Last Thursday, the 8th of September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at 96 in her estate at Balmoral Castle, Scotland. The United Kingdom is currently in a period of national mourning while they prepare for the queen’s funeral which will be held at Westminster Abbey on Monday, the 19th of September commencing at 11am BST (8pm AEST) (Nuzzo, 2022).
Queen Elizabeth’s reign began after the passing of her father, King George VI, in 1952. She served as queen of the Commonwealth for 70 years, it’s longest reigning monarch.
We are now at the end of an era and the start of another. For several generations we have only ever known Queen Elizabeth as our monarch. Now we must adjust to the reign of her successor, His Royal Highness Charles Mountbatten-Windsor, who has claimed his throne and title as King Charles III at 73 years old. His wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, will now be known as the queen Consort and the previous Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will succeed their title to Prince William and Princess Catherine of Wales (Bowden, 2022).
Many of us wonder whether the loss of her husband – Prince Phillip – on April 9th last year and her diagnosis of COVID-19 earlier this year may have played a part in the queen’s sudden passing (BBC News & Metro, 2022).
While the UK has been shaken by this news, Australia seems to have mixed opinions about it, leaving many of us divided and confused. So as Australians, how are we actually affected by the change of monarch?
Well, according to constitutional expert and Senior Lecturer at ANU, Dr Jelena Gligorijevic, ‘In one word, nothing changes in the legal sense’. While there will be minor changes to legal procedures, we are barely impacted at a government level (Sky News, 2022).
Arguably, the biggest impression that this will have on Australia will be the 15-day suspension of federal parliament, of which only four days have been scheduled, in the lead up to the queen’s funeral (Sky News, 2022).
With the federal budget expected just around the corner at the end of October, this has outraged many Australians. They have ridiculed parliament for once again showing their privilege over the public. The Daily Mail quoted a social media post on the issue, stating that ‘…ordinary Aussies get two days of bereavement leave when an actual loved one dies, yet the parliament is getting 15 days of paid leave for the queen’s passing’. Another wrote, ‘What? How can we afford that? Why do they need 15 days off, fully paid? No employee in the country would ever get that’ (White & Moore, 2022).
As a reader and a citizen, I can understand the upheaval that the queen’s passing and change of monarch could have on the government. However, the pausing of Parliament is not a legal requirement but is intended as a sign of respect. According to an article in The Conversation, there are numerous laws stating that the death of the queen – or in official terms the ‘demise of the crown’ – should not disrupt legal proceedings, invalidate laws, or require officials to re-take their oath to the new reigning monarch (Twomey, 2022).
By law, parliamentarians across Australia are not required to swear an oath to the new King. This is because when they original took the oath, they swore in the queen and her successors. Victoria is the only state in Australia exempt from this, the Victorian MP and their team will need to swear in the new monarch before they can carry out any of their duties (Sky News, 2022).
In a show of national respect for the queen’s passing, across Australia, flags will fly at half-mast with Parliament House already setting the example. Later this week our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, and our Governor-General, David Hurley, will fly to London. There they will attend the queen’s funeral, paying their respects to the late monarch, and meet with King Charles III (Twomey, 2022).
Upon the Prime Minister and Governor General’s return to Australia we will be granted a ‘day of mourning’, taking place on the 22nd of September (Waterhouse, 2022). The queen’s birthday will still be a national public holiday across Australia; however, it will be renamed as the King’s Birthday and if he requests it could be moved to date closer to his birthday in November (Taylor, 2022).
Current seals, passports, and currency will eventually be replaced by new items representing King Charles III. However, current passports will be valid until their expiry and all currency bearing the queen will remain in use for the time being.
There has been speculation of whether the change in reign could stir up a call for Australia to leave the Commonwealth and form a republic. In 2000, under the Labor government, a referendum was held on whether Australia should become a republic with nationwide votes ruling in favour of remaining part of the Commonwealth.
If we were to hold a second referendum on the concept, where would that lead us? With how divided our nation is over the monarchy, there is no real way of telling which way the scale would tip (Waterhouse, 2022).
While legally in Australia, we have been barely affected by the loss of our queen. Are we losing an icon? In the queen’s 72 years of reign, what has she done for us?
The queen has done many admirable things, even before her reign. At just 18 years old, Queen Elizabeth joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territory Service in World War II as an auto mechanic. While she was not in combat the role still had its risks, with at least 335 ATS members killed during the war (Somers, 2022).
Crowned queen at the young age of 25, Elizabeth set out to change the way the royal family interacted with the public, attempting to modernise the monarchy. Over her long reign Queen Elizabeth has taken advantage of various forms of mass media. She was the first to televise speeches and events and over-saw the introduction of social media to the British royal family. This aimed to keep the monarchy relevant and respected by the public (CNN, 2022).
While Queen Elizabeth was not the founder of the Commonwealth, she devoted her life to its service. She was the first British Monarch to address the US Congress. In 1991, amidst the Persian Gulf War, she called for harmony between the US and Europe, urging their two nations to act in solidarity and unity (World History Edu, 2022).
Along with the dedication to her service, the queen has also advocated for many societal issues. In 1966, Queen Elizabeth II used her Christmas broadcast as a platform to address the inequalities women faced in the UK, where abortion was still illegal and gender discrimination was quite common in the workplace (Keay, 2022). Furthermore, in 2013 the queen passed the Crown Act, eradicating the law that favoured succession to a male heir and allowing the succession of the crown to be dictated by age rather than gender (World History Edu, 2022).
However, the Queen did continue to turn a blind eye to several important societal issues. In Australia the queen continuously overlooked the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, failing to issue a long called for national apology or attempt to right the wrongdoings of her forebearers. According to an eye-opening piece written by the ABC (2022), many First Nations Australians have expressed their frustration for the queen’s lack of action to support them, and rightly so. Just in the last century, the First Nations people were forced to live in missions and granted few human rights across Australia, where the last Aboriginal mission closed in Queensland in 1987 (Barnard, 2010). Even now the British monarchy has made no attempt to hear out the First Nations Australians, failing to acknowledge the injustice they have faced under British rule or grant them rights to the lands which belong to them. Professor O’Sullivan, a Wiradjuri man, puts it perfectly; ‘She had a voice that we didn’t have, and that voice would have gone a long way to effecting change’ (Brennan et al., 2022).
There are many other issues which can be argued that the queen had a hand in and didn’t see to change them for the better. For example, the queen has overseen the Commonwealth’s involvement in several controversial conflicts. Samah Seger, an Iraqi woman, voiced her hurt through Aotearoa Liberation League’s (ALL) social media platforms, where she exposed the massacre of many of her people by the British forces under the queen’s rule. In the video, she states that the queen is, ‘For many people, is a Symbol of Genocide, Colonisation, and all the violent institutions’ (Seger, 2022).
As for King Charles III, what will he bring to the monarchy? We cannot be sure of his future contributions. We can only hope that alongside King Charles III’s reign comes climate change action, which he has been an outspoken advocate for. Hopefully, with his influence we can take steps towards a better future for the environment (Lo, 2022).
There is no argument that the queen will be forever remembered for her long reign and numerous accomplishments. But what of the monarchy? Are they more figure head, than actual leaders? Will Australia push to become a republic, or stay content as a member of the Commonwealth? So many questions and countless opinions but the only thing we know for sure Queen Elizabeth II has passed and with it, her reign. Leaving behind King Charles III with some big shoes to fill and the heavy weight of expectation.
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White, N., & Moore, M. (2022). Australians erupt over politicians’ 15 day break from Parliament after Queen’s death when average workers are entitled to only TWO days of bereavement leave: ‘No employee in the country would ever get that’. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11195477/Parliament-cancelled-15-DAYS-Queens-death.html
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Wilding, D. (1956). [whole-plate film negative]
Wilding, D. (1952). [whole-plate film negative]
Author: Based in Brisbane, Jordyn Dwyer (she/her) is an aspiring writer, currently studying Creative Writing through a Fine Arts degree at QUT. She is a deeply passionate and creative person, who has the dreams of becoming a published writer as well as, becoming a journalist for BBC Earth.
Image Reference: Wilding, D. (1956). [whole-plate film negative]
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Grace Harvey