Speech Marking the 63rd year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth II

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The moderated hostility of Parliaments’ question time was briefly interrupted yesterday as the Prime Minister moved the house to reflect upon the fact that Queen Elizabeth II, of the House of Windsor, Queen of England and Australia had become our country’s longest serving monarch.

I pay tribute to the contribution of Queen Elizabeth – a remarkable public servant who for 63 years, seven months and, four days, has out-reigned all who came before her.

 

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The role of the English Royalty in our Constitution and in our public fascination means that she has been a constant feature of my life. At school, I faithfully sang the words of God Save Our Gracious Queen as we fulfilled that morning ritual around the schools’ flag poll. This song was our national anthem, for my entire childhood.

And although the Whitlam Government first proposed a change in 1972, it was not until 1984, just months before the Los Angeles Olympics, that Advance Australia Fair replaced the English tune as our national anthem. How strange it seems to us today that after beating the British in the arena we sang their national anthem while our sporting heroes stood upon the Olympic Dias.

The Path to Independence has been a Long One.

The Act of Federation one hundred and fifteen years ago was not an act of independence.

Our Parliament was not sovereign – even in its own domain. The Doctrine of Repugnancy – whereby the laws of Australian Parliaments could be over-ruled by the British Parliament survived well into the 20th century.

This was no dead letter. Acts of our Parliament were rejected. The Commonwealth Parliament’s Navigation Act of 1912 was held to be invalid by a 1925 decision of the High Court because it was inconsistent with the Imperial Merchant Shipping Act of 1894.

In 1931 the Statutes of Westminster – an  Act of the British Parliament finally freed the Commonwealth of Australia from the reach of the repugnancy doctrine. There continued to be uncertainty as to the states.

It was not until the 1986 Australia Acts – when the British and Australian Parliaments, together legislated, to bring to an end the paramount power of the British Parliament in respect to Australian laws.

The Australian Imperial Forces

This year we celebrate the centenary of ANZAC. One hundred years ago – in the name of King and Country – on behalf of the empire – we were rallied by our own Labor PM Andrew Fischer – to fight to our last man and our last shilling in a European War.  When they enlisted as over 416,000 men did – they became part of the Australian Imperial Forces. Over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.

Citizenship

The acts of war and terrorism have caused us to contemplate the rights and responsibilities of Australian Citizenship. It surprises many to learn that, in the 115 years of federation, Australian citizenship, is a relatively new arrival.

Under the Naturalisation Act 1903 – the Commonwealth Government attained the power to naturalise aliens giving them the rights and privileges of British subjects. 

It wasn’t until the 1920 that the Federal Government took effective control over the responsibility of selecting migrants and the migration program. The Nationality Act 1920 provided clarity by introducing the definition of natural born “British subject.”

It was nearly 50 years since federation that the notion of Australian Citizenship was created through the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948. Prior to that date Australians could only hold the status of British subjects.

A March interrupted

There has been a 20 year hiatus in the march to independence.

Over those 20 years the day to day reality of our imperial heritage has waned. In matters of trade we are more integrated with the economies of Asia. In defence and national security our immediate interests lie in the Asia Pacific region and with those countries for whom that is their number one defence and strategic interest. This is where our future lies.

And as we interrupt the heated debates about the China Free Trade Agreement, it is worth reflecting upon the observation of former Prime Minister Paul Keating, the architect of our status as an open trading nation, and the man who has done more than most to re-orient our national focus with the nations of our region. In 1995 he said :

Australia will be taken more seriously as a player in regional affairs if we are clear about our identity and demonstrate that we really mean to stand on our own feet practically and psychologically

It remains true today.

At the turn of the last century a new nation was born.  Crafted in the Antipodes from the colonies of Britain.  As inspired by the new democracy in North America – as it was loyal to its imperial sovereign.  In the 115 years since, we have built one of the most successful, peaceful and wealthiest nations on earth. 

Not without fault or cost.  For too long we denied the rights of the Aboriginal people.  We have not always been good custodians of the land.  We persisted with the idea of White Australia, long after we knew it was wrong.

I remain committed to the ideal of a prosperous, stable, outward-looking democracy.  Reconciled with its Aboriginal people, confident as a new Republic – but proud of its British ancestry.

We have it within our grasp to build an economic powerhouse – an open trading nation that is truly integrated with the nations of this region. 

For those who oppose the dream of an Australian Republic – they must be honest. The unadorned core of their argument is that there is no Australian, not one of us, who is good enough to be our Head of State.

Who could possibly agree with that.

I pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth – I hope that she may continue to enjoy long life and good health, and be as well received in the nations of the world as she has been for the last 63 years – but I can no longer stare up at our flag, and sing those words, long to reign over us.

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