to the way that we engage with our fellow Australians, and they matter to the way that people beyond our borders see and engage with us. I believe that we can do better and I hope that, if Labor wins the next election, we get the opportunity to do this symbolic nation-building, to set a new foundation for Australia to confidently move forward in the 21st century as an exceptional nation—modern, diverse and reflecting all of the potential that we know this nation has.
I'd like to thank the members who have participated in this debate for this simple amendment. But, as I heard from the Minister for Health, why say in one minute what you can say in 15? I'm glad the contributions from some of those on the opposite side didn't stray into the area where I would have to call them on standing order 88 in regard to diminishing the role of both the Governor-General and the Queen, or the monarchy, but I must admit they did sail a bit close to the wind. But they opened the door, saying that this particular monarchy is still very important to many Australians.
I attended a recent RSL event where I laid a wreath for the Vietnam veterans. Veterans were very proud and loud when they sang 'God Save The Queen' at their particular ceremony. These are people who actually fought and put their lives on the line for Australia. Many Australians haven't done that and probably don't recognise the importance of these guys and how they respect the monarchy.
The purpose of this bill is to set an annual salary of $495,000 during the term of the appointment of His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley AC DSC (Retired) as Governor-General. General Hurley is a former Chief of the Defence Force and has been a very popular Governor of New South Wales. General Hurley is known for being generous and approachable to old and young alike, as seen in his weekly boxing workouts with Indigenous children as part of the Tribal Warrior program or during his frequent regional trips. He has dedicated his life to serving the Australian community. General Hurley's compassion and commitment to Australia was displayed during his 42 years in the Australian Army, for which he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to the Australian Defence Force, and in his leadership and service during Operation Solace in Somalia in 1993, for which he received the Distinguished Service Cross.
Under section 3 of the Constitution, the salary of the Governor-General cannot be altered during the term of an appointment. This means that alteration to the Governor-General's salary must occur prior to the commencement of a new Governor-General's term. It has been a longstanding practice that the Governor-General's salary is calculated with reference to the salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court. The proposed salary has therefore been determined through forecasting the projected wage growth of the Chief Justice's salary over the next five years. The Governor-General designate has requested that his salary take into consideration his Commonwealth funded superannuation from his previous service in the Australian Defence Force. This is in line with precedent established by His Excellency Sir William Deane in 1995 and continued most recently by General Cosgrove in 2014, both of whom were entitled to Commonwealth funded pensions through their previous work. The proposed salary for General Hurley as Governor-General has therefore been calculated in relation to the Chief Justice's salary, taking into account General Hurley's military pension.
I'd just like to finish by congratulating Governor-General Cosgrove on his work for the Australian community and the office of Governor-General. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.