I, as do my Labor colleagues, speak in support of the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015. This bill will ameliorate some of the worst elements of the rules of succession to the British royal crown, including providing that men will no longer take priority over women in the line of succession—priority will simply be determined by the order of birth.
Finally, some 30 to 40 years later, we have the British monarchy catching up with the antidiscrimination and equal employment opportunity laws that exist throughout the Commonwealth. The bill also removes the bar to succession for an heir of the king or queen who marries a Catholic—an outdated and archaic restriction that existed in respect of the operation of the British monarchy.
The Labor Party support these reforms, which are consistent with our commitment to gender equality and religious freedom.
I am pleased to see that the British monarchy has finally brought their lineage practices into the 21st century. However, I despair that we are debating this bill in the Australian parliament at all in 2015.
I look forward to the day when the parliament of Australia no longer needs to debate and determine issues such as this.
I look forward to the day when an Australian is our head of state and when we as a nation finally have confidence in one of our own to hold the pinnacle position in our nation's Constitution—a constitution that truly reflects our identity and our independence as a people and our confidence and certainty about our future.
Comments that members on this side have made regarding our support for Australia becoming a republic are not monarchy bashing. I have no criticism of the British monarchy. The British monarchy has served Australia and been very generous to Australians over the last couple of centuries. But our future, our identity and our place in the world have very little to do with mother England these days.
Our trading relationship, our economic relationship, our cultural and people-to-people links are very much linked with our region of the world—the Asia-Pacific. China is now our nation's largest and most important trading partner. Our security comes from the ANZUS Treaty, principally our relationship with the United States.
It is time that our constitutional arrangements reflect that independence, our position in the world, those relationships and that confidence that Australians have about our future.
It is also time that we correct some of the inconsistencies that still exist in our Constitution relating to Australia having a head of state that is the British monarch.
Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states that no religious test can be applied to positions of public service under the Commonwealth. That principle in our Constitution, which is represented in our antidiscrimination legislation that governs not only how employment in the public service is undertaken but also how it is undertaken in most private institutions throughout the country, is upheld as a modern aspect of Australia's democracy. It is enshrined in our Constitution, committed to in our laws and upheld in everyday Australian society, except in the operation of the most important position under our Constitution—our head of state.
Only the King or Queen of England can be our nation's head of state, and only an Anglican can be the King or Queen of England. There is a massive inconsistency in the way we operate as Australians that still exists in our Constitution and relates back to our relationship with the monarchy.
I have two young daughters and, like every proud Australian father, I want the best for them. I despair that they cannot aspire to hold the position of head of state in our nation. In this modern day and age, a young Australian child cannot aspire to be our nation's head of state.
There is only one question that Australians need to ask themselves in respect of the republic debate, and that is: is an Australian capable of performing the duties of our head of state? The answer to that question is, of course, yes.
We have a Governor-General and have had several governors-general who have been very proud and performed capably in that position. If the answer to the question is that Australians are capable of performing the role of head of state, then why in 2015 can we not as a nation undertake the necessary mature debate and constitutional reform to bring about that ideal? It is incredible that in 2015 the Australian parliament is debating a bill relating to changes to the hereditary succession of the British monarch. How does this in any way relate to the lives of ordinary Australians?
Why on earth is this parliament devoting several hours to this issue? Surely, in 2015, we as a nation and as a people are mature and confident enough to appoint one of our own as our nation's head of state.
Curiously and interestingly, when we meet with representatives of other nations, particularly ambassadors and high commissioners in the Asia-Pacific region, those in our neighbourhood, they cannot believe and, quite frankly, bizarrely, do not understand why we do not have an Australian as our head of state.
You notice it in the big functions that often occur in this parliament, in the Great Hall, when a foreign dignitary or a foreign head of state visits. The cringe that goes around the room when the head of state of a foreign nation gets up and proposes a toast to the Queen of Australia and its people, and the confusion shown by foreign dignitaries around the room when that toast is given, is a great symbol of the complete misunderstanding and disbelief that exists amongst other nations in respect of our head of state. They often ask: why don't you Australians have the confidence to appoint one of your own as your head of state? Why doesn't your Constitution reflect your independence?
I want to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, for putting this issue, again, on the agenda here in Australia. It is about time we had another mature debate about our constitutional arrangements and Australia becoming a republic. It is clear that it will not happen under this Prime Minister—we know that—but we need to begin the discussion. We need a champion for a republic in Australia and, in my view, we have not had that champion since Paul Keating was our nation's Prime Minister.
However, I do believe that we now have it in the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. I congratulate him for the role that he is playing in putting this issue back on the agenda and for prompting Australians to question where our identity lies, what our future is about and why we cannot recognise our independence by having an Australian as our head of state.
We need to have a mature debate about our future identity and our Constitution. That debate must include the significant role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders have played in the development of our nation. I am thankful and grateful that we are having that debate in respect of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal Australians.
In conclusion, can I, again, say that I support this bill. It is a great pity that we have to debate these issues here in the parliament in 2015. It is about time that we got on with ensuring that we have a mature debate in Australia about our constitutional arrangements into the future and about Australia finally becoming a republic.