Radio Interview - 2GB Drive with Chris O'Keefe

19 Sep 2022
London, United Kingdom
Prime Minister
Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II; Republic debate; Meeting with King George III; Rugby League; National Memorial Service.

CHRIS O’KEEFE, HOST: England is waking up this morning to one of its biggest days in the nation's recent history the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Now, there are dozens of Australians representing us on this important day, but leading our contingent is the 31st Prime Minister of our great country, Anthony Albanese. And the Prime Minister joins us live from London. Anthony Albanese. Good morning, your time.

PRIME MINISTER ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Chris. It's a very momentous day here in London, a very historic day to be attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, who is the longest serving British monarch ever, and at 70 years and the second longest serving monarch in the world's history.

HOST: Have you got your suit on yet? It's only a couple of hours away now.

PRIME MINISTER: I do. There's quite an extensive security arrangement, as you can imagine. So we meet in a holding area, effectively in Chelsea, and then we travel by coach to Westminster Abbey together. A number of coaches will take the journey and then after the service at Westminster Abbey, we travel by coach again to St George's Chapel in Windsor for the committal service.

HOST: Are you with the Australian contingent or with other world leaders? What's the setup?

PRIME MINISTER: They have the 15 nations that are part of the realm, that have King Charles now as our Head of State and the countries for which Queen Elizabeth was our head of state, 15 of the 56 countries who are members of the Commonwealth. So I travelled last night to the reception at Buckingham Palace with King Charles and the Royal Family, with Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand, Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada and other leaders of around realm, the 15 countries are together.

HOST: What's it like on the streets of London this morning? I'm seeing pictures on Channel Nine now and it looks like it's already packed out.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, it's been quite extraordinary in London for the early mornings with jet lag. I've been waking up quite early and going on walks along the Thames and yesterday the queues to visit the lying in state of Queen Elizabeth went for many miles, they use that here in the UK. And, walking along the line as we were in the early hours of the morning, it's just quite extraordinary. You couldn't see the end of it. We walked quite a long walk yesterday morning and again this morning. This morning, of course, the queues have gone because I think they stopped people queuing yesterday early afternoon because people weren't going to get into Westminster Hall by 6:30 this morning. So it's been quite extraordinary. But wherever you go, there are huge numbers of people on the street around Buckingham Palace. Last night there were tens of thousands of people, as far as you could see, just essentially watching buses going to the entrance of Buckingham Palace. But I've run into a whole lot of Australians as well who’ve made the journey here. I've met people from Melbourne and Geelong and Sydney and from all around the country. I had a moment yesterday where someone yelled out in the line, ‘Hey, Albo’. And I went over and of course, I have security with me. And I said, ‘Where are you from?’ And he said, ‘Kent’.

HOST: That's pretty good.

PRIME MINISTER:  He was a young fellow who was a follower of Australian politics. But people are really engaged and there is certainly a deep affection for Queen Elizabeth. You can just feel it right around the streets of London.

HOST: On that, you might not be a monarchist, but you've clearly got a deep respect for what Queen Elizabeth has done and the role that the Crown plays in our national life. Has that been through this process difficult for you to reconcile your own personal views on a republic and the role and the duty you have to play as the Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:  Not at all. I have been perfectly comfortable with my own views about the constitution and Australia's future, with my total respect and admiration for Queen Elizabeth and her extraordinary life of service. To be the head of the Commonwealth for 70 years is quite remarkable. To serve for such a long period of time with such fidelity, with grace, with commitment, with a love and commitment to her family, to the Crown, to the Commonwealth, is quite extraordinary. She, of course, visited 16 times to Australia. She visited the largest cities like Sydney, but also was a regular visitor in regional and, indeed, in remote Australia as well. And she attended the big events, the opening of the Opera House, the opening of the new Parliament House, but also reached out at times of difficulty for Australia. And I think that regardless of your views about constitutional issues, you can have nothing but respect for Queen Elizabeth. And I think that is what we are seeing.

HOST: Have you taken a second to sort of reflect yourself? You grew up in a council flat in Camperdown. A single mother, your late mother Maryanne, a disability pensioner. She raised you herself. What do you think she would be thinking right now that her son is standing in London about to represent Australia at Queen Elizabeth II's funeral? It's quite extraordinary.

PRIME MINISTER: It's an extraordinary honour, but it's a great country. Australia is a land of opportunity, where no matter how humble your beginnings – a bit of luck, of course, is required – but you can have the opportunity to have a life that is far more prosperous than you could have expected. And we need to make sure that we keep Australia like that and that it continues to be a country of opportunity. But I had a sense yesterday when I attended Buckingham Palace, but the day before as well when I had the one on one meeting with King Charles, there was a sense of history, the substantial moment that I was experiencing as Australia's Prime Minister, meeting with our new Head of State the first in seventy years. The last time that occurred, Sir Robert Menzies was the Prime Minister of Australia. I certainly never take a day for granted in the position that I hold. I regarded as an incredible privilege and it's been terrific as well to share this experience with the nine. Unfortunately, Chris Waller, due to Covid issue, wasn't able to attend, but the nine extraordinary Australians who the palace wanted to have.  That representation here at the funeral service is led by Dylan Alcott, the Australian of the Year, but some remarkable people who are representing Australia at the funeral. And it's been really good to get to know them in a detailed way. You get to know people when you spend 30 hours on a flight over here, as well as the time here.  But it's been a remarkable experience, certainly one that I won't forget, to be part of this historic occasion.

HOST: When you met, had your audience with King Charles, did you think to yourself, ‘Gee, I don't want to do the Paul Keating and accidentally put my hand on his back or curtsy or bow out of order’ or anything like that?

PRIME MINISTER:   No, it's a very warm gathering and King Charles, of course, has a great affection for Australia, he finished his schooling in Victoria. I really felt for him at this time. He and the Queen Consort are working so hard and he, of course, is grieving his mother. It must be extraordinarily difficult for him. There was the reception last night, there were a couple of hundred people there, including President Biden and Emmanuel Macron and world leaders all there, as well as members of the British Cabinet there last night. The Labour leader, Keir Starmer was there as well. So it was quite a gathering and I did feel for him, the fact that his period of grieving is such a public event must be difficult but part of the sacrifice that is made. And I reflected on the Queen's life of 70 years in the absolute public spotlight. She could never just go down the pub or go to a coffee shop or just do activity that you and I have taken for granted for all of our lives.

HOST: And I know you've been at pains to dodge any questions or conversations about a republic. I think it's the right thing to do. But why have you been so resolute about that?

PRIME MINISTER:  Because it is the right thing to do. I have a responsibility as Prime Minister of Australia to, at a time like this, reflect the respect that quite frankly, the Queen is absolutely entitled to for that life of service that she lived, the respect which Australians hold. And I feel that sense of responsibility. Debates about constitutional issues, all of those issues will occur, of course, as they have. It's a continuous debate about the nature of our country and that's appropriate. I'm not critical of others who made comments, it's up to them. But I'm very conscious of the responsibility that I was given on the 21 May. And that is an incredible honour to be Prime Minister of our great nation. And I don't take it for granted. I take those responsibilities very seriously.

HOST: Well, you haven't put a foot wrong, Prime Minister, and we appreciate you coming on this afternoon. Now, we know that the funeral is a big deal, but there's another big event this week, South Sydney versus Penrith.

PRIME MINISTER:  Well, the boys did very well on Saturday. I must say that I missed most of the game, unfortunately. I did catch up on replay. I've got to say, the replay of last year's Grand Final, it will be a great match, no doubt, and I will certainly be back for it. I haven't missed South Sydney playing in a Semi Final since the 1980s. Now, that sounds like a big statement, except for when you remember we went a very long period of time, including the entire time I was on the board, without playing a Semi Final. So I look forward to Saturday night very much and I just hope that AJ and the people who suffered injuries are all fit and able to get on the field.

HOST: Thank you so much for your time, Prime Minister. I appreciate you got much more important business to take care of and I hope today goes off without a hitch because, my God, doesn't Queen Elizabeth deserve it.

PRIME MINISTER: She certainly does and I'm sure it will, but the preparation here is down, literally, to the minute. It's quite extraordinary that, from the time that Her Majesty passed away in the early hours our time of last Friday morning, the arrangements that had been in place for a very long period of time, well before I became Prime Minister. Whether it be here in the UK or also in Australia. Australians will have the opportunity to watch the memorial service that will take place in the Great Hall on Thursday at 11:00 a.m. That will be a very significant historical event and, of course, it will be a public holiday on Thursday. That's one of the things that was in the run sheet, if you like. The protocol that had been put in place for a long period of time is that the National Day of Mourning would be the day after the Governor-General and I returned. And then we'll have the condolence motion in the Parliament on Friday and that will be an opportunity for Members of Parliament to express their condolences to the Royal Family and to the people of the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Commonwealth.

HOST: Thank you very much PM, I really appreciate your time.