I rise to support the motion of condolence on the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Overwhelmingly, the people of Australia, the Commonwealth and the world have noted the extraordinary service, good humour, humility and wisdom of our late monarch, who devoted her life to the people of Britain, to the Commonwealth and to their institutions. As the Governor-General said yesterday, however, this has not been the response of all Australians, given the history of Australia as a colony of Britain. It is true that throughout history empires dating back from the Babylonian to the Greek, the Roman, the Ottoman, the Chinese, the German, the Japanese, the British and others have exercised dominion over other lands. In fact, the darker side of human nature has frequently seen stronger groups, whether linked by tribe, empire or ideology, subjugate the weaker, often with little or no regard for the impact on individuals.
There has been an alternative thread to human history, however, which has found an exemplar in Queen Elizabeth II. We see this thread emerging through individuals who devote their life to change. For example, in 1780 William Wilberforce became a parliamentarian in the UK who devoted his parliamentary life to ending the slave trade. In 1859, after the Battle of Solferino in Italy, Henry Dunant, a wealthy businessman who came across the wounded soldiers—the commoners—left to die on the battlefield and organised care for them, created an enduring institution that we now know as the Red Cross. Born in 1820, Florence Nightingale saw the needs of the wounded in Crimea, saw the needs of the poor who didn’t have competent health care and worked to develop the profession of nursing that would serve the ill, whether poor or rich.
The common thread for these people was their Christian faith, which taught that every individual had intrinsic worth, was deserving of respect and should be free to make choices. In the funeral service of Her Majesty, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, gave us an insight into what motivated and sustained Queen Elizabeth II over the 70 years of her reign. He said:
In 1953, the Queen began her coronation with silent prayer, just there, at the high altar. Her allegiance to God was given before any person gave allegiance to her. Her service to so many people in this nation, the Commonwealth and the world had its foundation in her following Christ—God himself—who said that He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Queen Elizabeth understood that, to be truly sovereign, she must embrace human dignity—what we now often call human rights—and to live out her faith not characterised by the power or privilege of her position but by humility and service. Queen Elizabeth had come to know the lasting power of servant leadership that springs from faith in a God who values and cares for each individual.
There has also been a thread though that has gradually changed the power structures in many nations. The Queen recognised the value of the British institutions—we think of the Magna Carta and the concept of habeas corpus, the freedom of the individual from the exercise of arbitrary power—and, ultimately, the institution of parliamentary democracy with the separation of powers that gave people equality before the law and the freedom to have a say in who governs them.
We must recall that Queen Elizabeth was a young adult during the horrors of war and the genocide in Europe, the air attacks on Britain and the threat of invasion by a totalitarian Nazi Germany. She would have listened to Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons in August 1940, who said, in part:
There is, however, one direction in which we can see a little more clearly ahead. We have to think not only for ourselves but for the lasting security of the cause and principles for which we are fighting …
And so, in May 1988, when an older Queen came and opened this very Parliament House building, she said:
This is a special occasion for the Parliament, but it is also a very important day for all the people of Australia. After eighty-seven years of Federation, a permanent home has been provided for Parliament, which is both the living expression of that Federation and the embodiment of the democratic principles of freedom, equality and justice. Parliamentary democracy is a compelling ideal, but it is a fragile institution. It cannot be imposed and it is only too easily destroyed. It needs the positive dedication of the people as a whole, and of their elected representatives, to make it work.
Dedication to Australia and all Australians should characterise our work in this place if we are to lead by serving.
Looking also beyond our shores, as totalitarian powers are once again waging war in Europe and crushing democratic freedoms in places such as Myanmar, Iran and Hong Kong, we recall, from Queen Elizabeth’s broadcast in April 1947, her call to us:
If we all go forward together with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart, we shall be able to make of this ancient commonwealth, which we all love so dearly, an even grander thing—more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world—than it has been in the greatest days of our forefathers.
It’s a high calling but one so critical in this hour of history.
So, as we remember Queen Elizabeth II and give thanks for her faith and her life of service, Australians—and we, as their representatives—can learn from and honour her through our choices, our attitudes and our actions. We can look back and recognise the freedom to have our differences, to resolve them peacefully through parliamentary democracy and to respect each individual based on their character and inherent worth, our principles rooted in both our Christian heritage and the legacy of British law. We can look forward and recognise that a free and just future depends on our ability to think beyond ourselves and to act to protect and prosper the lasting principles and institutions that enable us to be one and free. We are thankful for the Queen’s life of faithful service. She will undoubtedly hear the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’ as she arrives home. Long live the King.