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Vale, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 13 September 2022

Tags: Condolence

Mr Speaker, on this most solemn of occasions, I rise on behalf of the Greens to honour the long life of a great lady and leader of our times, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second.

To her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren the entire Royal family, close friends, loyal servants and the millions of her subjects who loved her as their Queen, I pass on my sincere condolences and warmth.

I hope the outpouring of sympathy from around the world may be of some comfort to you in these sorrowful times.

We honour seventy years of unflinching service and what seemed like an endless obligation to duty, before Queen Elizabeth finally revealed, she was only human after all, and left this mortal realm short days ago. Her duty done.

On her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor vowed, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’

And she stayed true until her last breath. Queen Elizabeth was the longest serving sovereign in England’s history.

In England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, all over the world, people mourn the passing of a great and gracious Queen.  She was well loved, and much admired; respected for her steadfastness and fortitude, her unwavering service to the Commonwealth of nations.

When she was crowned in 1952, Her Majesty became Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

What binds us still on her passing is our shared colonial past – old Empire - the subjugation of first nations’ people, the plunder of their natural resources, and theft of their treasures, and, over time, a Westminster system of government, parliament and laws which have, at their foundation, democratic principles that we in here are sworn to hold dear to.

It is to these principles, laws and conventions that we swear allegiance – as much as we do to any Queen or King – when we are elected to this place.

Just as I swore allegiance to the Queen, I shall swear it to King Charles III, but I am Australian, not English, and my heart is a republican’s.

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, represented many things to many different people. 

What did the Queen mean to us, as Australians? What does she mean now? What does her passing mean for our aspiration to be an independent, sovereign nation?

Surely we’ve got the guts to have a national conversation, Prime Ministerial decree that “now’s not the time”, or not. What better time than this?

Who was Queen Elizabeth to those who were here first, or those who came from countries that know well the coloniser’s whip hand?

What did she mean to the Irish or Pakistani man or woman on the street? It’s fair to say, if social media is any guide, that feelings span the full breadth of human emotion.

How you felt about Her Majesty the Queen, and how her passing affected you, depends very much whether your history is that of the colonizer, or the colonized.

Mr Speaker, it is possible to pay deep respect and admire very much the character and commitment to service of Her Majesty, and recognise that what she represented, to many of our fellow Australians, is a colonial system that robbed them; a system and institutions that, over centuries, oppressed peoples from Australia to Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The national flag – Union Jack in its corner - flies at half-mast outside this building, and, apparently in accordance with the protocol, the Aboriginal flag has been removed.  

As we understand it, no Tasmanian Aboriginal organization or person was asked about this removal, and Aboriginal flags are flying at half-mast on other government buildings.

Respect has to cut both ways. 

We also can’t expect a people subject to the theft of their country in the Crown’s name to grieve as others do for the death of a Queen. 

Theirs is a grief of a vastly different kind, and it ever deepens as they’ve never received justice. Their wide brown, lush green and fertile lands – falsely decreed terra nullius - were taken in the name of King George III without Treaty or truce.

They’ve been fighting for recognition and the return of their lands – Crown Lands – ever since.

In fact, in 1977, Aboriginal leader, Michael Mansell, presented a land rights petition to Her Majesty at a reception to mark her Silver Jubilee at Wrest Point in Hobart.

He writes of that moment in a way that casts our late regent in a much kinder light that it does her ministers of the Crown in Tasmania at the time:

When I arrived to the reception, there were real issues. The police surrounded me and tried to stop me from moving, and there was a lot of kerfuffle about it. 

The Tasmanian Premier and Queen Elizabeth's chief secretary came over and asked what the problem was.

I said, 'I'm the only Aboriginal here, and the only one who's been surrounded by coppers. This is supposed to be for all people, not just white people.'

It caught the attention of the Queen.

So they took me up, and she asked what the problem was. I said 'I've got a petition that they won’t let me show you. We think you should be doing something about it.'

I made it plain that I was Aboriginal, that the Crown had taken our country, we got absolutely nothing back, and it wasn't acceptable.

She listened to me, and she understood what I was saying. All this caused a problem with the dignitaries because she had walked past them to come and see me!

I also gave her some Aboriginal artefacts. In exchange for getting our Country back, I offered these 'trinkets and beads'. I said, 'Here you can have this, now give our Country back.' I was half-joking, but she kept a straight face!

18 years after I spoke to the queen, the Tasmanian parliament passed land rights legislation. We would never have gotten that legislation had the Queen not met with me as a representative.

There was nothing special about me, it was the fact that she met an Aboriginal representative. That was a turning point in the refusal of her ministers to talk about justice for Aboriginal people. They couldn't ignore it anymore, once it had been raised with the Queen.

Mr Speaker, we can recommit to not turning away from past and present injustices, and we can mourn the passing of a mighty woman and leader of her people.

We can be grateful for Her Majesty’s great love of Nature and her lasting legacy of the Queen’s Canopy, a vast forest network set aside in her name across the Commonwealth nations.

Sadly, due to the ideological stubborness of the current government, I regret to inform Her Majesty’s family, no contribution was made by the State to the Queen’s Canopy, and the heedless logging of our forests continues.

But, Mr Speaker, I digress.

Today we recognise the stability Queen Elizabeth II brought to the role, the great strengths of her character and many of us give thanks for her resolute service over seven decades.

We can respectfully mark the monarch’s passing and hold all these beliefs of her many qualities to be true, and at the same time, recognise there’s an opportunity here for us to make better amends and grow as a nation.

It’s always a good time to have a respectful conversation about who we are as a people and a country.

The Leader of His Majesty’s federal opposition, Peter Dutton, has told the newly crowned King Charles III, he should refrain from championing environmental causes in his new role.

I trust King Charles will ignore Mr Dutton as we do.

It is well known, King Charles III – who grew up roaming the meadows and wild corners of Balmoral in Scotland – is a passionate advocate for Nature and a safe climate.

Indeed, from his earliest days in a speech he gave in 1970, His Highness hasn’t held back.

Then he said, “We are faced at the moment with the horrifying effects of pollution in all its forms.  There is the growing menace of oil pollution at sea .. there is chemical pollution discharged into rivers from factories and chemical plants … there is air pollution from smoke and fumes discharged by factories and from gases pumped out by endless cars and aeroplanes.”

The new King was ridiculed in some circles for his prescient pleas, but he was a man ahead of his times.

More recently, Prince Charles named up the “international association of corporate lobbyists … who are responsible for a dying planet.”

On the day of the Queen’s death, September 8, climate scientists release a horrifying new report confirming the climate crisis has hurtled the world to the brink of multiple disastrous tipping points, five of which we may have already passed.

It barely rated a blip in the media.

Climate news too rarely does, but it didn’t stand a chance against the floor to ceiling coverage of the Queen’s death.

Just imagine if our leaders and the mainstream media that increasingly serves them dedicated the same amount of time and resources to climate science and action as they did to the death of an English monarch.

Even just for a week, imagine the difference it would make to our shared understanding and sense of being in this unfolding disaster together.

So, dear King Charles, thank you for your tireless and focused work as a champion of Nature and a liveable future. Thank you.

Please, please keep it up.

May your reign be peaceful, your judgment wise and empathetic, and may you always, always speak freely for the planet we all share; royals, commoners, oppressed and free people alike.

Vale Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, and long live the King.