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 II. It changes references from ‘Her Majesty’ to ‘His Majesty’ and from ‘Queen’ to ‘King’ and so forth in line with the accession of His Majesty King Charles III. These changes are necessary; however, they could easily have come in the form of a straightforward piece of legislative housekeeping.
But instead we have been presented with this bill. This is a bill that is biting off more than it can chew. It is filled with amendments that go far beyond its original remit and intention and far beyond what is necessary in this situation. Some amendments reflect the need to modernise Victoria’s statute books – for example, the removal of references to ‘Esquire’. However, there are other amendments that appear to remove references to the sovereign with no valid reason. This is a major area of concern for this bill, considering that Australia remains a constitutional monarchy. Australia’s constitutional monarchy is no less current or valid as a result of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which was the trigger event for the introduction of this bill.
Despite this, Labor appears to have seen this bill and the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as an opportunity to diminish the role of the monarch as our sovereign. Some examples of these changes include the Attorney-General and solicitor-general both having lost their references to the sovereign, as have the Leader of the Opposition and the deputy leader. Instead of a simple change from ‘Her Majesty’ to ‘His Majesty’ we have seen an unnecessary and deceptive flurry of changes. Oaths of affirmation done by police officers, protective services officers and special constables will also have references to the sovereign removed. ‘Lady the Queen’ does not get changed to a ‘King’ equivalent, and ‘Her Majesty’s peace’ is now simply ‘the peace’. No matter what your thoughts are on this – it does not matter if you are a republican or a monarchist – we cannot just diminish or change the system through some sneaky legislation. This is a matter for the Australian people.
Turning Australia into a republic is still part of the Labor Party platform, so perhaps it is understandable the government is seeking to chip away little by little towards this goal, beginning with references to the monarch in our statute books. Unfortunately it is hard to find a valid reason for many of these changes, hence the coalition moving a series of amendments to this bill to bring it back to its original intent and repair Labor’s legislative overreach. These amendments would simply update the bill to reflect what should have been done in the first place: a simple substitution of terms to reflect the accession of King Charles III in our statute books. This can be achieved by simple, like-for-like swaps in terminology. We do not need to shy away from the fact Australia is a constitutional monarchy and that we are part of the Commonwealth.
Now, while we are on the topic of the King, I want to recognise some of the people in my community who were recognised with honours in the King’s Birthday awards recently. Three Euroa electorate residents were among nearly 1200 Australians celebrated in the honours list for 2023. These were Sandy MacKenzie of Avenel, Kathy Grigg of Euroa and Pat McNamara of Nagambie. Both Mr MacKenzie and Mr McNamara were appointed Members of the Order of Australia, in part for their services as longstanding Nationals politicians. Ms Grigg received hers for significant service to financial governance, tertiary education and the agricultural industry. I want to congratulate these three outstanding community members on receiving these well-deserved awards. As long-time contributors to our local area these recognitions are a testament to the hard work and time they have all committed to our region.
Ms Grigg has had longstanding ties to the local community, holding a role as community representative for Euroa Health and doing exceptional things for the local area. In this role Ms Grigg has campaigned for the hospital’s ongoing financial success and dedicated years of service, advice and expertise to the schools.
The honours list citation for Mr Pat McNamara states that the Nagambie resident received his Order of Australia Medal for significant service to rowing, to the Parliament of Victoria and to the community through a range of roles. Mr McNamara was a National Party MP in the Victorian Parliament from 1982 to 2000, and from 1992 to 1999 he served as the Victorian Nationals leader and Deputy Premier of Victoria. Before his career in state politics he worked in farming, real estate and local politics as a Goulburn Valley shire councillor from 1974 to 1978 and as president from 1977 to 1978. Mr McNamara has also had a long association with rowing. After serving as Nagambie Rowing Club captain during the 1970s and 80s he served as Rowing Australia president from 2000 to 2009, Commonwealth Rowing Association president from 2000 to 2005 and Oceania Rowing Association chairman from 2010 to 2014. He also served as Rowing Victoria president and is presently a Rowing Australia Victorian councillor.
The last King’s Birthday recognition is for Mr Sandy MacKenzie, who received his award for significant service to the people and Parliament of Australia, to education and to conservation. Mr MacKenzie was a federal MP serving as a National Country Party member for Calare in New South Wales from 1975 to 1983. After his career in politics Mr MacKenzie was involved with Landcare at a local, state and national council level. He spent six years on the board of the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and represented Landcare Australia at the Prime Minister’s summit for drought as well as, in 2020, presenting to hearings of the fire and national diseases inquiries. He joined the Australian Council for Children and Parenting in the early 2000s and has continued to be an inspiration to many in our region.
Congratulations to Sandy MacKenzie, Kathy Grigg and Pat McNamara for your contributions to our region. I hope that in the future we will see these awards continue to be recognised and they will continue to have the reference to the sovereign in them despite what this bill might want to achieve.
We are already aware the Labor Party is eager for a republic, and they have also made it very clear they do not want anything to do with the Commonwealth, including the sporting events. Labor’s embarrassing handling of the Commonwealth Games was a slap in the face for regional Victorians and just a massive blow in general for the whole of regional Victoria. So far we have only heard about a vague package for the regions that is clearly an attempt to appease the ripped-off regional communities. Housing is a priority for our regional areas and a patch-up commitment to build just 1300 homes will not be enough, nor can we trust that it will actually happen.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the member for Kew for her outstanding contribution to this bill. I think her extensive research and scrutiny of what this government has done has highlighted the sneakiness and distrust of their behaviour, so the coalition is moving a series of amendments to this bill to bring it back to its original intent and repair Labor’s legislative overreach. These amendments seek to update the bill to reflect what should have been brought back before this Parliament: a simple substitution of terms to reflect the accession of King Charles III in our statute book. With these amendments the bill will be a straightforward matter of legislative housekeeping to ensure all laws in place in Victoria make correct references to the sovereign following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The relevant acts will be amended only insofar as to switch references to Her and His Majesty, King and Queen, like for like. If those opposite do not take the opportunity to support these amendments, they need to ask themselves why.
Australia’s constitutional monarchy is no less current or valid as a result of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which was the trigger event for the introduction of this bill. I must bring it back that while this government does not like the Commonwealth, it is still devastating to understand the neglect of regional Victoria and the ending of the Commonwealth Games, which was touted as the magical golden ticket for our regional towns, spruiking the games as a sign of finally committing to our country communities.