Friday, 23 September 2022
Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth Ii and Accession of His Majesty King Charles Iii
by leave—I move:
That the following address to His Majesty The King be agreed to—
We, the members of the Senate in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, express our deep sympathy with Your Majesty and members of the Royal Family for the great loss sustained in the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, our late Sovereign.
On behalf of the Australian people, we pay tribute to and acknowledge Her late Majesty's exceptional life of dedication to duty and commitment to Australia and the Commonwealth.
We extend our congratulations to Your Majesty on your accession to the throne.
We express our respect for Your Majesty and pledge to work to achieve peace and prosperity for Australia and the Commonwealth.
The story goes that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was having a conversation with an Indigenous elder from Queensland. He said to her: 'You are born and you walk on your country, you learn to live and to love and to do what you are born to do, and then you go home.' On an overcast day in Canberra, I rise on behalf of the government of the Commonwealth of Australia to mark the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and to acknowledge that, indeed, she has now gone home.
In commemorating the life of Her Majesty, in the Senate on behalf of the government, I am aware that I speak on behalf of all Australians. I do not approach this task lightly. Many of the details of Her Majesty's life and achievements have been widely reported since Her Majesty's passing.
Queen Elizabeth II died on the afternoon of 8 September at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. It is neither explicable nor surprising that many Australians report having woken at the time of her passing, around 3 am our time. Thus marked the end of the second Elizabethan age.
Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in London at the home of her maternal grandparents on 21 April 1926. The 1920s produced some extraordinary men and women, including my own mother and father. For the parents of baby boomers, duty always came first. There was a sober endurance about the way they confronted the challenges of life—stoic, patient, resilient.
The Queen's father, the Duke of York, was formally proclaimed King George VI in December 1936. This proclamation made Princess Elizabeth the heiress presumptive, and from that point on, her path through life was preordained. At the tender age of 10 she confronted the fact that her life was to be one of service and duty to others. For her there was no other option. She was to be Queen, whether she liked it or not. Hers was a life devoted to service to others—to her people, to her Commonwealth and to her family. This was her promise to the people of her dominions on her 21st birthday:
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.
It is fair to say that leaders of all persuasions are adept at making promises but not so adept at keeping them. This could not be said of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In my later years, I've often reflected on the nature of her vocation. Hers was a life of seemingly endless work—public ceremonies, receptions, community events, political and diplomatic meetings—all held together within a schedule of grinding and exhausting travel. It was only in the last few years that I can ever recall her excusing herself from a work engagement, and then only ever on the basis of failing health. Quite remarkably, two days before her passing, struggling with her mobility, in a cardigan and a tartan skirt and with her trademark handbag on her arm, she fulfilled her constitutional duty by accepting the resignation of Boris Johnson and inviting the Rt Hon. Elizabeth Truss MP to form a new administration.
The second Elizabethan age began while the world was recovering from the cataclysm of world war. Nonetheless, her epoch was still marked by earth-shattering change, including but not limited to revolutions, republics, coup d'etats and wars in any number of strife-torn countries. As a relatively young head of state she navigated the turbulent 1960s. Some of us who were in our early teens at the time will remember the howling gales of change that ripped across the planet. John Lennon once observed of the sixties:
We were all on the ship, our generation, a ship going to discover the new world. And the Beatles were in the crow's nest of that ship.
Well, the Beatles might well have been in the crow's nest, but Her Majesty was on the bridge because that's where her duty demanded that she be. Looking at the horizon is one thing, setting a course to achieve it is quite another.
It has been claimed that Queen Elizabeth had a special relationship with Australia. There is a lot of evidence for this. Her Majesty visited Australia on 16 separate occasions. She is said to have liked us and trusted us. If one is in any doubt about her trust, consider her decision to have her oldest son and heir presumptive educated for a time in Australia.
In 2011, the then Prince Charles joked in public about being referred to by his fellow students as a 'Pommy bastard'. Nonetheless, King Charles III is universally remembered by those students as a 'thoroughly decent bloke'. Whatever happens in the future, Australians know that King Charles likes us, understands us and respects us. Understanding that Charles would eventually be King, sending him to Timbertop was an example of Her Majesty's acute foresight. As King Charles has acceded to the throne, we recognise our new monarch and give thanks for the seamless manner in which he assumes his heavy burden of responsibility as king. We also express our hope that his reign will be marked by an abundance of the same qualities that marked that of his late, beloved mother.
It is instructive for us, in this place particularly, to reflect on the way Her Majesty discharged her constitutional responsibilities. In early 1986, as the Queen of Australia, she adroitly navigated the introduction of the Australia Act. It was in essence a formal declaration that the Commonwealth of Australia was completely constitutionally independent from the United Kingdom. The Australian Act, among other things, relegated the monarch to a largely symbolic role and ensured that the High Court of Australia was the highest point of legal appeal—other than the various state supreme courts having ultimate recourse to the Privy Council in Britain.
It is a measure of Queen Elizabeth's political sensibilities that she appreciated our wish to be constitutionally independent. However, because of the independence of the states, the Australia Act stipulates that the monarch is to accept the advice of state premiers. At the time, Her Majesty was concerned that advice tended to by her state premiers might run counter to the interests of other states or, indeed, of the Commonwealth government. This was a particularly astute observation by her, as some Senate colleagues might recall the unpredictable and intemperate nature of the then Premier of Queensland, Joe Bjelke-Petersen.
Her Majesty was prodigiously well educated on her constitutional rights and responsibilities. As a constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth exercised what constitutional expert Professor Anne Twomey has described as 'soft power based on social pressure, political capital and persuasion but always behind the scenes'. Professor Twomey has suggested that Her Majesty was a little more activist and more influential than people might have thought. However, the Queen exercised her influence with quiet subtlety. She was very good at keeping any advice that she gave to ministers behind closed doors.
Although Queen Elizabeth did not have any direct input into the conduct of Australia's national affairs, she advised 15 British prime ministers. She is said to have done this in an effective yet uncontroversial manner, expressing her opinion with a quizzical raised eyebrow or a gentle interrogative: 'Now, do you really think that this is a good idea, Prime Minister?'
At the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, it's also timely to reflect on the Commonwealth of Nations, usually referred to simply as the Commonwealth, a political association of some 56 states where members are connected through their use of the English language and their historical ties with the British Empire. Her Majesty was wholly devoted to the Commonwealth and worked tirelessly to maintain its relevance and its influence in an increasingly fractured global environment. As the relationship tides between countries ebb and flow and strategic alliances fluctuate there is comfort and security in being a member of an association of states committed to shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Given what has transpired in our own region over the last few years, in 2022 we are once again grateful for Queen Elizabeth's foresight and her unflagging commitment to the Commonwealth.
In recent days, any number of people have recounted seeing, meeting or spending time with Her Majesty. My first memory of Queen Elizabeth was as a nine-year-old, when she toured Adelaide in 1963. As she drove by, I can still remember wondering what Her Majesty's life was actually like. As young as I was, I didn't imagine for one moment that it was a lot of fun sitting in a black car on a hot Adelaide afternoon waving a gloved hand at school students lining the route. I was fortunate enough to meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip twice in 2011, once with my oldest daughter, Mary, in Parliament House, and once with my middle daughter, Tess, when I was Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water. Her Majesty was in Brisbane to launch a water recycling project at the height of the drought. I found her warm, engaging and funny. 'Do you really recycle water?' she asked me with a grin. Yes, you can laugh at that.
We've all been lucky to hear the recollections of people who knew of Queen Elizabeth beyond the formal figure via the medium of television. None of us are surprised to learn of her deep humanity, her wicked sense of humour and her genuine appreciation of people from all walks of life. With Queen Elizabeth having passed, the earth moves a little slower, the sun shines a little less brightly and the wind has an extra chill. Queen Elizabeth was Queen of Australia but she was also a lifelong partner of Prince Philip, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, an aunt and a godmother. In our sadness, we also know her family are grieving deeply at this time. Regardless of our personal positions on royalty and our constitutional arrangements, Australians are united in sadness and gratitude for the life of duty and service. We have witnessed the passing of a truly remarkable woman. Well done, good and faithful servant. We shall not see her like again. May she rest in eternal peace.