Queen Elizabeth II and the Federal Parliament

On 9 September 2022, the Australian flag above Parliament House was lowered to half-mast as a mark of mourning and respect for the death of Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of Australia and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth. The Governor-General, David HurleyPrime Minister, Anthony AlbaneseLeader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, and Parliament's Presiding Officers have issued statements of condolence, reflecting on The Queen’s enduring leadership and lifetime of service. This Flagpost article highlights Queen Elizabeth II’s relationship with the Australian Parliament and provides further information on the procedures and protocols upon her passing. 

The Queen visited Australia 16 times during her reign. On three occasions Her Majesty opened the Federal Parliament: on 15 February 1954, 28 February 1974 and 8 March 1977. On the first such occasion, Her Majesty proclaimed:

It is therefore a joy for me, today, to address you not as a Queen from far away, but as your Queen and a part of your Parliament. In a real sense, you are here as my colleagues, friends, and advisers. When I add to this consideration the fact that I am the first ruling Sovereign to visit Australia, it is clear that the events of today make a piece of history which fills me with deep pride and the most heartfelt pleasure and which I am confident will serve to strengthen in your own hearts and minds a feeling of comradeship with the Crown and that sense of duty shared which we must all have as we confront our common tasks.

On 9 May 1988, Queen Elizabeth II opened the permanent Parliament House building in Canberra, 61 years to the day after her father opened the provisional Parliament House. On this occasion she declared:

This is a special occasion for the Parliament, but it is also a very important day for all the people of Australia. After eighty-seven years of Federation, a permanent home has been provided for Parliament, which is both the living expression of that Federation and the embodiment of the democratic principles of freedom, equality and justice. Parliamentary democracy is a compelling ideal, but it is a fragile institution. It cannot be imposed and it is only too easily destroyed. It needs the positive dedication of the people as a whole, and of their elected representatives, to make it work.

Queen Elizabeth II also featured prominently within the Parliament and National Capital throughout 2022, as it commemorated Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. On 8 February, the first day of parliamentary sitting for the year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison moved a motion of congratulations upon Her Majesty’s milestone achievement. Later in June, Parliament House was one of many prominent Australian landmarks to be illuminated purple in honour of The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. As part of these celebrations, Aspen Island (situated in Lake Burley Griffin within the Parliamentary Triangle) was renamed ‘Queen Elizabeth II Island’. It is also notable that when Queen Elizabeth II opened the Australia’s Parliament in 1977, this coincided with her Silver Jubilee. 

There are highly detailed protocols following the death of the British sovereign, explained in the House of Commons Library publication ‘The death of a monarch’. In Australia, the ceremonial proclamation of the new British monarch will also be read by the Governor-General at the Parliament House Forecourt, following the formal proclamation in the UK. (However, the accession of the new Sovereign is automatic.) The Prime Minister will seek to suspend proceedings in the Federal Parliament until after the National Memorial Service (a length of 15 days). This last occurred following the death of King George VI, when the Parliament had a special adjournment from 7 to 19 February 1952.

When Parliament resumes, there is no requirement for parliamentarians to swear allegiance to the new Head of State, King Charles III, as their previous oaths or affirmations (as stipulated in the Constitution) are automatically carried over. Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction where this is not the case, with its state Constitution requiring a new oath or affirmation before its parliamentarians can sit or vote.

Time will also be allocated for parliamentarians to speak to a motion of condolence for Queen Elizabeth II. Accordingly, the Parliamentary Library has prepared a biographical package of relevant information to assist parliamentarians and their staff in this process (available via the APH network).

Tags: Parliament


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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