Senate debates

Friday, 23 September 2022

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


10:09 am

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the condolence motion to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. I do so, as a senator for Tasmania, mindful that there are a range of views and emotions that may be experienced by Australians and Tasmanians during this time—indeed, across this chamber and the parliament. In my contribution today I would like to reflect on some of the traits that I feel the Queen embodied. These are: service to others, comfort and a determination to adapt to a changing world while trying to retain the essence of a position that went back a millennium. She embodied grace and dignity at all times, even through—as she called it—the 'annus horribilis'.

Her life was a life dedicated to service for so long that it's rare. For 70 years as Queen, and before that as Princess Elizabeth, she served her country and the Commonwealth. She was Australia's head of state for 70 of the nation's 121 years since Federation. She carried out more than 21,000 engagements and travelled to more than 150 nations, primarily on behalf of the United Kingdom but also on behalf of the Commonwealth of Nations and Australia. Her reign spanned 16 Australian Prime Ministers and included 16 visits to Australia. She visited my home state of Tasmania on a total of seven occasions: in 1954, 1963, 1970, 1977, 1981, 1988 and 2000. These occasions saw, across our state and across the decades, streets lined with Tasmanians wishing to see and to meet the Queen.

The Queen's good deeds extended to the support she gave to many important causes. Up until the age of 90, she was patron of around 600 different organisations. Through this support she raised the profile of these causes, both large and small, and promoted them to the broader public, which allowed others in turn to give service to these causes. It also enabled organisations to raise millions of dollars over the decades for their causes. Like Her Majesty, almost six million Australians volunteer each year, and I'm sure that many were inspired by Queen Elizabeth's example.

Many have quoted recently the message that the Queen sent to the United States of America after the 9/11 attacks, where she said that grief is the price of love. This condolence was just one of thousands that she conveyed to individuals and nations throughout her life. In response to sadness and tragedy experienced by others, she met the most human of needs: comfort. She sought to bring nations and people together. It is this support to those that were hurting that we can reflect upon today.

The lifetime of Queen Elizabeth II saw more changes than that of any other monarch. The changes to technology and society during the 70 years she reigned were unlike anything faced by any other monarch. Never before has a monarch had to face the advances and changes in technology that Queen Elizabeth II had to face, nor how these shaped public perception and changed the role of the monarchy. Over the many decades of her reign, Australia changed rapidly and in fundamental ways. Australia's population was just 8.6 million in 1952, compared with 26 million today, and we've moved from being a nation that was mostly homogenous and Anglo-Celtic to one that is diverse and multicultural, with different traditions and cultures from all over the world. Australians have gone from being isolated from the world to being able to travel freely and receive news and information instantly.

On Monday night Australian time, the Queen's funeral was held in Westminster Abbey. It's estimated that four billion people watched the broadcast, making it the most viewed broadcast of all time. This, I think, is a measure of the affection held for Queen Elizabeth II, not just in the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth of Nations but worldwide. The incredible, deep, dedicated duty that she embodied is something that people of all nations could admire.

I'll end my contribution by remarking that there is something inexplicable missing now that she has gone. For most Australians, she was the only monarch we had ever known. She lived an extraordinary life which touched the lives of millions. She gave comfort to many and provided an exemplary model of service to others. I extend my sympathies to her family—to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren—who must be feeling her loss profoundly, and to all those around our nation who are impacted by her death.


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