Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 19, 2022



Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. S.L. Game:

That this council acknowledges the importance of philanthropy and community service to our society, and recognises the philanthropic and charitable endeavours of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

(Continued from 28 September 2022.)

The Hon. S.G. WADE (16:16): I rise to express my sadness at the death of Queen Elizabeth II. I convey my sympathy to the royal family and trust that the memory and example of Queen Elizabeth II will both sustain them and be a beacon guiding their service. In particular, I pray that King Charles III will have a successful reign to the benefit of both his nation, the United Kingdom, and the whole of the Commonwealth of Nations.

When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth died, 14 commonwealth realm nations lost a deeply loved head of state. Australia is one of those nations. All 56 members of the Commonwealth of Nations lost their queen, the Head of the Commonwealth. Under the federal parliament's Royal Style and Titles Act 1973, the Queen was known in Australia and its territories as:

Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth.

The title 'Head of the Commonwealth' was a role that the Queen cherished deeply. As a princess, she saw her father, King George VI, establish the modern commonwealth in 1949, just three years before she ascended the throne. At that time, India wanted to become a republic but also wanted to stay part of the commonwealth. To accommodate this, the London Declaration was issued in late April 1949, stating that the King, as the symbol of the free association of the countries of the commonwealth, was the 'Head of the Commonwealth'.

The modern Commonwealth of Nations was born. It had seven members, including Australia. King George VI was the first Head of the Commonwealth, serving in that role for two years and 284 days. Queen Elizabeth became the second Head of the Commonwealth when he died, and she served in the role for 70 years and 214 days—a lifetime of service. Elizabeth helped to nurture the organisation into today's Commonwealth of Nations, with 56 members spanning all continents. The commonwealth continues to grow, with the two most recent countries to join the commonwealth, Gabon and Togo, joining this year.

The Rt Hon. Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, issued a statement on 8 September that highlighted the Queen's service as Head of the Commonwealth. The statement started with the scripture John 14:27:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.

Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

The statement continued:

It is with the greatest sorrow and sadness that we mourn the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. After a long life of faith, duty and service, a great light has gone out.

Her Majesty was an extraordinary person, who lived an extraordinary life: a constant presence and example for each of us, guiding and serving us all as long as any of us can remember.

Throughout her reign, and seven decades of extraordinary change and challenge, Her Majesty was the epitome of duty, stability, wisdom and grace. Her Majesty loved the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth loved her.

During her reign she travelled more than any monarch in history, visiting every part of our family of nations.

Between 1971 and 2018, she missed only one Heads of Government Meeting. Her devotion to duty was only matched by her skill as Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, always a generous host and consummate diplomat.

In Her Majesty's final Commonwealth Day message, she described our family of nations as 'a modern, vibrant and connected Commonwealth that combines a wealth of history and tradition with the great social, cultural and technological advances of our time. That the Commonwealth stands ever taller is a credit to all who have been involved.'

The growth and vibrancy of our modern Commonwealth is a credit to her and testament to her dedication, wisdom and leadership.

In 1947, before she ascended to the throne, she stated that 'My whole life, whether it be long or short, will be devoted in service.'

Her Majesty honoured that promise.

In 1953 Her Majesty defined our family of nations as one which:

'bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is an entirely new conception, built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace. To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.'

Her Majesty's vision for the Commonwealth at the beginning of her reign has been fulfilled, fuelled by her dedication and commitment. Inspired by her life of duty and service, the responsibility to ensure her vision endures is one we all now share.

The Secretary-General's statement concludes:

Hers was a life of service which will echo through the ages. We will be forever grateful.

That is the end of the Secretary-General's statement.

Queen Elizabeth II's personal commitment to the commonwealth has been crucial to its vibrancy. She only missed one CHOGM in 47 years. The Queen insisted on attending when her governments feared that the meetings were potentially too controversial. Some consider that, if not for her encouragement, British governments would not have attended crucial meetings. She used her standing to encourage engagement by member nations. Within meetings, the Queen worked to reconcile differences between leaders and worked to ensure the ongoing relevance of the commonwealth.

She has continually reminded people of the importance of the commonwealth in both her Christmas and Commonwealth Day messages. As a final demonstration of her commitment to the commonwealth, at her personal request, the Queen's funeral procession was led by representative detachments of commonwealth forces, including seven Australian detachments.

The commonwealth is a key part of Queen Elizabeth's legacy. Under the Queen's leadership, the commonwealth has promoted the shared values that have been championed by the British and Westminster traditions. In 1971, the commonwealth committed to 'promoting international peace, fighting racism, opposing colonial domination, and reducing inequities in wealth.'

In 2012, a formal charter for the commonwealth laid down 'core principles such as democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, sustainable development, access to health and education, and gender equality.' The commonwealth has acted to uphold these values.

Commonwealth opposition to apartheid caused South Africa to withdraw from the organisation in 1961. The country did not rejoin until 1994, after apartheid had ended. The former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney said Queen Elizabeth was a 'behind the scenes force' in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Since the 1980s, Fiji, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Maldives have all been suspended or decided to withdraw from the commonwealth following criticism of their human rights record. The commonwealth promotes strong cultural and economic ties, including through sport, the sharing of scientific and medical expertise and a range of institutional relationships.

As a parliamentarian, I gratefully recognise the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as the leading professional development forum for parliamentarians over my career. It was my privilege to represent this parliament at the 59th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in South Africa in 2013.

One of the strengths of Queen Elizabeth's commonwealth is that it is a forum for small states. Whilst the commonwealth represents a third of the world's population, 2.5 billion people, more than half of the member states of the commonwealth are small states with a population less than 1.5 million. For example, the Pacific nation of Nauru, the smallest commonwealth member country, has a population of about 10,000 people.

Small states have very little leverage in international affairs, and the commonwealth has become a key global platform for them to pursue issues of concern to them. One of the main areas of focus now for the commonwealth is climate change, and the King is well known as an advocate of climate change measures and also in the area of youth affairs.

The commonwealth will continue to evolve under King Charles III, and I trust King Charles will be a strong Head of the Commonwealth. Just as earlier this year Barbados was the latest commonwealth country to become a republic, I expect that Australia will become a republic too. I fervently hope that, as we take that step in our nationhood, we will reaffirm our commitment to the family of the Commonwealth of Nations.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Paddington Bear, who earlier this year said to the Queen, 'Thank you, ma'am—for everything.' The commonwealth is but one element of the rich legacy left by the extraordinary life of Queen Elizabeth, so may I also say thank you, ma'am, for everything.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. N.J. Centofanti.