Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh

12:01 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death on 9 April 2021 of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

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

by leave—I move:

That the following address to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second be agreed to—


We, the President and Members of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia, received with great sorrow the news of the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. On behalf of the Australian people, we express deep sympathy to Your Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, and give thanks for a remarkable life dedicated to service, duty, support and his family."

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, earned the admiration of generations through a life committed to selfless public service that stretched across the better part of a century. He lived a long and full life, only retiring from public duties in 2017 at the age of 96. When asked to reflect upon his contribution to public life, Prince Philip responded with trademark honesty:

I've just done what I think is my best. Some people think it's all right. Some don't. What can you do? I can't change my way of doing things. It's part of my style. It's just too bad, they'll have to lump it.

It was the authenticity of Prince Philip that captured the attention and left an impression upon many. As the Prime Minister has remarked, he was part of a generation that we will never see again: a generation that defied tyranny and worked to build a liberal world order, holding up and protecting the freedoms we enjoy today. Prince Philip is remembered for his distinguished naval service in the Second World War as well as his unwavering support for the Queen as the longest-serving consort in history.

Prince Philip's life was nothing short of extraordinary, from the earliest days of his disrupted and at times challenging childhood through to when, upon finishing his schooling in Scotland in 1938—in the run-up to the start of the Second World War, where young Philip began his naval career—he was accepted into the Britannia Royal Naval College at the age of 17. Prince Philip thrived at the naval college, finishing top of his class. It was here that a young Princess Elizabeth fell in love with him when he escorted her and her sister, Princess Margaret, during a tour of the college in 1939.

Prince Philip rose through the ranks, becoming one of the youngest officers in the Navy to be made first lieutenant and second in command of a ship, HMS Wallace, at the age of just 21. It was in 1941, serving on HMS Valiant based in Alexandria, that Prince Philip was mentioned in dispatches for his actions during the Battle of Cape Matapan after spotting an unexpected enemy vessel in the searchlights. He continued to serve his country for the rest of his life, maintaining a keen interest in the military and furthering his own training, even earning his flying wings. After the war, a 1946 letter from Prince Philip to then Princess Elizabeth revealed an ardent young man with a new sense of purpose. It said:

To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one's personal and even the world's troubles seem small and petty.

His words embodied the tone of what would become a life of unswerving devotion.

On return to the UK in 1946, Prince Philip went to ask King George VI for Princess Elizabeth's hand in marriage. In 1947, the then Lieutenant Mountbatten married Princess Elizabeth, who became Queen just five years later. At her coronation in June 1953, Prince Philip swore to be Her Majesty's 'liege man of life and limb,' as he gave up his active military career to be the Queen's consort. Prince Philip was in fact the first subject to pay homage to his newly crowned Queen. The story goes that he would later, following the coronation, ask his wife in private whilst she was still weighed down by her regalia, 'Where did you get that hat?' He was a man with good humour and an unmistakably authentic approach about him.

He took on the role of consort in a posture of humility, always putting the needs of his spouse above his own, allowing her to shine, always one pace behind. In describing her husband on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary, Her Majesty described the Duke of Edinburgh as her 'strength and stay'—a simple statement that captured the essence and significance of his role as her consort.

Their marriage would span an extraordinary 73 years. In 1956, Prince Philip launched the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, a youth awards program inspiring teenagers to challenge themselves physically and mentally and build their confidence through non-academic activities. The award was introduced to Australia in 1959 and has since developed and grown internationally, now reaching young people in more than 130 countries, with over eight million young people having participated worldwide on the last count. This includes over 775,000 young Australians who have participated in and benefited from the opportunities created by the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards.

Prince Philip led a life of strong advocacy for scientific and technical innovation and for wildlife protection and conservation. He was the patron or president of more than 750 organisations. Sixty years ago, in 1961, the Duke of Edinburgh helped found the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, and two years later in 1963 on a visit to Australia he floated the idea of a local branch of the World Wildlife Fund. In fact it was from this suggestion by Prince Philip that led to the foundation of the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1965. Prince Philip was the foundation's president, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature's president, from 1971 to 1976 and was very passionate about environmental issues, including in Australia. He spoke to a number of issues, from endangered species to the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

True to form, Prince Philip also acted in typical blunt style to urge the federal government in 1973 to act on protecting Kakadu by declaring it a special reserve. In a letter to former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam about environmental issues, he described the issue as 'probably the hottest of the potatoes'. He was a friend to Australia and passionate about protecting Australia's unique natural beauty and wildlife. But, more than that, he had a genuine interest in and compassion for the people of Australia.

Prince Philip made 22 tours to Australia. He was the royal representative who opened the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. From his first visit to Australia as a young sailor aboard the battleship HMS Ramillies to his final tour in 2011, Prince Philip had an informality that endeared him to Australia. In December 1945 he spoke of his love for our country, the people and the food, reflecting then that, on his visit to Australia, he enjoyed the week in Tasmania best. It was reported that one of the many things Prince Philip had in common with Australians was a love of beer.

It was fitting that, on his 1967 visit, when Prince Philip toured the bushfire ravaged Tasmania, he visited the Longley Hotel to enjoy a beer with the locals. He met some of those who were badly affected in the township of Snug, south of Hobart, where 11 people had, tragically, lost their lives in the fires. He also on that occasion visited Taroona, Kingston and Margate. Prince Philip was mobbed every time he stepped out of his car during his tour of fire affected areas of southern Tasmania, notwithstanding the tragedy and devastation those communities had endured. His informality and natural disposition towards the people of Tasmania placed him well as a comforter in a time of need, as it did in many other circumstances across the Commonwealth of Nations. He cared deeply for Australia—its natural beauty, wildlife, welfare and people—and Australians cared deeply for and respected Prince Philip.

Prince Philip will be missed by all who knew him, met him or respected him from afar, but of course none more so than Her Majesty and their family. Today we give thanks for the sacrifices he made and the good that he did in the service of our nation and of free peoples across the world. We place on record our sincere gratitude for the service Prince Philip gave to the Commonwealth and extend our sincerest condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and to Prince Philip's family in their time of grief. I thank the Senate.

12:11 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

In 1959 Prince Philip visited Kota Kinabalu, my home town, in what is now known as Malaysia but was then part of British North Borneo. Large numbers of local schoolchildren lined up ready to see him pass by. I know that because amongst them was my father, Francis Wong. Following the death of Prince Philip, Dad, who's now 80, shared details of this event with me. He told me that he was one of the La Salle students lining up at Tanjung Aru Beach, a beach I played on. This location was later named Prince Philip Park, and a playground was built where Toby, my brother, and I would play on Sundays. Over 60 years later, Dad still remembers this visit.

In the course of his long life, Prince Philip would have made thousands upon thousands of such visits, thrust into the spotlight following the ascension of his wife to the throne after the premature death of King George VI. At the time of his retirement from official duties, his official engagements numbered over 22,000, and those don't include the ones in which he participated with Her Majesty the Queen. So there would be countless numbers of people in the same position as my father, who vividly recall the time they saw Prince Philip on such an occasion. This is just a small glimpse of the way so many individuals felt a personal connection with Prince Philip through his life and work as a public figure.

Prince Philip first visited Australia in 1940 as a midshipman in naval service, but he eventually became a regular visitor to our shores, visiting us on more than 30 occasions. At least half of these trips were in his own capacity, when he was not accompanying the Queen. Royal visits have maintained an enduring popularity in Australia, but they will probably never again reach the heights of the 1954 tour. This visit, with the Queen, marked the first occasion a reigning monarch had visited Australia, and together they were greeted by unsurpassed crowds. Our population was then around nine million people, and it is estimated some 75 per cent turned out to see the royal couple.

Over these many visits, Prince Philip has been to all Australian states and territories and ventured well beyond capital cities to many regional and country locations. He was present at events through our history, such as the Olympic Games in Melbourne, as my colleague mentioned; the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth; and the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, and he was part of the official opening in all three of these international sporting festivals.

We see reminders of his visits and his life across Australia. His name is recorded as opening such monuments as the Tasman Bridge in Hobart; the Gateway bridges in Brisbane; the Royal Australian Mint, here in Canberra, one of the power stations that form part of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme; and, amongst others, the Prince Philip Theatre at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, recognising his 1992 visit to the school—named for his predecessor as Duke of Edinburgh—on the 125th anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone.

Of particular resonance to many Australians was his support following times of natural disaster, such as in the aftermath of the Hobart bushfires in 1967 and the visit to Darwin with the Queen in 1977, just a few years after the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Tracy. He made his final royal tour to Australia with the Queen in 2011.

One of the most enduring legacies left by Prince Philip is through the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, a scheme that will continue as a living monument to his commitment to personal growth and development as well as to service. Since first being instituted some six decades ago, it has enhanced and expanded the lives of nearly 800,000 young Australians, and counting. More than 130 countries have adopted the program, with over eight million young people having participated worldwide. Prince Philip rightly regarded the award scheme as his greatest achievement.

Although some associate him with the gilded life of a royal, Prince Philip's life was not always so comfortable or glamourous. As a baby he was smuggled out of his native Corfu and into exile, concealed in an orange crate. He was abandoned by his father. His mother went into an asylum, his dear sister was killed in a plane crash and he was shuffled between countries and schools and languages. It was a life that demanded courage and fortitude. But he went on to become an eyewitness to many of the most significant events of the 20th century. He knew war and peace, empire and commonwealth, turbulence and tranquillity. His life spanned a time that encompassed such great change.

As a child in Malaysia, I saw the legacy of British administration all around me, in the names of places and buildings and streets, in the system of government and in the stories told of that time. As you would expect, there were stories of mixed experience and emotion, of progress but also of limitation, of civil laws but also of injustice. My grandmother worked as a servant to a British family, and I'm a republican. But, regardless of this history or of our views, we respect and honour service, and this was a life of service. During the many decades devoted to his Queen, his nation and the Commonwealth, Prince Philip also became an enduring part of the story of our nation. His visits on many occasions enabled him to form many connections with Australia. And of course his death brings to a close an extraordinary partnership. On many occasions the Queen has spoken of how central and irreplaceable Prince Philip was to her. The Queen once said she owed her husband 'a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know'. Like so many others, I was deeply moved by the image of the Queen sitting alone on a pew at her husband's funeral, the depth of her loss so vivid.

We in the opposition join with the government and all senators across the chamber in making this address to Her Majesty the Queen and in conveying our sorrow and sympathy to her. We extend our condolences to the royal family and to those throughout the country and across the world who mourn the loss of a unique figure in the history of the Commonwealth of Nations.

12:18 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As Nationals leader in the Senate, I would like to associate the Nationals senators with the comments from both the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I think the depth of feeling, the respectful tone and the breadth of topics covered by both of those speeches really speak to the impact that Prince Philip had on all of us, republicans and monarchists alike. We extend our sincere condolences to Her Majesty, our Queen, following the death of her consort, Prince Philip, and our deepest sympathy to her family and the broader Commonwealth.

On 9 April Buckingham Palace announced the passing of Prince Philip at the age of 99, and I think a lot of us were surprised by the depth of feeling and the reaction right across Australia, from young people to old, from all walks of life, who seemed a little rattled that someone who had been such a part of our life, our history and our future was gone.

Prince Philip loved Australia. He first sailed into Sydney Harbour on a navy ship at the age of 18, and he'd then go on to visit us another 20 times. He shared a lot of our values, and we've touched on his larrikinism, his hard-work ethic and his Christian values. The royal tour of 1954 was huge for country residents here; 75 per cent of Australians turned out to see Her Majesty and Prince Philip. Like Senator Wong's father, my mum, as a young girl from a little country town called Alex, was one of them, waving her flag proudly as they drove past. They travelled to 70 cities and towns in that visit, and Australia fell in love with them as a couple and as our monarchs at that time.

Lots of Country Party leaders were privileged to meet Prince Philip. Mark Vaile said that he remembers having a great lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip and Edward. He remembers Prince Philip at that lunch having very strong opinions and supporting the maintenance of the rights of the individual, which is core to our beliefs in Australia. It was not only this belief that Prince Philip shared with National Party senators and MPs in regional Australia; he was a great outdoors man. He loved horseriding, shooting, fishing, gardening and even, in later years, decided to turn his hand to farming and sold his produce at the local store, just down the road from what I'm sure was bigger than a four-bedroom fibro.

There's a great story on the ABC about when the Prince opened the Olympic Games in Melbourne back in 1956. He reportedly went up to the Northern Territory, Senator McMahon, and shot a crocodile at night before inspecting the uranium-processing plant at Rum Jungle. They are very National Party things to do, and he was doing them not in 2021 but right back in 1956. Very retro are we! In his time hunting, he's known to have shot a range of wildlife, but, in typical Fleet Street style, according to the UK Express, Prince Philip is believed to have had one of the highest kill rates of the royals—I don't know how that got in there, but that's something they're known passionately for.

It's safe to say that Philip was well known for cooking up a barbecue or two in summer. He also developed a passion for horse-carriage driving later on, taking up the sport at 50. He was made a ranger for Windsor Castle, which essentially meant he was in charge of running the farm, and he would often supply shops in the nearby village with local produce. The BBC revealed that he even tried to use cow manure from the farm at Windsor to generate gas, but that wasn't successful—it blew up! That wasn't the only attempt at influencing energy policy. Senator Canavan, helpfully, has given me a quote from Prince Philip: 'Wind farms are absolutely useless, completely reliant on subsidies and an absolute disgrace. They never work, as they need backup capacity.' As we're rolling out batteries, we know that is absolutely the truth.

Prince Philip's life was a testament to hard work, grit and duty, and that is an attribute that all regional Australians can relate to. It wasn't all state dinners and fancy pants. Apparently, Prince Philip was shovelling coal into a boiler room for so long that his blistered hands, according to him, couldn't hold a fork. This was on his way back to England, during the war, whilst he was in the Royal Navy. This was a man who knew what it was like to work hard, who understood service and duty.

He was a bit of a larrikin. Whilst conducting royal duties he often displayed a great sense of humour, something that people who knew him commented they will very much miss. He was always able to put a smile on people's faces. Who can forget when he declared he was 'the world's most experienced plaque unveiler'? Yes, he was a great hunter. That is something he deeply cared about. But he also deeply cared about the environment, as Senator Birmingham has spoken about. He once said, 'If nature doesn't survive, neither will man.' We commit to do all we can as selflessly and restlessly as the prince always did to fix up our relationship with nature that is threatening our food, fresh water and health supplies. Those of us who live and work out in the regions understand that we need to be very good stewards of our land and water resources.

He was also a man of deep Christian faith and he was very generous. He was patron and president of more than 800 organisations and charities, and demonstrated kindness and selflessness, showing loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen over seven decades. The Prince was the longest-serving consort in royal history, a demonstration of reliability. We can only imagine how much this constant in Her Majesty's life will be sorely missed.

The Dean of Windsor, the Right Reverend David Conner, recently said about Prince Philip, 'He's a bit controversial, certainly lively, but anything but boring.' We need a bit more of that, I think. Prince Philip also had a deep passion for helping young Australians and was committed to better outcomes. We've spoken about the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, an award which is across 130 countries and territories. In Australia, more than 328,000 young people have gone through the award, which focuses on volunteerism, a holistic approach to personal development and, importantly, the importance of duty and service. The Duke of Edinburgh exemplified courage, generosity and determination. Some would say they're old fashioned values, but I would say that, in an era of a pandemic, they're values that more of us need to exemplify and take on board. He was an outstanding role model for us all.

On behalf of the National Party in the Senate, we thank him deeply for leading by example, for being a very good man behind the woman, and for giving her the love, support and structure that she needed to be our Queen and, indeed, to provide the leadership she has for the Commonwealth over a very long time. We offer our sympathies and prayers to Her Majesty the Queen and her family.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.

12:26 pm

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

I move:

That as a mark of respect for the memory of His Royal Highness, the sitting of the Senate be suspended until 2 pm.

Question agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 12:26 to 14:00