It is stating the obvious that the late Queen Elizabeth II has always been part of our lives. Even the most passionate republicans who read The Sydney Morning Herald will accept that she has been a reassuring constant. After all, only 14 per cent of Australians now alive have experienced any monarch other than her majesty.
There are many reasons for this but, especially given the length of time she was on the throne and the immense changes in public attitudes which occurred over that 70-year period, strength of character must bulk largest of all.
Queen Elizabeth II with prime minister John Howard at a dinner at the Festival Centre February 27, 2002 in Adelaide.Credit:Tony Lewis
On her 21st birthday, speaking from South Africa, the then Princess Elizabeth declared “my whole life, whether it be long or short, will be devoted to you and to the service of the great imperial family to which we all belong”.
That declaration committed the future Queen Elizabeth II to 75 years of consistent fealty to the coronation oaths she would take in June 1953.
Just how faithful she was to that promise was exemplified by the fact that on September 7 she accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson as the 14th British prime minister of her reign and, on his recommendation, commissioned Liz Truss to be the 15th. She died two days later. To the very end she honoured that promise.
Presiding over a democratic change of prime ministers encapsulates the genius of our constitutional monarchy. The identity of the prime minister from time to time is usually determined by a change in the majority party in the popular house of parliament, in Australia’s case, the House of Representatives. Normally, this follows an election. It can also be produced by a shift of leadership allegiance within the majority party in that house. That was the case with Johnson and Truss.
Such changes occur in a direct and sometimes abrupt democratic fashion. When the monarch gives his or her legal authority to a change, the democratic will is invested with the sanction of tradition and legal acceptance. This flows from the long-established apolitical role occupied by the sovereign in our system of government.
The conjunction of events involving Boris Johnson and Liz Truss was a vivid metaphor, not only of how our system works, but how unswerving the Queen has been in honouring the commitment given 75 years earlier.
Robert Menzies was prime minister of Australia when she came to the throne on February 6, 1952. Winston Churchill was prime minister of Great Britain; Harry Truman was president of the United States, and Josef Stalin was still the murderous dictator of the Soviet Union. The Communists had just taken over in China, which remained a prostrate, poverty-stricken outlier among nations.
The world, as well as our country, were different places then. As the decades rolled by not only did personnel change and die, but regimes came and went. The most conspicuous was the collapse of the Soviet Union and its subjugated empire in 1989. The changes were not confined to those of a political kind. The 1960s witnessed massive social upheaval and questioning of traditional attitudes, values and institutions.
Throughout this, esteem and respect for Elizabeth II remained. There were difficult times, particularly during the 1990s, but by continuing to do her duty she retained the affection of her people. A principal reason was she always understood that she owed her position not to some mysterious mandate of destiny, but rather through the consent and free will of the people who called her Queen.
This was demonstrated when Australia, uniquely thus far among the Queen’s realms, held a referendum in 1999 to decide whether that consent should be withdrawn. The Queen followed the course of that referendum intently, but never wavered from the absolute requirement that it was for the Australian people alone to decide. In my judgment, the Australian people made the right decision then.
It has been my honour, including before and after I served as prime minister, to speak to the Queen on many occasions. Her affection for, and knowledge of, our country was undoubted. She was always well-informed about recent happenings in Australia.
The late Queen had that wonderful gift of putting people at ease. Possessed of a splendid memory, she frequently astonished people she had met years earlier by recalling their names. She had a lively sense of humour, which facilitated easy conversation.
Her extraordinary life was underpinned by a strong religious faith and the deep affection evident in her lifelong partnership with the late Prince Philip.
In remaining steadfast to that simple promise made several generations ago, Queen Elizabeth II has bequeathed a legacy of stability and unity for which we should all be grateful.
The Opinion newsletter is a weekly wrap of views that will challenge, champion and inform your own. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article