Statute Law Amendment (References to the Sovereign) Bill 2023

15 August 2023

It is a great pleasure to speak on the Statute Law Amendment (References to the Sovereign) Bill 2023, and what a wide ranging debate we have had on this bill. I may try to take the tone down a little bit and direct us back to the bill, as a new member. I will stick clearly to this bill as much as I can. This bill, though, is not groundbreaking, as has been referenced before; it is ensuring that our legislation is accurate. Obviously this bill is going to amend the references in Victorian legislation from ‘Her Majesty’ to ‘His Majesty’ and other similar terms following the death of Queen Elizabeth II and King Charles III assuming the throne. I have spoken a few times in this house and have prepared for a variety of bills, and I have talked about new legislation. I might have to go back over the records, but I do remember nearly every time saying that our legislation needs to be modern and up to date and obviously accurate. Good legislation housekeeping is making sure our bills are accurate and that the accuracy is maintained.

The passing of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on 8 September 2022, will certainly be one of those moments in our lives where we probably all remember where we were when we heard the news. She had 70 years on that throne. It is an incredible reign and I respect that, but I have to admit I do not follow the monarchy that closely. The institution represents obviously our head of state, but I know many Victorians held the Queen with great affection and respected Queen Elizabeth II. My gran certainly did. My gran is from that era of singing God Save the Queen and having the Queen’s portrait in the house. I can even remember my gran being excited to become a great-grandmother at the same time that the Queen was becoming great-grandmother again, with my cousin and Kate Middleton having similar due dates. My gran would reference that often. I understand the affection that Victorians had for the Queen.

This bill, as we have seen today, does raise maybe some debate about the ongoing connections to the monarchy and the fact that an Australian is not our head of state, but that is kind of not the direction I want to take. For me traditions are always important. People hold traditions very close to their hearts, but moving forward and going into a modern society we do make changes. We make changes for those right reasons. We make changes for the betterment of our communities. In this Parliament and obviously in the Commonwealth Parliament we pledge our allegiance to the foreign monarch. I certainly remember my pledging of the oath here in this place, a special moment, and I know those traditions are important. Interestingly, I have learned that Victoria is the only state that requires members of both houses to be sworn and to swear allegiance to a new monarch after a death, under section 23 of the constitution, so I am learning a lot from this legislation. Last time this occurred was 14 February 1952 after Queen Elizabeth’s father King George VI had passed, and I know members in this Parliament had to be called back late last year to be sworn in again under His Majesty. But ultimately any of those changes to a republic are questions for the Commonwealth to deal with.

We have lots of things that change over time, and the passing of the Queen has also seen changes needing to be made in a variety of settings. We have had to change the Australian passport. Reference to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is on that first page of your passport, and these words will now be replaced with His Majesty King Charles III in the new passports. Obviously – side note – passports referring to the Queen still remain valid until their expiry date. There are changes to coins, with the royal mint confirming King Charles will appear on the back of Australian coins. An item adorned with the Queen’s cipher will need updating, and that includes on uniforms worn by Australian soldiers. We make changes all the time when these events happen and occur, so making changes in this legislation is just sensible housekeeping that needs to happen.

It is also important here to note that we have made changes at a constitutional level and legal arrangements to recognise here in Victoria before kings and queens there was in this state the oldest continuing culture on earth, a unique and a precious thing. We recognise that. I will just have to reference this to get this right, but section 1A of the Constitution Act 1975 does go to this point. It provides that:

(1) The Parliament acknowledges that the events described in the preamble to this Act occurred without proper consultation, recognition or involvement of the Aboriginal people of Victoria.

(2) The Parliament recognises that Victoria’s Aboriginal people, as the original custodians of the land on which the Colony of Victoria was established –

(a) have a unique status as the descendants of Australia’s first people; and

(b) have a spiritual, social, cultural and economic relationship with their traditional lands and waters within Victoria; and

(c) have made a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the identity and well-being of Victoria.

Proudly, Victoria has advanced as well to being the first state to pursue that treaty and truth with our First Nations people here in Victoria, something we should all be very proud of. Now we have the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria; this is an independent and democratic elected body representing traditional owners of country and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria.

But just back to the bill at hand, I suppose, and the objectives and the necessity of this bill, current legislation obviously references Her Majesty, and since the death of Queen Elizabeth II these references are incorrect. The actual wording in each act is incorrect, and these amendments will make sure that the state’s laws remain relevant and accurate. As a new member I do like to do a lot of research when I am talking on a bill and making sure that I am really clear on what I am speaking about and understand that, and legislation is important. As they say, the devil is in the detail, and this is part of the detail that needs to be addressed and detail that needs to happen. That is why it is called, obviously, a statute law bill, which is a type of bill Parliament often considers passing to correct any of those omissions, ambiguities and errors found in statutes. As I have said, it is a good piece of legislative housekeeping.

Contrary to what I have heard from the other side, these bills do not make changes to policies and they do not make substantive changes to laws. They are really just tidying up what needs to be done. So the overarching intent of this bill really is to make these minimum changes to the Victorian statute book to ensure the terms remain legally accurate and the current meanings and legal interpretations are preserved. The bill is not intended to have any retrospective effect either. So I think we just need to simplify this down a little bit. This is a simple bill that is really doing the housekeeping that needs to happen in this place. It will not change policy in Victoria. It will not change how acts are applied. But more importantly, as I have said, it is important that we have accurate, modern and up-to-date legislation, and that is exactly what this bill is trying to achieve.

I am pleased I was able to stand up today and talk to this bill to make sure that we have a wideranging debate and that this bill passes. But it is quite confusing to hear some of the rhetoric we are hearing and the scaremongering from the other side, which I am just a little bit confused about. This bill is not going to change any policies. We are literally updating our legislation, and I commend the bill to the house.