Senate debates

Friday, 23 September 2022

Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth Ii and Accession of His Majesty King Charles Iii


10:00 am

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this condolence motion for Queen Elizabeth II. I begin by passing on my sincere condolences to her family, King Charles III and her other children, her grandchildren, her great grandchildren and other family and friends. I'm sure this is a very difficult time for them, particularly when you are required to grieve so publicly and the grieving is broadcast and scrutinised around the world. I also acknowledge the genuine grief experienced by many in Australia, including so many in this chamber. It's important to respect the genuine shock and grief that this death has caused.

Personally, I never met the Queen. It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I do not believe in the divine right of one person or one family to rule over everyone else by accident or by birth. But, regardless, the loss of any human life should be respected. When someone has passed, I believe you should talk about who they really were. I commend the Queen's extensive support for charities throughout her life. She served as the patron or president of more than 600 charities and other public service organisations. In total it is estimated she raised billions of dollars for not-for-profits throughout her life. The Queen was also known to make some significant personal donations to humanitarian causes, including causes supporting victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, victims of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and, most recently, victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I also praise the Queen's firm opposition to apartheid in South Africa, a political stance which put her at odds with the pro-apartheid Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. However, she didn't always get it right—such as her reported opposition to the miner's strike.

In reflecting on the Queen's death, I thought of the words contained in article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 'All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.' These last two weeks have served as a reminder that this remains an aspirational statement. Over these two weeks of mourning and formalities, hundreds of thousands of people of equal human value to the Queen have died around the world. I'm sure it's been particularly difficult to lose loved ones during this time and see the significance of their loss be overshadowed by minute-to-minute coverage of the death of the Queen.

I want to take a moment to pass on my condolences to the families of anyone who has lost loved ones recently, like the family of Uncle Jack Charles. Uncle Jack Charles was a Boon Wurrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta man of tremendous artistic vision and talent. He was also a survivor of the Stolen Generations. That injustice was, of course, just one of the many perpetrated in Australia against First Nations people in the name of the Crown. This sort of severe trauma is transgenerational, so I can appreciate and empathise with First Nations people who may have, rightly, experienced very different emotions upon learning of this death. We should be a mature enough society to tolerate people with differing views, rather than abusing or cancelling them.

To that point, I will end by quoting a recent contribution by Stan Grant about grappling with the reaction to the Queen's death:

My people have a word, Yindyamarra—its meaning escapes English translation. It is a philosophy—a way of living—grounded in a deep respect.

I have sought to show Yindyamarra to those for whom this moment is profound. This is their 'sorry business' and I respect that.

But it will pass. For Indigenous people, our sorry business is without end.


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