Senate debates

Friday, 23 September 2022

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


8:31 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

SON-YOUNG () (): I rise on behalf of the Greens to offer our condolence on the death of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, Queen Elizabeth II, and pay our respects to a woman whose life has been like no other. For all but a few of us, her reign as Queen of England, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Commonwealth existed for our entire lifetimes; seventy years as Queen, the second-longest-serving monarch in the history of the world.

Much has been said of her extraordinary life both before and, of course, since her passing two weeks ago. Yesterday, while many of us were gathered here in parliament for the memorial service held in her honour, I reflected on the extraordinary life that she had led. How much the world has changed over the 96 years since her birth: the prime ministers and the presidents that she's met; the wars that she's witnessed; the nation-states that have grown, collapsed and evolved; the changes in technology; the global challenges that have come, gone and continue; and the overall social change and progress of us as part of humanity.

In reflecting on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, we remember and acknowledge her personal humility, her service and her unflinching commitment to duty, and much of that has already been acknowledged here this morning. I cannot help but reflect on the fact that her Majesty became Queen and the head of the Commonwealth in 1952 when she was just 25 years old, the same age that I was when elected to this place. But I was one of 76 senators and 226 members of the parliament at the time, and she was one. How lonely that must have been. How extraordinary that experience must have been.

The experience of a young Queen Elizabeth as the head of the Commonwealth, of course, dwarfs my own and that of many others in this place, but as a young woman in this parliament I cannot but reflect on what it's like to be striving to learn and to stand up in a man's world. She did this all too often. And she had her doubters, those who believed she wasn't up to the job—those who believed that she would fail, that she wouldn't be taken seriously—and, of course, she has seen them all wrong. No-one would doubt her commitment to the job, to her service and to her duty.

Alongside the acknowledgement of the role of the head of the monarchy, we also need to remember and acknowledge the woman, the mother, the grandmother and the great-grandmother, the loss of which we can all understand, and we pay our respects and extend our sympathies to her loved ones. On the day of her passing, one of my colleagues remarked very early on that the sadness that he was feeling was the instant reminder of his own grandmother—and I think we've heard that over and over again from people not just here in Australia but around the world, because when somebody is lost, whether in public life or in a personal circumstance, it does make you reflect on what you hold dear: the people around you, what you value. It allows us to have time to pause, to think, to take stock and to have an opportunity to reset, if indeed that is needed.

Such was the significance of the Queen's life that she could touch so many in so many different ways. And as the Governor-General, David Hurley, said at the memorial service yesterday, the death of Queen Elizabeth has prompted mixed reactions from different groups within our community, and absolutely understandably. We cannot give an honest reflection on her life without acknowledging the impact that colonisation has had on our First Nations people and the role that this plays in the stories that we tell ourselves, who we are as a country and who we want to be. And I want to, at this point, acknowledge the First Nations people in this chamber, the members of this parliament, and give a special moment of reflection on how they must be feeling and are feeling at this particular time—because it isn't the same experience for all of us.

It is important that we reflect on the impact of the institution to which Her Majesty belonged and represented during her reign. As a person in public life, she was a constant presence. Over the last 70 years her image has been a consistent symbol of power, a constant reminder of who we are as a country and how some of us got here. We remain a constitutional monarchy despite how, in many ways, the royal family in England seem so far removed from the everyday lives of ordinary Australians in a modern multicultural nation.

We are a constitutional monarchy because in 1770 James Cook sailed up the coast and declared the land for the British. He did not consult the people who were living here; he did not sign a treaty. According to his diaries, his party fired shots. In 1787, orders were issued in London for Captain Arthur Phillip to sail over and establish a colony in Botany Bay—which we now know as Sydney—named after Lord Sydney, the man who had appointed him. These orders instructed Phillip to take possession of the eastern half of Australia without consent. First Nations people have never ceded sovereignty of the lands or the water that they had cared for, for 65,000 years. By 1788 the First Fleet would arrive, marking the start of the British Crown's domination of this country. From 1795, we have the first reports of First Nation massacres in the name of the Crown. As colonies were established around the country, the massacres followed. Over the next 140 years there were hundreds of them. What we know and what has been recorded is that over 11,000 First Nations people were killed as part of this.

Now, the Queen who has passed did not personally commit any of these actions, of course. She did not authorise them. She did not remove children from their parents or personally attempt to remove and decimate one of the oldest cultures in the world, but she was the representative of the government and the institution that did. And now, as we acknowledge her passing, we consider the legacy of what it means—in the land that we now know as Australia, of which we are all proud citizens—that it was declared Crown land.

Momentous events create great moments of reflection, and this is a great moment. Moments of loss and death cause us to consider deep reflection. They allow us as humans to think about the values that we hold. They allow us as people and as a society to think about what type of world we want to live in, and to take stock and to reset. It's a time to reflect on who we are in this country and who we want to be moving forward. It is a time for us to come to terms with our own history and to reflect on the future that we want, united in respect for all peoples together. Now is the time for justice, recognition and respect for First Nations people. It is the time to implement the Uluru statement—truth, treaty and voice—because this always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

It is one thing to acknowledge the mistakes of the past; it is another to make amends. A treaty was needed decades ago. As many other nations colonised by the British Empire have done, we need to do the same. Generations of oppression, trauma and suffering as a result of colonisation must be reckoned with. Now is the time for us to do this—to move forward for treaty, for truth and for a genuine voice for First Nations people. It's never too late to say sorry and it's never too late to make amends.

It is time for us to also join the scores of other countries that have cut ties with the British Empire and become republics during the last 70 years of Her Majesty's reign—countries like India, Jordan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, all of whom now have their own head of state. Of course, we will retain the Westminster style of government, the separation of powers and of church and state, but our head of state should be one of us—an Australian.

Our new monarch is King Charles III, heir to Queen Elizabeth II. As a person, he has waited patiently for the job for most of his life. He has had plenty of time to think about how he would take this role on. He cares about a lot of causes that are dear to my heart, and many that the Greens agree with. We welcome his commitment to the environment and to saving this planet from dangerous climate change. We welcome his climate activism and we hope that this continues. I was heartened to hear the words of Prince William today calling for climate action urgently. Both he and his father understand the crisis that we find ourselves in, in this particular moment of history, and that we all have a responsibility to take action. Leaving it to the next generation is simply not an option.

But Charles III is not our choice. The Australian people didn't get to choose—we should have been able to, and we should be able to in the future. That power as a sovereign head of state has been transferred to the King, and while in many cases good people inhabit these roles, they are also roles that are about retaining a form of power which has spanned the globe. So, while we reflect on the extraordinary life of Queen Elizabeth II and consider the mixed reactions that this creates for many of us across the community, we must also think: don't use in vain this deep reflection, but use it as an opportunity and a moment to think about who we are, who we want to be and what we're going to do to force the next chapter of our nation.


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