16 August 2023


DE MARTINO (Monbulk) (11:49): It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Statute Law Amendment (References to the Sovereign) Bill 2023. Yesterday in the government business program debate yesterday I stated that this bill is not the most earth-shattering piece of legislation this place has ever seen. It is not legislation which may make a material difference to the lives of Victorians per se, but it is an important bill nonetheless. Statute law amendment is a longstanding and common feature of parliamentary legislative practice, with the purpose –


Emma Kealy: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, I know it is not parliamentary to do this; however, at the end of the contribution by the member for Euroa, the member for Frankston said, ‘Come on, Willy Wonka. Sit down.’ It is entirely inappropriate for any member of this place to reflect on a woman based on what she is dressed in. This is typical of what we see from the Andrews Labor government. While I cannot take offence on behalf of the member, I would urge you to speak to the member about appropriate respect for women in this place but also appropriate commentary across the chamber, because calling anybody names is not something that any member of this Parliament should be undertaking.


Paul Edbrooke: On the point of order, Acting Speaker, anyone in this chamber who feels like they have been offended is entitled to stand up in this chamber and say that. I think the member that just spoke and raised this point of order might be a little bit confused. At the end of the member’s statement the member referenced a golden ticket – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl – and that was all there was to it. There was no reflection on that member themselves.


The ACTING SPEAKER (Paul Hamer): Member for Lowan, I did not hear the member for Frankston. I can refer the matter to the Speaker for her assessment.


Daniela DE MARTINO: Where was I? Statute law amendment is a longstanding and common feature of parliamentary legislative practice, with the purpose of addressing formal issues, making editorial changes and modernising drafting styles. This statute law amendment will change all references to ‘Her Majesty the Queen’ to ‘His Majesty the King’ across all affected legislation in our state and will ensure that each Victorian act therefore is accurate and reflects the fact that the head of state is now a man, namely King Charles III. I have lost a bit of time there with the point of order, so I might skip some of my history lessons that I was really excited about introducing.


Members interjecting.


Daniela DE MARTINO: Oh, okay. The old history teacher in me does find it quite interesting that we have only had four changes of sovereign gender in the time that Victoria has been a state as we know it today. The first time was in 1837 with the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne, and the fourth time was obviously last year when King Charles III ascended to the throne. You have to go back, prior to Queen Victoria, 234 years for the last change of gender, to 1603, when Elizabeth I died and was replaced by James I. So it does not happen that often, but it has happened.


Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years, and her passing was certainly the end of an era. It was a period of time, those 70 years, which saw significant world events and shifting attitudes. I have been an avowed republican for as long as I can remember, but I do have to say I held the Queen in high regard as a woman very much in a man’s world who held her own. Her sense of duty and dedication to a role which she never even chose was beyond admirable. I do not know how many of us could have done what she did for as long as she did.


At the time of her ascension to the throne Australia was very much still wedded to Britain. Our currency was in pounds and shillings, we sang God Save the Queen as our national anthem and our trade was predominantly with the United Kingdom, to the extent that when the UK entered the European Economic Community in 1973, the impact on our agricultural sector and exports as a nation was devastating. Our red meat, butter and sugar exports dropped dramatically overnight. The UK was one of Australia’s largest export destinations for red meat, the largest market for butter and a major destination also for cheese exports. The UK made a decision 50 years ago, which it was well within its rights to do, to link itself with Europe at the expense of Australia’s trade and economy.


I will leave my comments regarding the UK’s uncoupling from Europe in recent years – or Brexit, as it is more commonly known – for another time. This is not meant to be a lesson on European politics, even though that was my major at university, but I use this information to highlight a mere smattering of some significant changes which have occurred in Australia and, by extension, Victoria to our relationship with the United Kingdom over the past 71 years. What did remain a constant, though, was the fact that our head of state, as well as theirs, was Queen Elizabeth II. That obviously changed last September with her passing. The Elizabethan era has ended and a new Carolean one has begun. It is therefore apt that our statutes are updated to reflect not only the change in gender of the monarch but in the process some antiquated terms that need modernising as well.


Now, I note that the opposition is opposing some of the modernisation of the terms, as if there is some kind of plot to create a republic of Victoria by stealth. Apart from the fact that it is clearly impossible for this to be done, it is not the intention at all. As my good friend the member for Greenvale elucidated in great detail in his contribution to this debate, several of the terms to be omitted or replaced are of a different era and have little place in a modern country with modern drafting of legislation. I would like to address the opposition’s concerns; I do hope they are listening. For example, the oath of police officers – several of them have expressed concerns, commencing yesterday with the member for Kew, that the bill amends all three oaths to omit all references to ‘Lady the Queen’ and substitute those references to ‘Her Majesty’s peace’ with ‘the peace’. The member for Kew stated it was:


… a significant symbolic change and will result in officers taking a different oath to those that have come before them, despite no change to our system of government actually taking place.


The concern from the opposition is that the changes seek to diminish the role of the sovereign in our political and legal system. The member for Mornington also echoed this, as did the member for Euroa. Now, I would like to assuage the concerns of the opposition in this regard, and I do so with some facts. Twenty-one years ago in the United Kingdom the Police Reform Act 2002 changed their oath. The prior oath stated:


I, ……… of ……… do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve Our Sovereign Lady the Queen in the office of constable, without favour or affection, malice or ill will –


it continues –


and prevent all offences against the persons and properties of Her Majesty’s subjects …


The revised form, which was adopted in 2002, now reads:


I … do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen –


not our sovereign ‘Lady the Queen’, simply ‘the Queen’ –


in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property …


which removes the prior reference to ‘persons and properties of Her Majesty’s subjects’. That is in the United Kingdom, and the reason for the change came from the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales, on which all of the police main police organisations are represented, who stated that:


… the wording of the attestation should be changed to make it clear that police officers had a duty to uphold the rights of and protect everyone living or staying in the country, not just Her Majesty’s subjects.


So I will say once again: we can assuage the concerns of the opposition by the fact that the United Kingdom itself adopted the changes and replaced the wording ‘our Lady the Queen’ with simply ‘the Queen’, and removed references to ‘Her Majesty’s subjects’ to broaden the terms and make them more applicable to all within the country at any point in time, not just subjects of the sovereign.


Guess what happened when they adopted the changes two decades ago? The sky did not fall in, and they remain a constitutional monarchy. So I can say with a fair degree of certainty that the changes this amendment bill proposes will also not cause the collapsing in of the sky. Short of a federal referendum on becoming a republic, which needs to be passed by all of us in a majority of states, nothing, not even this fairly innocuous bill, will result in changes to our status as a constitutional monarchy or will affect our relationship with the monarchy or the United Kingdom.


Now, I note, as I said, that some of this time has been lost, so I do hope that my contribution has been illuminating for all members of the chamber, in particular the opposition. Do not feel threatened by this act. Please do not feel threatened; we are not here to create a republic by stealth, we are merely adopting changes which are accurate and reflect modern drafting terms. And with that, thank you.