Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (14:09): I am pleased to rise today to make a brief contribution to the Statute Law Amendment (References to the Sovereign) Bill 2023. In doing so I find myself partially agreeing with the Greens, with Dr Ratnam, on the fact that this government has got a very thin, a very weak legislative platform, with two bills wandering through this place in the whole of this week. I remember back in the 58th Parliament where it would be nothing to have four to five bills in the house each week.
They are going to filibuster. I am going to speak on this one – I want to put some brief points down. Then they are going to waffle on and filibuster on various motions. Their legislative agenda is a bit of a dry desert, and it is paltry. I agree with Dr Ratnam in that context, but I disagree with Dr Ratnam insofar as finding this bill appealing is concerned.
This bill should be about housekeeping; it should be about changing references and acknowledging the fact that our beloved Queen of some 70 years has passed and that the King – now King Charles – has ascended the throne and is in her place. We need to have changes to references in legislation to reflect that. That is what this bill should be about. Indeed the purpose of the bill is in relation to the Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 to amend the statute law of Victoria in terms of language referring to the sovereign.
My colleague Dr Bach has referenced a number of sections of this bill. I will not reprosecute them all, but where I have concerns is where the government decides to overreach, as it is often wont to do. Rather than keeping within its brief to update and housekeep the legislation, it overreaches. We do have a stable democracy. I am very thankful and blessed that Australia is one of the most stable democracies in the world. It is that not by chance but owing to the fact that we have a constitutional monarchy and that for decades and decades we have been able to self-determine and rule and positively guide our citizens through that constitutional monarchy. If this were to change – and in no way am I suggesting it should – the people of Australia, not the Premier of Victoria and his Department of Premier and Cabinet, his close inner circle, should be the decision-makers in that via a referendum. This bill is an overreach. What it seeks to do is remove certain capacities or areas where it should keep ‘His Majesty’. I will give you an example: in the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General Act 1972 this bill does not replace the formal title of ‘Her Majesty’s Attorney-General’ with ‘His Majesty’s Attorney-General’, it just trims it right back. It takes the monarchy out of these normal statute requirements, using ‘Attorney-General’. That is an example.
We on this side do not agree that that is useful. We do not want to see it watered down, even in signalling. This government is very good at virtue-signalling in a whole raft of public policies and domains. We do not want to see that happening in this bill, and we will not be supporting it unless Dr Bach’s very sensible amendments – textual amendments and amendments to various parts and sections of the bill – are supported. I ask the house to support those.
Finally in my brief contribution, I want to make reference to the fact that Queen Elizabeth was very much a guiding force. She was very stable. I am sure she could keep her own counsel and keep calm. On her passing last year, I spoke to members of my community, and they referenced her coming to Gippsland – flying into the Sale RAAF base and hopping on a train, which was on time. Indeed it was probably a special train for her. She passed through Sale and Traralgon to the Yallourn power station, as it was then, and moved on to Warragul. I remember one particular Traralgon lady – Suzanne Pinchen, who is a lovely lady – saying she was an only an infant when the Queen passed by but there was great pageantry and great celebration and an acknowledgement of this very happy event back in 1954.
We now have I believe a modern king – King Charles. I was at a citizenship ceremony only the other day. Once upon a time you saw a banner there with the Queen in her stately robes.
Now if you go to a citizenship ceremony, there is just a modest photo of a modern king, and I think that reflects his acknowledgement of what needs to happen across the world and in terms of the Commonwealth. And yes, he has I believe quite modern views and important views to acknowledge. What this bill seeks to do is water down our constitutional monarchy, albeit subtly, but we do not need a subtle creep. We do not need a sneaky creep. I acknowledge and welcome Dr Bach’s amendments and note that if those amendments are lost, the Nationals will not be supporting this bill.