Television interview - Insiders

11 Sep 2022
Prime Minister
Passing of Her Majesty The Queen

DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Anthony Albanese has already had a busy first 100 days as Prime Minister and later this week, he will head to London to attend the Queen’s funeral and meet the new King. He joins me now, Prime Minister, welcome to the program

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Thanks for having me on David.

SPEERS: So, the funeral has been set for Monday 19 September. What about the national memorial service here in Australia. When will that be?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I will travel to London along with the Governor-General this Thursday evening. The funeral service will, of course, be on Monday, which was announced overnight by the Palace. I will return on Wednesday evening with the Governor-General and then the National Day of Mourning and the memorial service is set to be the day after. There are a lot of protocols here that have been in place for a long time. One of those is that the memorial service be the day after. It will be here in the Great Hall in Parliament House. I've already invited all of the Premiers and Chief Ministers who I spoke to yesterday.

SPEERS: And so will that day, Thursday of next week, 22 September, the National Memorial Service Day, that will be a public holiday in Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: It will be a one-off national public holiday. To allow people to pay their respects for the passing of Queen Elizabeth. I spoke to all Premiers and Chief Ministers yesterday and I'm writing to them formally this morning, they will have received their letters by now. They have all agreed that it's appropriate that it be a one-off national public holiday.

SPEERS: When you  leave for London, a little later this week to attend the funeral, will you be taking with you some of your Pacific Island counterparts as well?

PRIME MINISTER: What we've done is offer the 10 Pacific Island states who have that deep connection with the United Kingdom, and with the Sovereign, we have offered them assistance to get to London. We will also be providing assistance to New Zealand. Those arrangements are being worked through at the moment, but we want to make sure that for some of these states, like Tuvalu, it is difficult for them to get there. There are still restrictions on international travel. There aren't the number of flights that would normally have been available pre-COVID. So, as part of our support for our Pacific Island neighbours we're offering that.

SPEERS: They won't necessarily, the Pacific leaders, be on your plane?

PRIME MINISTER: No, not necessarily. But we've brought the entire Royal Australian Air Force VIP fleet, currently in Canberra. The Air Force are working through the details with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Foreign Affairs and Trade.

SPEERS: Just one more on the practicalities involved here. Parliament was due to sit this coming week, that’s not going to happen. Will there be a catch up week of sittings later in the year?

PRIME MINISTER: We will make up the four sitting days that did not go ahead, or won't go ahead this week. It would be difficult to envisage Parliament sitting and going through the sort of adversarial activity that occurs in our Parliament, under our Westminster system, that we've inherited. So, I think it is, was appropriate, and protocols required the automatic cancellation, but we want to make up those days. We've been in discussions with the Leader of the House, Tony Burke, the Leader in the Senate, Katy Gallagher, the Manager of Government Business and we will work through those potential dates. Of course one of the days will be devoted to people being able to give their condolences on the passing of Queen Elizabeth.

SPEERS: Look, let's talk about the death of the Queen. Australia has changed so much in the 70 years she was on the throne. This is a very different country to the Australia of the 1950s. Why do you think throughout it all Australians remain so attached to this Queen?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that is part of the point. That at a time of turbulence and change, the Queen was a reassuring presence. She was a constant. She evolved as well. If you look at the comments that she made and the engagement, it evolved over a period of time. When she first visited here back in 1954, it was a different Australia, but on that visit, she went to almost 60 cities and towns, right around Australia, every state and territory. Over that same number of days. But she continued to have that presence, she, of course, came here to open Parliament House and yesterday we had a very moving tribute at the Queen Elizabeth statue that’s here in place in Parliament House, that was put here in 1988 with the opening of the Parliament and many foreign dignitaries and representatives, Ambassadors, and High Commissioners came. I think that is a sign of the fact that Queen Elizabeth was held in such great respect and admiration, not just in Commonwealth countries, but indeed around the world.

SPEERS: What about the way she approached her constitutional role as our Head of State? What do you think made it a successful reign?     

PRIME MINISTER: I think the fact that she made it clear that Australia is in charge of our own destiny.

SPEERS: Stayed out of it.

PRIME MINISTER: She did indeed. During moments, during the referendum that was held, she wasn't a participant in that, she said she would respect the outcome of the Australian people determining a way forward. I think just the way that she conducted herself in public life. Seventy years of devotion to duty, of loyalty and of love. She had, I think the capacity to deal with Heads of State and she met with the British Prime Minister once a week of course over that time. She met with 16, well presided over, 16 Australian Prime Ministers. Sixteen Governors-General. That's a remarkable period. The longest serving ever British monarch, the second longest head of a sovereign state in the world's history. That's a remarkable achievement throughout it all. I think we saw in the clip you just showed, that grab, with Paddington Bear it just showed that she had that sense of humour as well.

SPEERS: Indeed. You've described her as a wise and encouraging counsel as well for the nation. You mention 16 Prime Ministers. Did you as Prime Minister have an opportunity to speak with her?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I had the opportunity to meet her and to speak with her when I travelled to London as part of the first Australian delegation, the first ever meeting of the G20 in the global financial crisis. There I think I got to see at Buckingham Palace, both sides of Queen Elizabeth. The formal side where there was the queue of people to shake hands or courtesy to the Queen, but then behind closed doors, with the leaders of the world's 20 largest economies - we were represented by Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and myself at that event - she made sure that she went around and spoke to every person in the room – I think there were three from each country, so 60 people, and give a bit of herself and that was typical of her commitment to duty and devotion but she was also very good humoured as well, there was a good spirit in the room.

SPEERS: That spirit and that humour, that's in part why there was such great affection for the Queen. How do you think Australians will approach King Charles?

PRIME MINISTER: Well King Charles represents a new era, the second Elizabethan era has now passed. King Charles will need to forge his own path. King Charles of course has been very active and outspoken on issues such as the need for the world to challenge climate change and to act on climate change.

SPEERS: Should he continue that?

PRIME MINISTER: In my view that would be appropriate. That's a matter for him, of course. But he’s also been very outspoken in the areas of the urban environment and the built environment as well. Something that’s a passion of mine, as you know, David, as someone with an interest in urban economics and how that impacts on the natural environment and how that impacts on climate change.

SPEERS: So you won't have a problem with the King speaking out on issues close to his heart, even if some might view it as moving away from political neutrality?

PRIME MINISTER: That's matter for him. I think dealing with the challenge of climate change shouldn't be seen as a political issue, it should be seen as an issue that is about humanity and about our very quality of life and survival as a world. This is a big threat and King Charles has identified that for a long period of time. I think engagement in issues is very different from engagement in party political matters. That would be entirely inappropriate.

SPEERS:  Of course. The institution itself, let me ask you about this. Does it make sense to you that a country like Australia still has a hereditary Head of State who lives in London?

PRIME MINISTER: My views on that, of course, are well known, and well documented. Now is not a time to talk about our system of Government. Now is a time for us to pay tribute to the life of Queen Elizabeth, a life well lived. A life of dedication and loyalty, including to the Australian people and for us to honour and grieve at the loss. Today we will be of course, commemorating the Proclamation of King Charles III as Australia's Head of State. That's the system of government that we have. It's one which as Australian Prime Minister I have a responsibility to respect

SPEERS: We know your views as a Republican, we know you've appointed an Assistant Minister for a Republic. When will be the time to have this conversation again? Are we talking about after the funeral and the national memorial service day?

PRIME MINISTER: Quite clearly, this is a time of national mourning that we’re engaged with. And on Thursday 22 September, that will be an opportunity for the nation to come together, here in Parliament House, there will be every State and Territory leader, there will be the High Court of Australia, Federal MPs from across the political spectrum, and also leaders of the legal system in which we operate. So it will be, I think, an important day and one which is something that we all thought - it was as if even though the Queen was 96 years of age and had lived such a long life, it still came as a shock. I think that says something about the way that the Queen was perceived as a constant in our lives.

SPEERS: Let me ask you this though,  for some Indigenous Australians, the monarchy is seen as, well the personification of British colonialism and dispossession. Do you understand that attitude and what do you say to those who might be feeling a little different on this occasion?

PRIME MINISTER: I respect the fact that people are entitled to their views. As Prime Minister, I'm not in a position to control people's feelings. Of course, and many of those will of course be heartfelt, but this loss is, I think, for us to come together at this time as a nation.

SPEERS: I understand that, but does our ongoing link to the monarchy present any sort of obstacle to the big challenge of reconciliation?

PRIME MINISTER: I believe the constitutional change that I have, very clearly identified as my priority in this term of Parliament is the recognition of First Nations people in our constitution. Our constitution is our national birth certificate. This nation didn't begin in 1788, it goes back some 65,000 years at least. It should be a source of great national pride that we live and share this continent with the oldest continuous civilisation and culture on earth.

SPEERS: Let me finally as you Prime Minister, do you have a portrait of the Queen in your office? I think I saw one on one of the shots of you in there?


SPEERS: Will that be changed?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, King Charles is now, of course, the monarch and it's appropriate that in the Prime Minister's Office there be a portrait of the Head of State.

SPEERS: Prime Minister, thanks for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much David.