CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT (RESTORATION OF OATHS OF ALLEGIANCE) BILL 2012
Debate resumed from 23 May 2012.
Mr PAUL LYNCH
(Liverpool) [3.26 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on the Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011. The Opposition opposes this bill introduced by Fred Nile in the Legislative Council and by the Attorney General in this place. I note that the Attorney General has not added any argument in support of this proposition other than to refer to the second reading speech by Fred Nile in the Legislative Council, which is regrettable. There is no substantive argument in favour of the bill in Nile's speech—there might be other arguments, but Nile has not made them. He has put arguments in support of another bill that he has not introduced. It is perhaps an adverse reflection upon the Attorney General that he does not understand the issues involved in this bill.
I oppose the bill for three reasons. First, as a matter of principle, the bill is wrong because it is constitutionally fundamentally corrupt. Secondly, the arguments advanced by Nile are wrong in fact and theory and in some cases are mendacious and dishonest. Thirdly, Nile's advocacy is driven by thoroughly unworthy political partisanship. He is supported by the Government for the tawdry reason that it needed his support a little time ago to gut the Police Death and Disability Scheme, and continue to need his support to attack workers in other areas. This bill proposes to amend the State Constitution. At present, members of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council and of the Executive Council make an oath or affirmation in the form, "I pledge my loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales." That formulation was introduced by an amendment to the Constitution achieved by a private member's bill in my name in 2006. That replaced the previous regime that obliged members to swear an oath in the terms of the then second schedule to the Oaths Act, which read:
I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, her heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.
Section 12 of the Constitution also required that if a monarch died all business of the Parliament ceased until everyone had sworn allegiance to the new monarch. That was very telling of the historical origins of the oath in late seventeenth century England but obviously an absurdity in the contemporary world. Both those archaic aspects—the language and the procedure on a monarch's death—were resolved and removed by the private member's bill. The requirement to halt Parliament was dispensed with and the pledge was located in the Constitution and not some other disconnected legislation. This bill now seeks to alter the first of these two changes although not the second, which is interesting in light of some of the claims made by the bill's promoter. Even in the first change the reference now is not to the Oaths Act but is contained in the Constitution.
The bill provides that members will now have an alternative to taking the pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales; they will be able to make an oath or affirmation of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors. It is important to point out that these are alternatives and the archaic loyalist oath of allegiance replaces the more democratic current alternative only if individual members so choose. That is important to emphasise because of the rampant and flagrant dishonesty of the bill's promoter in claiming that this bill reintroduces the pre-2006 position, which it clearly does not. One of my occasional frustrations with some members of this House is their comparative lack of understanding of history. I daresay we will hear some contributions about the origins of the oath of allegiance many centuries ago when the English monarchy was first established.
Those who know anything about constitutional history know that that is wrong. For those who do not, I direct their attention to the recently produced paper by the Parliamentary Library on this topic. When first introduced, the oath was directly religious and at that time thus sectarian and political. It arose from the Reformation and the Protestant victory over Catholics in England. The Parliamentary Library's paper points out that the oath first emerged in 1689 following the interestingly named Glorious Revolution and the replacement of a Catholic King with a Protestant King. It was the time of the Battle of the Boyne, which is still celebrated to this day by those soulmates of Nile, the sectarian extremists in various parts of Ulster. The oath was tied in with the Act of Succession prohibiting Catholics from being the monarch or the spouse of one.
The oath was so contentious that it was the main issue provoking civil war in 26 counties of Ireland following the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921. This brief historical excursion is significant not only because context matters—and it always does—but also because it is relevant to remind members that the oath of allegiance has not always been uncritically accepted. Even more important is the fact that it is a reminder that its historical meaning—that is, its meaning when introduced—was one that modern Australia could only look at with horror. The oath of allegiance was drafted by the seventeenth century English equivalent of Hamas. I turn now to the arguments, so called, proffered by the bills proposer to justify it. These arguments are inaccurate, spurious or disingenuous. Some of them involve lies. In the second reading speech in the other place Nile argued that his bill represents the actual legal and constitutional position.
If that were true, under this bill members would not be allowed alternative pledges. If he really thinks the 2006 amendments do damage to the constitutional structure then he would be obliged to move for their complete removal. That is, it would require an entirely different bill and not the bill before the House. He has not done that and this bill will not do that, so his argument is just dishonest poppycock. It cannot be correct because it still leaves the 2006 pledge as an alternative. Nile goes on to argue that because we are all part of an indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the monarch this oath of allegiance must be reinstated. That is more drivel. Not only does the 2006 amendment make no change to the constitutional position, but once again the 2006 amendment still remains as an alternative under this bill. All Nile's bill does is provide an alternative to those who wish to swear allegiance to the Queen rather than to those who elect them.
Indeed, rather than strengthening our fabric as a nation, if anything this bill does the opposite by dividing the allegiances of members. Most of Nile's second reading speech ranted about republicanism and the virtues of a monarchy. Interesting as that may be to students of intellectually second-rate rhetoric, it is entirely irrelevant to this debate. Nile's speech reads like it belongs to another piece of legislation. The pre-2006 position involved an oath of allegiance to a head of State. The 2006 amendment replaced that with allegiance to Australia and the people of New South Wales. The change was not from a monarch to a republican president. It was from a head of State to the people. It was not about monarchy or republicanism; it was about democracy. If one were a democrat, one would support the 2006 amendment. If one were anti-democratic, one would support the pre-2006 position and Fred Nile. I am happy to be regarded as a democrat; Nile obviously is not.
I suspect that the real test if this bill comes into effect is what members will do. How many members of this Chamber will swear allegiance to Australia and the people of New South Wales and how many to a monarch? I suspect that the overwhelming majority will swear allegiance to the former, not to the latter. I will have some interest in keeping count and advising electorates if their elected representative prefers to swear allegiance not to them but to a monarch living in England. Once again, if Nile were serious about this argument he could not leave what he falsely claims is a republican pledge in the Constitution. The truth of the theory in this matter is that in a democratic society the allegiance of elected representatives should be to those who elect them and not to the head of State—republican or monarchist.
The arguments put by the bill's proponents are without merit. Worse than that, they are dishonest. Of all the criticism that can be made against the arguments purporting to support the bill, one common theme is that none of them makes sense unless the allegiance to the Queen replaces the pledge for every member—that is, if the 2006 changes are completely undone. This bill does not do that. I believe the truth is that Nile desperately wants to completely undo the 2006 change and make us all swear allegiance to the Queen with no alternative. That is why he makes the arguments he does, which are actually unrelated to his bill. Of course, he cannot get away with that nonsense in 2012. Even this conservative Government is not stupid enough to support that proposition. That is why we have got a series of arguments from Nile that support not this bill but another bill he would like to have moved but did not. He would like to have moved a bill completely undoing the 2006 changes rather than illogically tinkering with them.
The end result is this silly mishmash wherein some members will pledge allegiance to something and others to something else. It is simply silly. We should collectively know where our allegiance lies and pledge to that. Instead, this bill has different members pledging allegiance to one thing and others to something else. If it is important enough to make an oath of allegiance or a pledge, it is important enough to get it right. That means every member pledging allegiance to the same thing, otherwise there is frankly no point doing it. The fact that when this bill passes members will not all pledge the same allegiance means there is no point to it. Nile's bill and the Government's support of it make a complete mockery of the entire concept. Frankly, it makes it literally pointless. The end result is that the allegiance of the House is split—some members will swear allegiance to the Queen and some to Australia and the people of New South Wales. The House cannot make up its mind to have one allegiance; there then seems little real purpose of going through the process.
When Nile addressed the other place on 24 November 2011 in reply he said that this bill would restore the status quo operating since 1823 in the Legislative Council and 1855 in the Legislative Assembly. That extraordinary claim was repeated in his "Focus on Parliament" segment in his January 2012 magazine, which he presumably distributes to his supporters. The claim by Nile that this bill restores that status quo is untrue; it is a lie. Most obviously, the status quo required all members to take an oath of allegiance. That is simply not the case with this bill. Indeed, I believe that a majority of members will not take the oath and will continue to make the 2006 pledge. However, in other ways the pre-2006 status quo is not affected by this bill. Pre-2006 the oath was contained in the Oaths Act and was not in the Constitution. The change in 2006 to move the pledge from the Oaths Act into the Constitution is in fact replicated in this bill. On that point Nile explicitly adopts the change made in 2006.
There is another aspect in which this bill adopts one of the 2006 changes and thus rejects the pre-2006 status quo, which Nile disingenuously claims he has reinstated in this bill. The pre-2006 regime required at the passing of the sovereign for the Parliament to come to a halt until a new oath of allegiance was sworn by all members to the new sovereign. That absurdity was removed by the 2006 changes and those changes are retained in this bill in new section 12 (4B). Nile also asserts that this bill restores the "unity of our nation, because all other States and, most importantly, the Commonwealth, has the oath of allegiance". This is entirely dishonest as an argument. First, this bill does not restore the oath of allegiance; it merely restores it in the handful of cases where members choose it rather than the pledge. Moreover, this scheme is not repeated in any other jurisdiction in this country. The bill establishes no unity at all.
There is no uniformity on this issue in Australia despite Nile's thoroughly inaccurate rhetoric to the contrary. The Commonwealth, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and the Northern Territory simply have an oath to the Queen and nothing else. That is in stark contrast to the position in this bill. Queensland has an oath to the Queen and the people of Queensland. Western Australia has alternatives—the people of Western Australia or the Queen and the people of Western Australia. The Australian Capital Territory has an oath to the Queen and/or the people of the Australian Capital Territory. Despite Nile's dishonest claim to the contrary, this bill would deliver a scheme entirely different from that in any other State. His claim of restoring unity in Australia on this issue is an unvarnished falsehood. Interestingly, the model that seems closest to the Nile bill is the one in the Australian Capital Territory. That is a matter of some irony.
Therefore, the bill is wrong in principle and in terms of constitutional theory. The arguments advanced by its proponent are wrong and dishonest, and this bill's genesis is also completely deceitful. The bill achieved priority in the other place only because the Government needed Nile's vote that week to do over the Police Death and Disability Scheme. It is not simply that that fact is notorious; it is blatantly obvious from Hansard
. The current constitutional scheme has been in place since 2006. The changes introduced then were a democratic updating of an archaic and pre-democratic oath. It caused no major upset when introduced. Frankly, the amendments were so uncontroversial they were hardly noticed. I described them at the time as moderate and reasonable and, indeed, modest changes.
The only angst was from a handful of extremists who are now being supported by the Government. That is the point. Nile needs only a handful of votes to maintain his position in the other place. He cobbles together a coalition of different extremist groups and that gets his upper House quota. It does not matter what it is—oath of allegiance, banning burqas, Islamophobia, homophobia—it is part of a calculated strategy to get elected. There is no principle in this. I, for example, have seen this self-proclaimed protestant minister fawn over religious relics at a non-protestant church. If Nile were around in the sixteenth century he would have supported Tetzel, if he needed to, to get his quota. The 2006 amendments placed the allegiance of members of Parliament where it belonged—to those that elect them.
This should be the case whether the system is a monarchy or a republic. It is not a republican issue, despite the consummate and offensive dishonesty of those promoting this bill. In a democracy, the allegiance of elected members must be to those that elect them—to their electorate. Any other allegiance is offensive and obscene. Worse, historically, the oath of allegiance comes from sectarian political divisions of the late seventeenth century. It is undemocratic. The oath of allegiance to a head of state historically dates to a pre-democratic time. It is pre-democratic. It is offensive to the nature and quality of democracy and democratic structures to have people in this place give their allegiance to anyone other than those who elect them. This bill should be rejected for the nonsense that it is.
Mr STEPHEN BROMHEAD
(Myall Lakes) [3.40 p.m.]: It is with great pleasure that I speak in support of the Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011. The object of the bill is to amend the Constitution Act 1902
to give a member of the Legislative Council, the Legislative Assembly or the Executive Council the option of taking an oath or making an affirmation of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, as an alternative to the pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales. Before a member of Parliament can sit or vote and before a member of the Executive Council can assume office he or she must make a pledge of loyalty.
At present taking an oath of allegiance is neither required nor offered. The proposal is that the taking of the oath of allegiance will be offered as an alternative to the pledge of loyalty, not as a substitute. In 2006 the Constitution Act 1902 was amended to require members of Parliament and Ministers to make a pledge of loyalty to Australia and to the people of New South Wales instead of swearing allegiance to the Queen, which had been the previous requirement. This bill seeks to restore the oath of allegiance as an alternative to the pledge of loyalty. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile spoke as a Christian in the other House. Other than his Christian beliefs, I do not agree with a lot of his opinions. He said:
The oath of allegiance to the Queen unites the peoples of a nation in times of war and peace. Once the oath has lost its significance, then lost also is our national discipline and patriotism. As we know, our service men and women take a similar oath. The oath is not simply to the Queen as an individual but to the Crown, which embodies far more than just the physical characteristics of our country. It is the basis on which our Constitution is founded, the font of our laws and the single entity which unites all Australians into one nation. It is thus the endowment of the hopes and aspirations and indeed the whole wellbeing of the people it safeguards.
It is that oath of allegiance that has been the basis of our society for well over 100 years. My grandfather put his age up for the First World War, put his age down for the Second World War and was a prisoner of war in Singapore. He took an oath to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. My father fought in the Second World War and he took an oath to Her Majesty. When I was in the Police Force I made an oath to Her Majesty. My brother served as a national serviceman and took an oath to Her Majesty. This legislation is not talking about doing away with an affirmation or some other pledge: It provides an alternative. Nothing can be wrong with that. Surely, in today's society, we can have more than one option, "That is it, we are dictating it and that is the way you are going to do it." Surely we can still have the other option that so many of our brothers and sisters—our forebears—used for more than a century. The member for Liverpool said that Labor opposed the legislation. It opposes free choice, options and alternatives. What harm is there in having a choice?
The member for Liverpool said that providing an alternative is morally corrupt. There is nothing morally corrupt about it. In 2006, when the member for Liverpool introduced his legislation, he was wrong in removing the previous oath of allegiance and giving us only one option—his option. It is the Labor way or it is no way. It is interesting to see how the Labor heavyweights operate within Labor in 2012. They say the General Secretary is right, even when he is wrong, and because of that the right has ensured dominance in that party. The Labor Party says, "You do it our way or no way", and the people of New South Wales who did not vote for the General Secretary must abide by what he says. That is exactly the attitude of the member for Liverpool. He said he was frustrated with people in this Chamber. That comment typifies the member for Liverpool and the Labor Party—it is why only 20 of its members are in this place. In March 2011 the overwhelming majority of people said, "We do not want any more of that."
Not only has the member for Liverpool lost touch with the community, but Labor has lost touch with reality. The member's speech was full of second-rate rhetoric. There is absolutely no substance to what he was saying. How can one argue against giving people an alternative? How can one argue against giving people a choice? This is not some weird and wonderful choice. We are talking about a choice of swearing allegiance to the Crown or making an affirmation to the people. There is nothing bizarre about it. It is hard to work out what his real argument is, other than to say that this is typical Labor—"You have no choice, this is the way it is going to be." That is plainly wrong. Unfortunately for the Labor movement, while it has members like the member for Liverpool in its ranks, it is forever condemned to what Labor heavyweights are saying—years in opposition, years in the wilderness. The member for Liverpool said that it would be interesting to count how many people use one oath of allegiance or the other. That is what choice is all about.
It does not matter whether you have one on one side and 100 on the other; what matters is the choice to use one or the other. His keeping count is totally irrelevant. The member also spoke about dishonest arguments. His argument is dishonest and morally corrupt. It is the Labor Party dictating its principles and its corrupt way of looking at things in life by saying something is wrong with the people of New South Wales or the people in this House having a choice. Until recently, people had a choice when it came to oaths and affirmations in courts. The member for Liverpool accused Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile of being dishonest. I said at the beginning of my speech that when it came to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, other than his Christianity, I do not agree with a lot of what he says. Notwithstanding our disagreement—and there is nothing wrong with having disagreements and debates—one thing I can say is that there is nothing dishonest about him.
This claim that Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile is dishonest is another example of the member for Liverpool being twisted and vengeful, and full of venom, bile and vinegar. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, in the mind of the member for Liverpool, is dishonest because he does not agree with him. He does not fall into line with the member for Liverpool; therefore, he is dishonest and stupid. The member for Liverpool uses those terms to describe Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile when it is the member for Liverpool who has the problems. As I have said previously about Labor, the member for Liverpool is projecting his distorted view of society onto others. He is projecting his view of politics onto members on this side of the House. It is a great privilege and a pleasure to stand in this place and say that I support the Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011. I commend the bill to the House.
Ms CLOVER MOORE
(Sydney) [3.50 p.m.]: I oppose this retrograde bill and I am disappointed that it is likely to pass and become law with the Government's support. The Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011 would allow members of both Houses and Ministers to take an oath or affirmation of allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors, instead of a pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales. Why, in 2012—well into the twenty-first century—would this Parliament want to give members and Ministers the option of pledging their allegiance to the Queen, over their country and constituents? Pledging allegiance to the Queen is out of touch with twenty-first century Australia. Our communities expect their Parliament to reflect contemporary views and the make-up of contemporary society.
The City of Sydney is made up of 200 nationalities. As members of Parliament, we should be working to engage people who are outside the political process in governance and democracy. If our politicians are pledging allegiance to an absent monarch, who has little involvement in the affairs of this State, most people will see Parliament as irrelevant. Removing the oath to the Queen in 2006 was appropriate at that time and restoring it is a backward move that I expect will one day again be overturned. This has nothing to do with the Republican debate—it is about the commitment we should demand of members of this House when they are elected as representatives. First and foremost, that commitment should be to their constituents and to the people of New South Wales. I oppose the bill.
Mr ANDREW GEE
(Orange) [3.52 p.m.]: I support the Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011. The wise and hardworking member for Myall Lakes, who is also a member of a hardworking committee, hit the nail on the head when he said that this legislation is all about choice. In response we have a wall of sound from the Opposition. I think the Opposition is putting up that wall of sound because it is denying that this bill really is all about choice and the ability of members to choose whether they would like to swear allegiance or pledge loyalty. What could be simpler and fairer? This bill gives both members of Parliament and Ministers the option to swear or affirm allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors, as an alternative to the current pledge of loyalty. The oath of allegiance for new members of Parliament and Ministers was abolished in 2006 and replaced by the pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales.
This bill provides future members of Parliament and new Ministers with the option of swearing or affirming allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors, prior to taking their seats or taking office. This will be an alternative to the pledge of loyalty. Members of Parliament and Ministers can do one of three things: they can swear allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors; they can affirm allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors; or they can pledge loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales. Today we have seen denial from the member for Liverpool—denial about the current state of politics in Australia. Those opposite seek to deny that the Queen is still the formal Head of State. Whether the member for Liverpool likes it or not, the Queen is still the Sovereign of Australia. Those opposite may not like it or agree with it, they may want to change it, but the reality is that the Queen is still the formal Head of Australia. Some members may choose to swear allegiance or affirm allegiance to the Queen, but they do not have to.
Mr Matt Kean:
Not just those opposite.
Mr ANDREW GEE:
Not just those opposite, but all members, as the member for Hornsby rightly points out. The underlying theme throughout the contribution of the member for Liverpool was the seeping political correctness that we see all too often in this day and age. It is the same political correctness that seeks to ban nativity scenes from shopping centres. I see the member for Cessnock is in the Chamber. I suspect he supports his nativity scenes in shopping centres in Cessnock.
Mr Clayton Barr:
I am a big fan.
Mr ANDREW GEE:
The member for Cessnock is a big fan of nativity scenes. He is an advocate for choice and although he has probably been told that he needs to support his party's line on this bill, underneath I believe he supports the theory of choice in these matters. It is the same seeping political correctness that seeks to ban the expression, "Merry Christmas" and replace it with "Happy Holidays". This is the sort of outrageous political correctness that we are unfortunately confronted with today and continue to be confronted with. Yes, we do live in a multicultural society and we celebrate and embrace that. But the reality is that the Queen is still the formal Head of Australia. To deny that fact is to embrace the political correctness of which we have seen too much. Sitting members of Parliament and current Ministers would not be required to take a new oath or make an affirmation as to their allegiance or loyalty.
However, any member of Parliament or Minister who wishes to do so may make a statement in Parliament about his or her preferred form of allegiance or loyalty. I will be keeping an eye on what the member for Hornsby does in this regard. The bill provides for greater consistency with practices elsewhere in Australia. In the Commonwealth and other State jurisdictions, an oath or affirmation of allegiance to the Queen is either mandatory or an optional form of mandatory declaration. In New South Wales the Lieutenant-Governor, the Administrator, judges and justices of the peace are required to swear or affirm allegiance to the Queen under the Oaths Act. As the member for Myall Lakes pointed out, this is all about choice, about giving members the choice to take their seats in this place in the manner that suits them. Many members would not want to swear allegiance to the Queen and that is fine. The Government embraces choice and the freedom to choose, and that is what this legislation is about.
It is not about whether one is a republican or a monarchist or whether one wants to ban nativity scenes—although to some members opposite I think it is. This is about freedom to choose and what more fitting place to demonstrate and embrace that freedom to choose than in Australia's oldest Parliament—the Parliament of New South Wales. The bill also makes it clear that a member of Parliament who has made an oath or affirmation of allegiance does not have to make a further oath or affirmation in the event of the demise of the Crown. These provisions are important. All thinking members who embrace freedom of choice will support this bill. The contribution of the member for Liverpool had some disturbing aspects. He referred to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile by his surname only. I thought that was disrespectful, and I think many members would agree. That sort of attitude was all pervasive throughout the member's speech—
Mr Kevin Conolly:
Mr ANDREW GEE:
The member for Riverstone rightly points out that it was disrespectful. The member for Cessnock heeds my words. I am sure that if he chooses to address the House on this bill we will not hear the same language from him. As I said, the contribution of the member Liverpool was disappointing and narrow-minded. He tried to open up the old monarchist-republican debate. He tried to bring all of that into it. The member for Hornsby seems to be up for that particular fight. But that is not what this legislation is all about. We should be moving on and embracing the fact that this legislation is all about freedom of choice not only for members of Parliament but also for Ministers—
ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Melanie Gibbons):
Order! The member for Hornsby will come to order. The member for Orange has the call.
Mr Victor Dominello:
William Wallace fought for freedom.
Mr ANDREW GEE:
The Minister reminds me that William Wallace fought for freedom. Certainly, for many members that may have only fleeting relevance to this legislation, but I appreciate the Minister's contribution. In the spirit of choice, freedom and democracy, I commend the bill to the House.
Mr CHRIS PATTERSON
(Camden) [4.01 p.m.]: The object of the Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill is to amend the Constitution Act 1902 to give a member of the Legislative Council, the Legislative Assembly or the Executive Council the option of taking or making an oath or affirmation of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors, as an alternative to a pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales. I make the point that this bill gives us the option of taking or making an oath or affirmation of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which was denied us by the former Government. This bill will give members a choice. The whole issue is about choice. It does not take away the choice of members to take the pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales.
The member for Liverpool said that in a democratic society we should swear allegiance to the people that elected us. I would argue that in a democratic society people elected us to represent them and the Constitution under which they live and as such democracy would be the right to choose. It is appropriate that we debate this issue this year, the year of Queen Elizabeth's jubilee. Australia is not a republic and I do not believe it ever should be. I am proud to say that I am a monarchist. Although this debate is not about the monarchy or a republic I put on record that I am a proud monarchist. Most of us in this House have known nothing else but to have Queen Elizabeth as our Head of State. Some may remember her father, King George VI.
I need not give a history lesson, as we are all aware of it, but I question why we do not recognise that the colony was proclaimed formally as the colony of New South Wales by Governor Phillip on 7 February 1788 in the name of King George III, in turn giving birth to this State and to our great country. It is a wonderful country in which we live, and I am a proud Australian. Our Constitution was presented to the electors of each colony and formally approved. On 1 January 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was born. The States, as they were known, became one nation whilst still retaining their parliaments; they had their own constitutions individually under the Crown, and on becoming States they gave authority to a Federal Parliament. Section 109 of the Australian Constitution states:
When a law of a state is inconsistent with a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid.
Of 44 proposals to amend Australia's Constitution, only eight have ever been approved. Our communities like the Constitution and the fact that the Crown was the basis on which the Australian Constitution was formed. When the former Government removed the oath of allegiance in New South Wales, the Governor from Government House and the portraits that were signed by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh from the Parliamentary Dining Room most people in New South Wales were horrified. They were horrified that not only that could be done but, more importantly, that it could be done without any democracy and consultation. That was a trademark of the former Government and members opposite should be ashamed of it. So far, this Government has righted two of the previous Labor Governments wrongs. Her Excellency the Governor and Sir Nicholas have been reinstated in Government House and I am pleased to say that the signed portraits of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh are now back where they belong, hanging in the Strangers Dining Room. I believe this bill will right the third wrong.
I ask how it can be that this State does not give New South Wales members of Parliament or the Executive Council the option to take an oath or affirmation of allegiance to a monarch who is legally and historically recognised within New South Wales and in our nation as a whole. The former Labor Government has tried to rewrite history and deny its sins of the past, and this is yet another example of that occurring. The former Government tried to deny us our heritage, history and constitutional due by pushing its faceless men's back-room republican agenda. Members opposite say that their pledge is to the people of New South Wales, whom they purport to represent and serve honourably. If that is the case why were the people of New South Wales not consulted on the decision to remove the oath of allegiance?
Members opposite, while in Government, never represented the people of New South Wales honourably. So why should we believe that this was their intention when they removed the oath of allegiance? The people of Australia delivered a resounding no to the 1999 referendum on a republic, but it appears that some members opposite clearly do not accept the people's vote. People have always embraced all the visits to Australia by Her Majesty since her first visit on 3 February 1954. People cannot get enough of the Royal family, no matter who comes to this wonderful country. Every week our magazines have stories of the Royal family and they are best sellers when a member of the Royal family is featured on the cover.
The Royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton last year saw records broken for television coverage; and for those lucky enough to be there, the crowd was as large as that for the Queen's coronation. If I had a dollar for every Labor politician who fell over himself or herself to be part of the wonderful Royal wedding or Her Majesty's visit to Australia last year, I would have to include it on my pecuniary interest return and claim it as a second job. The hypocrisy of the Prime Minister in attempting to be part of all things Royal due to the popularity of the Royals equals the day I walked into my office in Parliament House about a month ago and saw a picture of the Prime Minister on the front page of the Catholic Weekly
. That is a story for another day.
If members of the public are no longer interested in the monarchy, as the Opposition would have us believe, they have a strange way of showing us. I am proud that Her Majesty's portrait is displayed in the New South Wales Parliament. I ask this House: Why is it that we cannot choose to respect and honour the heritage of this country by acknowledging its rich history and current status as a Commonwealth? I fully support this bill because it is a bill of choice. As an elected member of this House and as a patriot of our country and State, its people and their Queen I believe in our history, our present and our future as a member of the Commonwealth. I believe in the laws which were formed from British roots and the descendants of the First Fleet sent to New South Wales. I believe it is a member's right to take an oath or affirmation of allegiance. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour—The Assistant-Speaker) [4.10 p.m.]: I speak on the Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011. I listened with some distaste to the contribution of the member for Liverpool. He attacked Fred Nile and, although many of us might disagree with a lot of what Fred says, it is a disgrace for the member for Liverpool to call him a liar in this place. If he wishes to attack Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile or anyone else in this or the other place, as he reminded us in question time today, he can do it under Standing Order 73. Members should remember a couple of things about the member for Liverpool.
I have been in this place almost 22 years and he is the only member—probably the only member in the history of this place—who has actually been sat down in his maiden speech by a Speaker from his own party. This was because he was offensive. We have recently changed the standing orders. When Labor was last in government the member for Liverpool wrote a new set of standing orders even though he was not a member of the Standing Orders Committee. He had been a member when Paul Whelan was the chair. The committee only met once, the meeting was adjourned and never reconvened. In fact, the Standing Orders Committee did not reconvene for about 10 years, until we came to government. We were dictated to by the member for Liverpool because he wanted to change the standing orders in this House to suit himself and his socialist colleagues.
Mr Clayton Barr:
Point of order: My point of order is under Standing Order 76. The member is entitled to speak to the bill but the first two minutes of his dialogue have been about the reputation and behaviour of the member for Liverpool. I ask that you direct him to return to the leave of the bill.
ACTING-SPEAKER (Ms Melanie Gibbons):
Order! The member for Coffs Harbour was responding to the member for Liverpool, who spoke earlier.
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
I make the observation that this is the first time that the member for Cessnock has spoken today and he still has not mentioned the 300 to 500 jobs that have been lost in his electorate today. He is an apologist for the member for Liverpool. Members opposite have backed a republic, day in, day out. Australia is a constitutional monarchy. Following the 1975 sacking of Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke changed the Constitution but he did not remove the Queen from the Constitution. He left the monarchy as a safeguard. That safeguard is something that we, as members of Parliament who represent our constituents, acknowledge and should remain totally committed to upholding.
I am reminded also by the member for Camden that when Labor was government Meredith Burgmann could not get rid quick enough of the portrait of the Queen from the President's dining room. I am proud to say that portrait now hangs in the National Party room. It hangs there because we are proud to be supporters of a constitutional monarchy. The portrait of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip was removed from the dining room and hidden behind a pillar in the anteroom opposite the Jubilee Room—the Parkes Room. Every time school students or constituents visited the Parliament I proudly showed them what the clowns opposite did because they did not like a constitutional monarchy.
I refer members to a book entitled The King and his Dominion Governors
. That book was written in response to the sacking of Jack Lang by a Governor way back in the 1930s. Many people made contributions to the book, which included a thesis from a man named Tate. When the book was published it was endorsed by the author. He concluded that the Crown in New South Wales and Australia—New South Wales being the oldest State—was the people, and the Governors representing the Crown were in fact representing the people. As part of my duties in this House I sign every piece of legislation that goes from here to the Governor.
Mr Victor Dominello:
An excellent Governor.
Mr ANDREW FRASER:
An excellent Governor, as the Minister says. She is probably one of the finest Governors I have ever seen, and I think they have all added greatly to both New South Wales and Australia. If she regards a piece of legislation in this place to be offensive she has the right not to sign it, which means it cannot be brought into law. She has that authority because she represents the Crown, and the Crown is the people. The author of the book The King and his Dominion Governors
is none other than a highly rated Attorney-General of this country, an icon of the Labor Party, Justice H. V. Evatt. Doc Evatt has stated that the system we have is probably one of the best in the world. Australia is one of the oldest democracies in the world and its Constitution protects the people. What we are doing today is giving people a choice. People were given a choice on 26 March last year, a choice which resulted in 20 members of the Labor Party returned and this Government being elected with a massive majority.
I compliment Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile on this legislation. It gives members a choice to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen or the Crown, representing the people, or a pledge of loyalty. The choice is given to each of us, not to the member for Liverpool or Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. I believe that while ever we are a constitutional monarchy we have an obligation to swear the oath as put forward in this legislation. Those who do not will still represent their constituents without fear or favour. Members will have an opportunity to use whichever oath they wish to swear, but let us back old Doc Evatt and Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile and support this legislation so that we have a choice in New South Wales.
Mr CHRIS SPENCE
(The Entrance) [4.18 p.m.]: I support the Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011. I commend Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile for bringing the bill before the Parliament. I doubt there would be any member of the New South Wales Parliament who would not agree that Australia is a unique and blessed country. Our country has a rich history and heritage and since 1788 we have acknowledged and respected the sovereignty of the Crown. Under the Crown we have largely enjoyed political stability. Australians have not anguished over civil wars, immense political corruptions—other than the Labor Party—or oppression, as have many countries throughout their histories. It could be said in recent times that New South Wales was perhaps under immense political corruption. Australians enjoy a remarkable sense of freedom, which is planted and nurtured in our Constitution. The core of the Australian Constitution is written into its preamble, which states:
Whereas the people ... have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown …
In 1901 Australia set at the heart of her Constitution an allegiance to the Crown. Those who represent political parties, community groups and organisations, and who are elected to represent the people of New South Wales, are enabled and empowered by the Crown. The Crown is not politically partisan; it represents the whole of the people, unity of the States and the sovereign. Simply put, this bill seeks to return to future members and Ministers of the New South Wales Parliament the option to swear or affirm allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and successors prior to taking their seats or taking office. That will be offered as an alternative to the current pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales. In 2006 the Labor Government abolished the oath of allegiance, which had been in place since 1902.
That was a last ditch effort to re-energise republicanism, and it was an underhanded one at that. Some would say this was an act of treason. It is somewhat amusing to note that the very members of Parliament who voted for the oath of allegiance to be abolished in 2006 swore that oath upon their entry into the New South Wales Parliament. They would not have been able to take their seat if they had not sworn the oath. The efforts at republicanism were a vain attempt to diminish the significance and importance of acknowledging the Crown as sovereign to our State and country. Let us not forget that in 1999 the push by the republicans to abolish the Crown failed dismally. Why did it fail? It failed because Australians did not want to abolish the Crown. It may have been what the Labor Party, some academics or the trendy left wanted, but it is not what the people wanted. Prince Charles stated:
Something as curious as the monarchy won't survive unless you take account of people's attitudes. After all, if people don't want it, they won't have it.
I assure the House that if the people wanted Australia to become a republic the proposed changes to the constitution in 1999 would not have been so emphatically defeated. The people of Australia showed resounding support for our Commonwealth status. They sent a very clear message that becoming a republic was simply unacceptable. Every State voted down the proposed republic: New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and even Western Australia. Little has changed since 1999. As Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile stated in the other place:
There is little passion in the country for republican change ...
Edmund Burke stated:
Society is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
The constitutional system is intrinsically woven into Australian history, society and way of life. Returning the oath of allegiance to the New South Wales Parliament is a wholly appropriate act by this Government. The Liberal-Nationals Government is restoring what should never have been removed in the first place. Under the monarchy we enjoy great freedom, stability, safety and peace. It should never be forgotten by the Australian people that it is upon this foundation that the constitution, and Australia herself, is built. On 6 February 2012 the Queen reached her sixtieth year as Queen of our great nation. It is appropriate that after 60 years as our Queen, head of state and monarch that the Constitution Act 1902 be amended to once again include:
Mr DARREN WEBBER
I swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.
(Wyong) [4.24 p.m.]: The Constitution Amendment (Restoration of Oaths of Allegiance) Bill 2011 will go some of the way to undoing the damage done in 2006 by the Labor Government when it abolished the oath of allegiance and replaced it with the pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales. I wholeheartedly support the words spoken by the member for Coffs Harbour and the member for The Entrance in this debate. As a proud monarchist and patriot of our fine country I strongly support this bill. Its purpose is to amend the Constitution Act 1902 to give a member of the Legislative Council, Legislative Assembly or Executive Council the option of making an oath or affirmation of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors. It is an alternative to the pledge of loyalty to Australia and the people of New South Wales.
A key element of this bill is choice. I am a proud monarchist and patriot, as are many other members in this place. It is highly important that this Parliament acknowledge the strong support that exists for the monarchy and Commonwealth. This bill restores the choice of an individual member of Parliament which was unnecessarily removed under the Labor Government. Sitting members of Parliament and current Ministers will not be required to make a new oath or affirmation as to their allegiance or loyalty. However, it will be possible for any member who wishes to make a statement in Parliament about his or her preferred form of allegiance or loyalty—similar to the pledge just made by the member for The Entrance.
The significance of this oath dates back to 1856, the start of responsible government in this State. Members were required to take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. Labor's efforts to destroy this tradition have an origin well before 2006. Bob Carr twice attempted to remove any reference to the monarchy: first in 1993 and again in 1995. In 2006 when debating the issue it was stated that the purpose of the bill was to replace a "largely meaningless" oath. This shows how out of touch those opposite are with the will of the people of New South Wales and Australia. There is nothing meaningless about our personal heritage and the heritage in which we have formed civil governance in this nation.
This is just one of many issues on which the Labor Government took New South Wales out of step with our fellow States and Territories. It is important to note that federally, and in every other State and Territory, members of Parliament have the option to take an oath or affirmation of allegiance or pledge of loyalty to our Queen. New South Wales stands alone in its opposition to tradition and heritage—for the sole purpose of political ideology by those opposite. This bill provides greater consistency with practices elsewhere in Australia and within New South Wales. Currently the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Administrator, judges and justices of the peace are required to swear or affirm allegiance to the Queen under the Oaths Act.
Although those opposite refuse to admit it, and try to deny it wherever possible, the Australian people hold high regard and respect for our head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This was illustrated last year by the nation on two occasions. Australians embraced the royal visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. People young and old flocked to every vantage point possible to share in what was a truly special occasion. Her Majesty's visit last year was not the only royal occasion that captured the minds of the Australian people. The royal wedding between His Royal Highness Prince William and Catherine Middleton, to become the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was watched live by millions of Australians.
This bill reflects the sentiment of people across the State and respects our history. Australia is a proud member of the Commonwealth, in which it plays a key role. Australia sets exemplary standards for itself and is a respected Commonwealth member state. Not only do Australians lead the way with standards of governance but we also excel in other fields, including sports. In 1938 Sydney hosted the Commonwealth Games, then known as the British Empire Games. Since then Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne have hosted the games. In 2018 Australia will once again proudly host the Commonwealth Games. Through the republic referendum in 1999 Australia reconfirmed its loyalty and commitment to the Commonwealth and to the monarchy.
The vote was defeated federally, in every State, and in one of the two Territories. In New South Wales it was defeated 54 per cent to 46 per cent. Despite that result, in 2006 the Labor Government wilfully ignored the opinions of the majority of people and labelled the Act a "largely meaningless" oath. This Government supports choice and the ability for people to support the Commonwealth and the monarchy. I am a proud supporter of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I support the bill, the choice it offers to members of Parliament and the respect it shows to our nation's position within the Commonwealth, and a history of which we should all be extremely proud.
I thank the Hon. Fred Nile for the timely introduction of the bill as we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. At this time consideration is being given to renaming London's clock tower, commonly known as Big Ben, as Elizabeth Tower. Celebrations are occurring right across our great Commonwealth. I respect and am grateful for our democracy, our culture and the very language I speak, all of which have been inherited from the United Kingdom and its Westminster system and laws, with our monarch as its head of state. It is a system of government that has worked well for centuries. Australia's history since colonisation has come a long way from the early days of New South Wales as a penal colony. We should all embrace that rich history and be thankful for the contribution made by the Crown. Long live the Queen. I commend the bill to the House.
Pursuant to standing and sessional orders business interrupted and set down as an order of the day for a future day.