Radio interview - ABC Radio Melbourne with Virginia Trioli

19 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Queen Elizabeth’s funeral; Meeting with King Charles; Meetings with Prime Ministers Truss and Trudeau; Family memories of Queen Elizabeth

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Prime Minister, thanks so much for joining us here in London.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Good morning, Virginia.

TRIOLI: So what was it like being in Westminster Hall, with the Queen lying in state? What was that experience like?

PRIME MINISTER: It was a very solemn occasion, and it was very emotional. And you could feel the emotion from people as they were filing through. And it was an important moment in history as well to recognise that the Queen was lying in state, having served for 70 years as a monarch, but having lived a very full life for her 96 years.

TRIOLI: What struck you most strongly in that room, in that moment?

PRIME MINISTER: The sense of history really. You see the Beefeaters and that whole sense that you were a part of it. I feel a real sense of privilege, as well, to be the Australian Prime Minister. I have visited Westminster Hall on many occasions, that's where often you walk through in order to get into the chambers of Parliament. I've had many meetings there over a long period, going back to my first visit to London which was as a backpacker in 1988. And so this was a very different occasion, but I was back in the same room.

TRIOLI: I know you can't speak in detail about your conversation with the King. But was there something that you most wanted to say to him, to communicate to him?

PRIME MINISTER: I really wanted to express a personal condolence on the loss of his mother. I think the whole world is focusing on the loss of a Sovereign, the loss of a Head of State. But for King Charles, it's also a very personal loss. And I wanted to express my personal feelings about that. But I think Australians as well acknowledge that the loss of a mum is particularly special, and it comes so soon after the loss of his father.

TRIOLI: Was he as you expected, was there anything about him that surprised you?

PRIME MINISTER:  He was less tired than is reasonable to have expected frankly, given the extraordinary schedule. And what must be, of course, a very emotional time for him as well as physically tiring. But he was very focused. And it was a very positive meeting. And it was a great honour to have the first face to face meeting with King Charles. I felt that sense of history, the last time we had a change in monarch, Sir Robert Menzies was the Prime Minister of Australia. So it is a very long gap in between.

TRIOLI: And is it like it is in the Crown? Do they sort of buzz you in with a bell, and you know, you go in and bow? Is it just like that, what's that experience like?

PRIME MINISTER: No, but you are briefed upon the appropriate protocols. And I've been determined to pay respect for all of the protocols that had been in place for a long period of time. And I've done that as the Australian Prime Minister, I think that's what the people of Australia would expect. But I've also done that out of respect for Queen Elizabeth and respect for institutions. I think that institutions are important, traditions are important and protocols are important. At this time we've seen the British traditions put in place, but we've also seen Australia respond, I think, so warmly. Queen Elizabeth visited Australia on 16 occasions, she served 16 Australian Prime Ministers who engaged with Queen Elizabeth, 16 Governors-General. This was a very long period of service done diligently done with absolute commitment.

TRIOLI: You speak about the protocols as if they do require you to in some way, if not justify them, then explain why they unnecessary. Are you speaking in that way because, you know, there is a sense by some back home in Australia that a lot of this is nonsense, or is archaic or is outdated? So you're speaking as if the idea of those protocols need some sort of context put around them in order to be understood properly?

PRIME MINISTER: I think they're important, the protocols. They've been in place for a long period of time. And when we were notified of the Queen's passing in the very early hours of Friday morning, arrangements that had been discussed and put in place by the Palace with the Australian Government for a long period of time. Certainly, they were in place a lot longer than I've been the Prime Minister. And I had that sense as well, a sense of responsibility.

TRIOLI: I know again, that you don't speak in detail about what you discussed with the King. But was there any discussion or even allusion to republican sentiment in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't discuss the detail, but this is a time of respect for Queen Elizabeth. It's not a time in my view for those discussions to take place in any detail. Of course, people have different views about our constitutional system, and that's fine and it's fine for people to express them. But as the Australian Prime Minister, I have a responsibility to use this time to express my respect for Queen Elizabeth and for acknowledging, as well, the extraordinary responsibility that now King Charles has as our Head of State, that's a system of government that we have.

TRIOLI: Prime Minister, this funeral is considered the biggest single gathering of world leaders in living memory, which is quite remarkable. Is that an opportunity for you and Australia to have side meetings, either formally or more casual catch-ups that might be useful for Australia and Australia's interests?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there will be engagement and some of that on a relatively informal basis. I've had a successful meeting and discussion with Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada. There will be other engagements that will occur. But the focus is very much on Her Majesty's funeral that will take place tomorrow. It will be a solemn occasion, but it is inevitable that as we come across each other, it helps to build relations which are very important.

TRIOLI: Well, I know that you've met up with the UK Prime Minister, Liz Truss. Was there a central issue there that you wanted to discuss with her in that meeting?

PRIME MINISTER: It was a good gathering. I visited her in what is the Foreign Secretary's residence down in Kent. And we had a good discussion about the range of issues and about the relationship that we have between Australia and the UK. Of course, we've come to an economic and trade agreement that is due to go through our Parliaments, we had a discussion as well about the potential visit by Prime Minister Truss to Australia. But we will gather on a more formal basis, of course, we'll meet at the G20 in a short period of time. We had shared a platform as speakers during a forum at the NATO summit in Madrid just a couple of months ago. So it was positive that I had met Prime Minister Truss before, I also got the opportunity to meet members of her family.

TRIOLI: The US President refused to meet Prime Minister Truss while here. Given how crucial that relationship is to stability within AUKUS, accepting of course, more generally, that it is as well, does that worry you that he wouldn't?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that's a matter for him. The primary concern of why we're all here is the funeral of Queen Elizabeth and it is appropriate that that be the focus. Inevitably there'll be the odd discussion as well on the side of that, but that is the focus of what we are all paying attention to over these few days.

TRIOLI: You mentioned backpacker: what role, if any, did the monarchy play in your family's life? Was your mother, for example, a fan of the Queen?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, my mother was a republican, but also liked the Queen. I think you can have different views but have respect for Queen Elizabeth and the role that she had. When I was about to be born, my mother in 1963, the royal visit, my mother insisted on the way to the hospital to give birth to me, going via the city, George Street, to see all the festival paraphernalia.

TRIOLI: You mean you could have been born amongst all the bunting?

PRIME MINISTER: Well apparently my family used to tell that story about my mother insisting that while she was in labour on the way to the hospital. And that's a story that is fairly famous in my family, so my mother did have regard for Queen Elizabeth. I think the fact that Queen Elizabeth was such a strong woman was a role model as well for so many people.

TRIOLI: And Anthony Albanese, did backpacker you ever imagine that you'd be here in this position? And is he sort of pinching you from time to time saying, 'look where you are?'

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly not, you would have got pretty good odds at that time. But it says a lot about Australia. We are the land of opportunity. And I appreciate the opportunity that I've been given and the great privilege that I have. And that's why I'm absolutely determined to show the high office that I have the respect that it deserves.

TRIOLI: Thanks for your time Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Virginia.