Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II — Sapphire Jubilee
I rise this evening to briefly note a historic milestone which was reached yesterday, 6 February 2017, and which has been noted around the world over the last 24 hours. Yesterday marked 65 years to the day since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became our sovereign upon the passing of her beloved father, King George VI. As is well known to many people, at the time Her Majesty was a long way from home on an official visit to Kenya. It is impossible to conceive the weight of the burden that fell upon her shoulders that day—she not only lost a parent, which is a traumatic event for anyone, but she immediately became head of a government and head of what is now known as the modern Commonwealth of Nations, with all of the constitutional, legal and moral responsibilities that that carried. That is a significant burden for anyone, but for a 25-year-old it is an almost unimaginable one, no matter how long and intense the preparation may have been. Commonwealth nations, though undoubtedly loyal to the new sovereign, would also have been understandably nervous. However, as the years since have amply demonstrated, those doubts were unfounded. From the first moments of her rule, Her Majesty carried herself with dignity, with grace and with confidence that reflected her devotion to duty. Through extraordinary times and extraordinary challenges, she has maintained that same countenance to this very day.
Queen Elizabeth II has already become our longest-reigning monarch, and yesterday she became the first to reach the milestone of sapphire jubilee—65 years on the throne. When she became Queen, Winston Churchill was living at 10 Downing Street, Harry Truman was in the White House and Robert Menzies was in The Lodge. Today, those positions are respectively occupied by Theresa May, Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull. That is but one illustration of just how drastically our world has altered. When the Queen came to the throne, television broadcasts had not yet begun in Australia. Today we can watch live events unfold on the other side of the world in a device we hold in our palm. Air travel was rare, and considered a luxury. Today, many Australians would struggle to do their jobs or maintain family relationships without it.
But as vastly changed as the Australia of 2017 is from the one that existed 65 years ago, some things have not changed, and that includes the values that make our nation what it is. These are values that are both well understood and embodied by Her Majesty the Queen. She herself articulated them during her first visit to our country in 1954, when she described the Australia she had experienced as one where 'growth and progress are manifest, a country of freedom, eloquent of that true democracy which dignifies and expresses the individual human being.' Whether in 1954 or in 2017, that is a description which most Australians would be proud to hear. Of course, I believe it is the timelessness and universality of those values—and the way the Crown reflects them—that helps to explain the enduring support that our constitutional monarchy enjoys in Australia, particularly, and importantly, among younger Australians. Whatever their background and whatever their political views, we know that Australians admire those who serve our community in whatever capacity they hold, and not even the most ardent republican would try to argue that the life of our Queen has been anything other than one of duty and service beyond self. From Cape Town, South Africa, on 21 April 1947, then Princess Elizabeth made a radio broadcast to mark her 21st birthday. Towards the end of that broadcast, she made a statement which today remains her personal creed:
I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service …
For 65 years as our Queen she has remained faithful to that vow, and, for that, all Australians extend their heartfelt appreciation. Thy choicest gifts in store; on her be pleased to pour; long may she reign.