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Monday, 1 September 1997
Page: 7408

Mr TIM FISCHER (Deputy Prime Minister)(2.20 p.m.) —I rise with great sadness to support the words of the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) on the death in tragic circumstances of the Princess of Wales. Let me say at the outset that the role and the contribution she made to the role of the spouse will stand as one of her singular achievements. She provided for an upgrading and updating of that role and then took that further and faster as she moved on to support so many causes, which have been mentioned by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Whilst it is true that this has been a time-honoured function of so many members of the royal family, particularly the Queen Mother and Prince Philip, and so many other spouses, I think it is also true to say that the momentum that Princess Diana created for so many charitable causes which were not the flavour of the month or regarded all that well at the time and since, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, does deserve our praise here this day as we consider this motion and message to Her Majesty the Queen.

I guess, as part of that equation, that involved a use of the media and even elements of the paparazzi. But that did not in any way justify the unfettered and very much on the edge of the law, if not beyond the law, intrusion which came from elements of the paparazzi as they hounded Princess Diana through much of her life. I guess we can also ask the question: was her role as a spouse and her role as a free-standing charity worker a circus for the sake of a circus and attention? The answer to that question must clearly be no. Given the choice and the level of commitment to the task, it is clearly obvious that she carried a very genuine and determined will to assist those who were worse off: those who were afflicted by leprosy, by AIDS and by antipersonnel mines right around the world.

Lady Diana Spencer had fame thrust upon her as a young woman through the simple twist of fate that the man she married is the heir to the British crown. She quickly became the darling of the British media—and, indeed, the world media—who just as quickly reinvented her as a fairytale princess. It is one of the tragedies of her short life that the media, having created the myth around her, then expected her to live on that myth in the full glare of constant and unremitting publicity.

I met the Princess of Wales on two occasions: once at a reception at the New South Wales state parliament and once during a visit she made with Prince Charles and Prince William when she lived for a period at Holbrook and travelled through Albury to and from various functions around Australia. I remember a beautiful and elegant young woman who was remarkably at ease with ordinary people, notwithstanding her subsequent remarks as to how much a challenge she found this to be initially at places like Alice Springs. She went out of her way to overcome that feeling of nervousness and to really carry on that contact with ordinary people right around the world.

She did give a modern face to the monarchy, a face that reflected the society in which we live in the second half of the 20th century with all its pressures and difficulties. Sadly, that reflection of society extended to the breakdown of her own marriage. That very private part of her life, too, was lived out on the front pages of the tabloid press. She was a woman who lived the second half of her life under enormous pressure. We must all admire the way she came to deal with that pressure and to find her own place.

Her devotion to her children, Prince William and Prince Harry, was extraordinary and the efforts she made to raise them, to the extent possible, in a normal life reflected that devotion and commitment. Just as admirable was how she found a way to use the intense media interest, as I mentioned, to carry charitable causes forward. There is no doubt that, as a public figure, she could give those causes a huge boost. She knew that and she did that. She did not have to do that, but that was very much part of her commitment.

The royal family being what it is and the media being what it is, the personal life of the Princess of Wales is likely to be the part of her life that is most discussed in coming months. It would be a great pity if we were to forget her huge contribution to the causes she championed and a greater pity if those causes themselves were to slip from our minds.

To all of the families connected with the victims of the horrific car accident in Paris on the weekend and to the royal family, as part of this motion before the House this day I extend on behalf of the National Party our deep sympathy.

Question resolved in the affirmative, honourable members standing in their places.

Mr SPEAKER —As a mark of respect to the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, the sitting is suspended for one hour.

Sitting suspended from 2.25 3.25 p.m.