Friday, 23 September 2022
Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth Ii and Accession of His Majesty King Charles Iii
I, too, rise to pay a most sincere and heartfelt tribute to the life of a most extraordinary woman, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I do so as a senator for Western Australia, as a senior officer in Her Majesty's Australian Army, and as a former minister of the Crown and member of Executive Council. So many wonderful and fitting eulogies and observations have been made about the Queen and her legacy, the legacy of the second Elizabethan era.
Like so many others, I have been surprised at the depth of my sadness, of my grief, listening to and reflecting on these many tributes. On reflection, as a monarchist, that might not be as surprising, but it is easy to take for granted such a constant presence in your life—one that has been so important to our democracy's stability. The past two weeks, for so many of us, have been ones of reflection, admiration, inspiration and gratitude for Her Majesty's selfless acceptance of her destiny and of her great responsibilities. We have all been reminded of the woman she was, the leader she was, her strength, her dignity, her kindness, her warmth, her great wisdom and, of course, her sense of humour.
It has also been an important time to reflect on the lessons of the Queen's reign and to take inspiration from her life of leadership and selfless service. She did not choose this life; fate did. Queen Elizabeth was born in London in April of 1926, the firstborn of the Duke and Duchess of York—born a princess but not heir presumptive. Her father, George VI, unexpectedly became King in 1936 upon the abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII, thus making Elizabeth, at just 10 years old, the presumptive heir to the throne. The course of her life became predetermined—a daunting challenge for any young woman of any era, but it was a challenge she rose quickly to and one that she maintained with great dignity and grace throughout her life.
She not only led her nation, the United Kingdom; she also ruled a realm, and lead it she did. Her greatest achievements as a leader were in what we did not see, what she did quietly but persuasively behind closed doors. She was quite simply a magnificent role model for women of many generations. At 21 she married the love of her life, Philip, who was her constant stay and strength. Their 73 years of marriage was one of family, of great joys, of great troubles and of tragedies that all played out, unlike for the rest of us, in the glare of the media. The Duke loved and supported his wife and he also selflessly served his Queen. Elizabeth was only 25 years old when in 1952 she became Queen. In 1954, Queen Elizabeth became the first monarch to visit Australia, making 16 trips in all, including seven memorable trips to my home state of Western Australia. She loved and respected us just as much we did her.
During World War II the Queen, then a princess, was the first female member of the royal family to join the armed forces in a full-time capacity. Her great affinity, affection and respect for her armed services endured throughout her reign. No group of subjects have mourned her passing more deeply than those who served in her armed forces across the Commonwealth. She had great empathy for the many challenges faced by service personnel, by veterans and by their families. After all, she was a mother who sent her own children and grandchildren to war. She understood.
Since Federation, Australia has had only five monarchs, with the Queen and her father, King George VI, together reigning for the past 85 years. During the Queen's own reign, 16 Australian prime ministers and 16 governors-general have served in her name and have benefited from her great guidance, wisdom and the stability she provided. That stability cannot and has not been replicated under any other modern system of government or head of state. The unprecedented global outpouring of genuine grief is evidence of this.
On her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth promised:
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
Your Majesty, you have faithfully and selflessly kept your promise. This loyal subject thanks you. Your duties are done. Rest in peace with your beloved Philip, parents and sister. Rest in peace, and long live the King.