Senate debates

Friday, 23 September 2022

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


8:16 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | Hansard source

On the death of Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia and her other realms and territories, head of the Commonwealth, we give thanks for her truly remarkable life. Of the countless words describing the life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, one stands above all others: duty—a duty laid upon a little girl, a duty embraced by a young woman, a duty fulfilled for 70 years by a lady of grace and diligence. The Queen exemplified the essence of duty. She lived and performed her duties not to advance self-interest but to underpin the interests of the nation, the Commonwealth and the people she served throughout the world.

Among the vast challenges the world has witnessed throughout the Queen's long life has been a fracturing of some commonly shared experiences. We live in a world of more choices, which see us travel diverse paths in life, sometimes oblivious to the experiences of others. However, the death of the Queen has overwhelmed that trend. It has brought a nation, a Commonwealth of nations and a global community together in ways that virtually no other event could. There has been a poignancy as everyone from kings, presidents and prime ministers through to schoolchildren and charity workers have reflected, from corridors of power the world over through to kitchen tables in every corner of our planet. Together we have reflected on the woman, Elizabeth. We have reflected on her reign as Queen. We have reflected on the changed times she bore witness to and upon the institution she put before all else.

Then Princess Elizabeth was 10 when her father unexpectedly inherited the throne, becoming King George VI. Reportedly, her little sister, Princess Margaret, asked, 'Does that mean you're going to be Queen?' Princess Elizabeth said it probably did. 'Poor you,' Princess Margaret allegedly replied. Whether this report is true or not, it underlines the reality that Her Majesty did not choose her life. Fate chose her. How we respond to the twists and turns of fate is the true test of us all. Elizabeth Windsor chose to wholeheartedly and dutifully dedicate herself to the life that had chosen her. Princess Elizabeth's now famous declaration on the occasion of her 21st birthday, 'My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,' was perhaps the most powerful of vows ever made and fulfilled.

A child of the war, Princess Elizabeth lived through the battle for British sovereignty against the evils of Nazism and fascism. She learned the importance of stoicism in times of trouble, leadership in the face of fear. When it may have been easy to cloister, to shelter or to hide, the young Elizabeth contributed by training as a wartime mechanic. She lived by example, donning the uniform of the military she would one day lead. She spoke to her nation to strengthen its confidence and resolve. Princess Elizabeth's exposure to tyrants and autocrats of that era can only have strengthened her commitment to the model of parliamentary democracy and system of rights, freedoms and responsibilities that had evolved under her monarchical predecessors.

Her Majesty lived a royal life like no other. The glare of the public gaze, the ever-present camera lens, blurred the lines between private and public in ways for which there was no prior role model. Glimpses into the life of the young Princess Elizabeth were initially brief, snatched through Movietone news reels. But 96 years after her birth, in a vastly changed world, the death of Queen Elizabeth II was simultaneously announced across media platforms from the traditional noticeboard of yesteryear to the ubiquitous social media platforms of the modern era.

Her reign as Queen Elizabeth II began on that fateful day of 6 February 1952 when, thousands of kilometres from home, she was told of the death of her father. None in this chamber would remember that day, or any other monarch other than Her late Majesty—very few people do. In fulfilling her duties, Her Majesty was for 70 years a constant, a reassurance, an anchor of stability and dependability. That is why her death has been felt so deeply and personally across the world, across the Commonwealth and here in Australia. Queen Elizabeth was there for the rise and fall of nations, the escalation and cessation of the Cold War, man first walking on the moon, terrorist attacks and technological advances that have changed our world beyond measure.

When a global pandemic struck in the 94th year of her life, Queen Elizabeth again did her duty; as she had done countless times before. She reassured a troubled world, she reached out to the health workers on the front line and she led by example. There was no more powerful example of the sacrifices the pandemic demanded than that image of a selfless Queen sitting all alone in a chapel to farewell Prince Philip, her cherished husband of 74 years.

Her late Majesty also lived through the sweeping social changes of the 1960s and beyond, which brought long-overdue advances in equality. The Queen herself was a role model for women, not necessarily in all that she said but in what she did. Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne at a time when women who married had to frequently leave the workforce, yet she was a working mother, a world leader of influence, the head of the armed services, who didn't just take the salute in uniform but did so on horseback. Her late Majesty worked with 15 British prime ministers, 14 US presidents, 16 Australian prime ministers and hundreds of other Commonwealth and world leaders, including on visits to 117 different countries. Overwhelmingly, her interlocutors were men yet her constant presence sent a strong message signifying that it did not always have to be so.

Her Majesty made 16 separate visits to Australia—the only reigning monarch to have ever done so. One was for the opening of this building, Australia's Parliament House, on 9 May 1988, as part of Australia's bicentennial celebrations. The Queen noted the first session of the Australian parliament was opened by her grandfather on the same day 87 years earlier in 1901, and it was her father who had opened the old Parliament House, known then as the provisional Parliament House, also on the same day in 1927. At the opening of this building, Her Majesty reflected on Australia's growing place in the world, saying:

Commitment to parliamentary democracy lies at the heart of this nation's maturity, tolerance and humanity. This is surely one of the characteristics which has attracted so many people to come to Australia from countries which do not enjoy the benefits of the parliamentary system in such large measure.

This statement reflected her dedication to democratic ideals and her understanding of our journey as a nation and of our growing independence. As former prime minister John Howard wrote recently, Her Majesty followed Australia's 1999 republic referendum intently but 'never wavered from the absolute requirement that it was for the Australian people alone to decide'. Such was her enduring commitment to democratic ideals.

While our bonds with the United Kingdom remain exceptionally strong, our growing influence and engagement in our own region have been a tangible sign of our nation maturing throughout her reign. Our maturing has also entailed reconciling with our past. The Queen played her role in reconciliation with Indigenous Australians and that journey through the changing nature of her visits to Australia and also through her personal engagements.

Like many, I was touched to see the remarks of Senator Dodson reflecting upon the 1999 delegation of Indigenous leaders that he participated in to meet with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. 'We got in there and we were totally disarmed,' Senator Dodson has recalled, saying, 'She was so welcoming. I think for the first time in our lives we were treated properly. She was genuinely interested in what was happening to us.' Senator Dodson's generous remarks put him as just one of millions of Australians who hold dear their memories of cherished encounters with the Queen—royal visits where countless Australians have lined the streets of our towns and cities to catch a glimpse of the Queen, hoping for a street walk during which to say g'day or be one of the lucky children to present a posy of flowers to her.

Many Australians were touched by the Queen in their deepest hours of need, when she comforted and consoled those hurt by tragedy and disaster. The Queen, along with the Duke of Edinburgh, visited my home state of South Australia seven times. As meticulously planned as any royal visit would be, it wasn't always smooth sailing—quite literally. In 1986, on a five-day visit to mark South Australia's sesquicentenary, rough seas prevented Her Majesty disembarking a royal barge at the birthplace of our state, Glenelg. Several attempts were made to get the barge close enough to the jetty, but it was considered too choppy for Her Majesty to make the leap from the barge to the platform, so they returned to the Royal Yacht Britannia and instead set sail for Port Adelaide. One suspects, given the Queen's practicality, that she was probably less fazed by the choppy seas than her aides, and would have been happy to make that leap. She did eventually make it back to plant a tree at Glenelg. Imagine just how many trees the Queen has planted. An enduring legacy is the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy, of which Australia has been a strong supporter.

As with any visit to Australia, Her Majesty also embraced the moments of informality. She visited the city of Whyalla in 1954, and again in 1986, where she was greeted by a giant handmade sign erected by a construction crew of European migrants that read: 'Longa live da Queen. G'day Duke.' Well-known for her sense of humour, it was reported that Her Majesty loved the greeting. After all, any monarch who pulls out a marmalade sandwich whilst drinking tea with Paddington Bear definitely has the ability for warmth, kindness and a bit of a laugh.

Strangely, for someone who lived a life so unique, the grief and respect shown following the death of the Queen has been in part due to her relatability. Many people have referred to Her Majesty as being seen like another mum or nanna. We bore witness to her starting a family and the joy of watching children grow, to be followed by grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We caught glimpses of the family picnics, heard tales of her driving too fast or of her getting her car bogged. We were entertained by seeing the Queen's joy as she watched her horse come in first, and the world learned more about corgis than we ever wished to. We were saddened when we saw her anguish at family breakdown or personal tragedy. These moments provided the reassurance that, despite being far removed from our daily lives, she too faced challenges that we could relate to. But no matter the circumstances, the Queen's unwavering calm, grace and dignity was a source of comfort, hope and solace.

Central to her life was her faith. Hers was not a proselytising type of faith; it was deeper than that. A deep spirituality provided Her Majesty with the capacity to be anchored in times of trouble, uplifted when help was needed. The Queen's deep faith should serve as a comfort to those saddened by her death. While we all knew this day would come, it nonetheless shocked us when it did. Like the loss of a parent or grandparent, the inevitability of death does not make it easier. Her faith is, no doubt, a comfort to her family at this time, forced to grieve in public and required to assume new roles in the midst of their mourning. We extend our condolences to the royal family.

The death of a monarch is the supreme reminder of the cycle of life. With one door closing, another is opening. As we mourn Queen Elizabeth II, we hail the new sovereign, King Charles III. Her commitment to duty is instilled in her successor as he begins a new chapter in a life also dedicated to service.

These last 14 days have provided some rare time to reflect. While we have marvelled at the majesty of royal rituals and the beauty of ancient palaces and churches, I hope we have all found some time for deeper reflection. The second Elizabethan age was a time of profound change, yet the values that guided Queen Elizabeth II in her life and duties were constant and are enduring: service to the community, commitment to family, kindness towards others, grace under pressure, learning from the past, hope for the future and respect for the institutions that grant us the opportunities of peace, prosperity and freedom.

During her Majesty's 1986 visit to Adelaide, she unveiled a statue of Catherine Helen Spence. The Scottish born Australian suffragette was, in 1897, Australia's first female political candidate. Her Majesty and Catherine Helen Spence were both great women whose lives each spanned two centuries, though never overlapping. Catherine Helen Spence, at her own 80th birthday in 1905, said of herself that she was:

… awakened to a sense of capacity and responsibility, not merely to the family and the household, but to the State; to be wise, not for her own selfish interests, but that the world may be glad that she had been born.

Those words echo across the century that has followed. They are a fitting epitaph for the life and legacy of her Majesty. We celebrate her life: a life well lived; a life dedicated to others; a life of exemplary service. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Ma'am. May you rest in peace and, in the words of your successor, the King, may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


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