Kim O’KEEFFE (Shepparton) (17:59): I rise today to speak on the Statute Law Amendment (References to the Sovereign) Bill 2023. The purpose of this bill is to amend the Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 and to amend the statute law of Victoria to revise language and references to the sovereign as a consequence of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
During the more than 70-year historic reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, much of Victoria’s statute law referenced ‘Her Majesty’ or similar terms. With the accession of His Majesty King Charles III as head of state, these references now require amendment. The bill will update Victorian laws to replace ‘Her Majesty’ with ‘His Majesty’ and similar terms, such as ‘her’ to ‘him’ and ‘Queen’ to ‘King’, as relevant. This bill should be a straightforward piece of legislative housekeeping. However, the amendments contained within it go beyond this original remit and intention. The coalition is moving a series of amendments to this bill to bring it back to its original intent.
The member for Kew has clearly outlined the many issues within the bill and that Labor appears to have seen this bill as an opportunity to diminish the role of the monarch as our sovereign. As an example, in the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General Act 1972, the bill does not replace the formal titles of Her Majesty’s Attorney-General and Her Majesty’s Solicitor-General with His Majesty’s Attorney-General and His Majesty’s Solicitor-General respectively. In fact it removes the references to the sovereign altogether so that the roles are simply referred to as the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. Further, it replaces ‘Her Majesty’ with ‘the Crown in right of Victoria’ in reference to the functions of the Solicitor-General. This bill should have been predominately based on process. If it were simply a matter of legislative housekeeping, a reference to ‘Her Majesty’ would simply be replaced with ‘His Majesty’. There is no valid reason to alter or remove references to the sovereign, because Australia remains a constitutional monarchy, and any further change to our system of government is a matter for the Australian people.
Queen Elizabeth’s reign is embedded in history, and that is where it must remain. As a woman who served with commitment and grace for the people, she is remembered for her incredible sense of duty and her devotion to a life of service. She has left a lasting legacy. For my electorate of Shepparton it was her first visit to Australia back in 1954, which was commemorated with a rose garden at Monash Park gifted by the women of the region. The Queens Gardens, which are located in the heart of the city, are also named in the honour of Queen Elizabeth. During her visit, onlookers had come from surrounding towns and from across the New South Wales border to catch a glimpse of the relatively new Queen, who had only been crowned two years prior. She was accompanied by her husband Prince Philip. It was an event that tens of thousands of people attended and about 9000 school students from the region attended. There had never been anything quite like it, and many years on, that that historic visit is still talked about today. There would have been many months of preparation, including the closure of streets and navigating the crowds.
Historically, during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Shepparton, the Queen’s procession passed by a stretch of flood plain between Shepparton and Mooroopna where the Aboriginal people of the Yorta Yorta nation had made their home along the banks of the river after walking off the mission known as the Cummeragunja and now known as The Flats. Local authorities thought this was too unsightly for Her Majesty’s eyes, and mesh was placed to block out the Aboriginal people living along the river. I recently spoke with my friend and local elder Uncle Ruben, and we talked about that historic Queen’s visit, which is now known by the community. Uncle Ruben really enjoyed revisiting the Queen’s historic visit and the story he continues to share with many. Queen Elizabeth did see the Aboriginal people living on the river. She went on to instigate them being moved onto the land, and small hubs were built on the adjoining land of Rumbalara. She served with compassion, and this story is embedded in history. If you go to The Flats today, that history is acknowledged on an honour board.
While she was the Queen, she was also a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and it is hard to imagine the sacrifices that Her Majesty made and the impact that must have had on her family. Her intense loyalty and duty truly are commendable. While the references to ‘Her Majesty’ may be replaced by Victorian law, we must protect her place in history and her legacy and respect the monarch.