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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 598

Mr LEESER (Berowra) (11:29): I rise to congratulate Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her Sapphire Jubilee, and to acknowledge the gracious remarks of my friend the member for Brand on the Queen's service as well. Unlike my friend the member for Brand, I have been a constitutional monarchist from the time I knew Australia had a Constitution. At the invitation of my early mentor, the late Sir Asher Joel, I joined Australians for Constitutional Monarchy when it was founded in 1992 and I was still a schoolboy. I had the privilege of being elected as the youngest delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1998 as a member of the No Republic—Australians for Constitutional Monarchy team, and was later appointed by then Prime Minister Howard to serve on the 10 member no case committee for the 1999 republic referendum.

My support for our current constitutional arrangements comes from the fact that I think the constitutional monarchy has helped provide Australia with stable government since its inception. It is the best of all the available alternative systems of government. I like the fact that, despite the inexhaustible ambitions of people in this place, at the apex of our government is one office which we cannot get our hands on. It provides, in the words of the original charter of the ACM, drafted by that great liberal, former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, leadership beyond politics. I always thought it was of great comfort to me that that great generation of lawyers like Michael Kirby, Sir Harry Gibbs, Lloyd Waddy, Ken Handley and Barry O'Keefe banded together because they saw great strength in the legality and the constitutionality of the constitutional monarchy.

Compare our system of government to that of the American system. The American President can never bring the country together as a unifying figure because, at the end of the day, they are an elected politician with ideas, which we all have as politicians, that divide the community along partisan lines. A President as, say, in the German system, chosen by the legislature, can never bring people together because they are usually dull figures chosen as part of a political compromise. The strength of the monarchy as a symbol is that in these highly partisan days there is a figure at the apex of our system who is above politics and provides continuity. While none of us can say who the Prime Minister will be after the next election, we know who our monarch will be for the next century, and that stability is a great strength. The strength of the monarchy, it is said—I think it was Churchill who first said it—is the power that it denies others. The Queen and her governors-general have no mandate. The Queen provides an example to her viceregal representatives. They know that they have to exercise their limited powers in keeping with the traditions of the Crown in a way which brings lustre to the institution, and that has had an effect on the officeholders, turning even doughty Republicans like Bill Hayden into misty eyed monarchists.

The monarchy is a dynamic institution with a great capacity for reinvention. In the 1990s, the monarchy was somewhat unfashionable, but in recent years it has become more popular. No republican system can give us what the monarchy has given us in the last few years: the love of two people, the beauty of a wedding and the rejoicing at the birth of children. In an age of increasing international tension and nationalism, I like the fact that our sovereign is also the sovereign of Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Papua New Guinea, and a range of other realms scattered across the globe. Since European settlement, Australia has had good, bad and even mad monarchs, but it is the system which is fundamental.

Today we acknowledge the exceptional service of the most exceptional monarch we have had, Elizabeth II, whose service is without peer. Queen Elizabeth has been Queen of Australia for 65 years. That is more than half of the entire period since Federation, and that is a matter worth reflecting on. In that time she has seen 14 prime ministers, she has made 16 visits to Australia, is patron of numerous organisations in this country and takes a deep interest in our country and its progress, including, and importantly, the welfare of our First Peoples, for whom she has always had a deep interest. She brings to us the wisdom and unparalleled experience of governance and history, not only of our own country but also of other nations around the world.

Queen Elizabeth has epitomised through her reign some important values. They are values shared by people throughout the Commonwealth and are effectively the values of our inheritance from Britain: stoicism, service, honour, moderation, openness and tolerance. Broadcasting to the Commonwealth as a 21-year-old, she declared that her whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to our service. She reminded us that our mission is to stand for liberty in the face of tyranny, as she reminded her people in that same broadcast:

We must not be daunted by the anxieties and hardships that the war has left behind for every nation of our commonwealth. We know that these things are the price we cheerfully undertook to pay for the high honour of standing alone, seven years ago, in defence of the liberty of the world.

In an increasingly disposable world, she reminds us of our history. Australia's conception of ourselves is that we are a young country, but in democratic terms we are actually a very old country. We are one of six of the oldest continuous democracies in the world. As the Queen said at the time of her golden jubilee:

We ... have ... a long and proud history. This not only gives us a trusted framework of stability and continuity to ease the process of change, but it also tells us what is of lasting value. Only the passage of time can filter out the ephemeral from the enduring.

I am obliged to my friend and collaborator in matters constitutional, Dr Damien Freeman, for alerting me to a special prayer offered by the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth at the occasion of the Queen's 90th birthday last year.

The prayer asks the following:

May the supreme King of kings, who in His mercy, has seen fit to preserve the Queen in life and good health beyond her ninetieth year, continue to guard her and deliver her from all trouble and sorrow. May He bless and protect Her Majesty's Armed Forces. May He put a spirit of wisdom and understanding into her heart and into the hearts of all her counsellors—

And those counsellors include, of course, Her Majesty's ministers of state for the Commonwealth Australia. The Chief Rabbi's prayer continued—

We offer our gratitude for the blessings You have bestowed upon our gracious and noble Sovereign throughout the ninety years of her life. In Your infinite wisdom, You have guided the hand of Her Majesty the Queen and made her a worthy Monarch who loves peace, inspires loving-kindness and champions the finest values of our society. May she continue to reign in good health for many years to come. …

That is a sentiment that I hope we can all share.