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Monday, 22 September 1997
Page: 8088


Mr ROBERT BROWN(10.53 p.m.) —Many people have claimed that the circumstances surrounding the death of Diana Spencer and her funeral have no significance to the institution of the monarchy or to the issue of an Australian republic. That claim is patently absurd. The perception of the monarchy and its relevance to contemporary Great Britain has undergone a significant reappraisal. Twenty per cent of the British would abandon the monarchy now. A larger proportion believe it should disappear with the demise of the present incumbent. A majority believe that if it persists the throne should pass to Prince William, bypassing Charles. According to reports, Charles is not amused.

There are two bases of the current reappraisal of the monarchy. The first concerns the relevance of this anachronistic institution with all its associated pomp, pageantry, privilege and inherited wealth. In addition to that, we might question the relevance to contemporary values of an institution that ensures that the British head of state can never be a Catholic or a Buddhist, can never be chosen on the basis of personal qualities and competence, must always be chosen by right of birth and can never be a woman, despite her own qualities and age, if the current monarch has a son, no matter how junior to his older sister he may be, no matter how less intelligent or fitted for the role he may be.

It is even more objectionable and offensive that these same provisions determine who shall be Australia's head of state. Despite the absurd posturing of the monarchists among us, who claim that the Governor-General is our head of state, they cannot explain why the International Olympic Federation will not allow him or her to open the 2000 Olympics, a role that is preserved for the head of state, or why our Governor-General is not accorded head of state status anywhere in the world and is seated behind the princes, presidents and potentates of other countries at any international gathering or forum. Would we have the Queen open the Sydney Olympics and then join the cheer squad for the British contestants?

The second basis for reappraisal concerns the qualities and inadequacies of the present incumbents. The exposure of these inadequacies has been encouraged by a less reverent community, an intrusive media and a mass market with an insatiable appetite for titillation. Like 2½ billion people around the world, I watched the funeral of Diana Spencer. I heard the sobs and cries of anguish from many of the two million who lined the streets to express their affection and, for most, to purge their guilt. Why was Diana Spencer, in the company of her lover in a speeding car driven by a drunk driver, in a Paris tunnel? Why was the former wife of a possible future king of England and the mother of a possible future king of England in such a situation?

The reasons include the fact that for the institution of the monarchy she had served her purpose. The monarchy needed an heir to the throne. An heir for a whole range of reasons could not be supplied by Mrs Parker-Bowles. Having fulfilled her purpose, she was subsequently expelled from The Firm and banished. She was denied a royal title, which would have at least ensured that she would have been provided with proper, continuing protection and security. Diana Spencer was cut adrift.

The royal family was not united in grief. Like many of the two million people who lined the streets, they were united in guilt. I have still not heard the Queen say that she grieved or was even sorry about the death of her former daughter-in-law, mother of two of her grandchildren. The royal family was dragged out of Balmoral to retrieve its own image.

Let us make no mistake: there are many who are taking secret comfort in the knowledge that the possibility has been removed that a future king of England might have had an Egyptian shopkeeper for his stepfather, a man denied British citizenship for his step grandfather, and an Arab arms dealer as his step great uncle. Of course, Mohammed Fayed had helped to destroy the last Tory government of John Major by making illicit payments to the former Tory MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith to ask questions of ministers.

The disgust of Charles Spencer was apparent in his magnificent eulogy for his sister when he referred to her blood relations and observed that she needed no royal title to do her good deeds. We should remember that those comments were directed against the royal family, and especially the Queen, who is his godmother.

The death of Diana Spencer was tragic. She will always be the young, vibrant, sensitive, beautiful and wronged princess. But her loss to her children is no greater than the loss to the children of any other mother who is tragically killed on the road or anywhere else. The great tragedy surrounding the death of Diana Spencer was that this young woman was betrayed by her husband, expelled and isolated by the royal Firm, hounded and exploited by the media and the public, and left without the care or support, or even the concern, of the family into which she had married and from which she had been so unceremoniously banished.

Question resolved in the affirmative.