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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 602

Dr McVEIGH (Groom) (11:45): I certainly join with others in rising to speak on the amazing achievement of Queen Elizabeth II, who has celebrated 65 years with her Sapphire Jubilee, the longest of any British monarch, as Queen of England and Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, of which Australia is a member. I acknowledge many of the gracious and important comments of all colleagues in the chamber, but I wish to add to that from a more personal perspective from my electorate.

It may come as no surprise to many of my colleagues—as they have become used to me and my view that Toowoomba is indeed a city worth talking about within the parliament and visiting in person, as the Prime Minister did just recently—that I want to point out in particular that the Queen herself has been to my electorate of Groom. The Queen's official coronation, as we know, took place on 2 June 1953 in Westminster Abbey, and less than a year later she visited Toowoomba and Oakey in my electorate. When you consider that the Queen has visited 117 countries on official royal tours since she ascended to the throne, it is plainly obvious to me that Toowoomba was very high on her list of priorities to see. I admit that on that trip she also happened to open the third session of the 20th national parliament here in Canberra but, most importantly, she was greeted by 70,000 ex-service men and women at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during that tour as well.

It was 11 March 1954 when she landed at Oakey airport, and accounts in the local paper recount that she was quickly on her way to Toowoomba. In the city she and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, attended a reception in our magnificent Queens Park and looked over the arena at the Toowoomba Royal Show. The local paper also reported that schoolchildren rode in milk carts and adults travelled in trucks and buses to see the royal couple, even if only for a fleeting moment. The federal government's royal visit commemorative book, published just after that tour, described one of the highlights of the Toowoomba visit as the royal couple witnessing 'the age-old ceremonial of the corroboree', performed by Aborigines who had travelled from as far as the Northern Territory for the occasion. The Queen was quoted as saying, 'What has impressed me the most was the long distances people travelled to see me.'

The Queen has not been the only royal to visit the electorate. Her father, as Albert, Duke of York, who later became George VI, also visited the Garden City in 1927. As an aside, coincidentally, members would remember the hit movie about him called The King's Speech starring Academy Award winners Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Geoffrey Rush also hails from Toowoomba, but that is another story. Most significantly for our community, the Queen's grandson Prince William visited our city in 2011 following the devastating flood that caused loss of life and significant damage earlier that year. The prayers, best wishes and respect that he conveyed to our community on behalf of the Queen were heartfelt and moving.

Queen Elizabeth II has had a long and mainly peaceful reign, as we know, which has been marked by vast changes and transition in terms of how Britain is viewed abroad and through the lives of people throughout the entire Commonwealth. Throughout, Queen Elizabeth II has been recognised as a progressive leader.

She has modernised the monarchy by dropping some of the formalities, made certain sites and treasures more accessible for the public, and reined in public funding for the monarchy in line with expectations of her people—and they clearly love her for it. You can certainly see that in every public appearance that she makes. As a constitutional monarch, Elizabeth II, as we know, does not weigh in on political matters, nor does she reveal her political views are—again, I note the comments of colleagues in relation to that. However, she certainly confers regularly with her prime ministers and has proven that the Crown still has a symbolic and diplomatic power. I believe, for example, her visit to the Republic of Ireland, the first by a British monarch in 100 years, spoke volumes about her as a leader and as a person. From a young age she has been acknowledged as the people's Queen. Her coronation was the first major international event to be broadcast on television. Few of us, if any, in this chamber would have had the chance to witness that, but I would be pretty safe in saying that many of us have witnessed significant royal events over the years—and interestingly, most of them have been ratings-winners.

The Queen today, I am advised, still handles roughly 430 engagements each year and supports hundreds of charitable organisations and programs. She is still the leader of the Commonwealth, which has nations across all six continents with roughly 2.2 billion of the world's citizens. I am also advised that in her 23,745 days—or thereabouts—on the throne, she has also sent roughly 170,000 telegrams to centenarians in the Commonwealth. She is a remarkable woman and a born leader. I wanted to note in particular that, as a mark of her true character, she is clearly loved and revered by monarchists and republicans alike. On behalf of the residents of Groom, I congratulate Her Majesty and her family most sincerely on her sapphire jubilee.