The Lieutenant Governor and Mrs Quinlan with members of the WA Loyal Societies.
The Lieutenant Governor and Mrs Quinlan with members of the 2023 King’s Coronation Dinner Committee.

The King’s Dinner hosted by the WA Loyal Societies

Address of the Honourable Peter Quinlan, Lieutenant Governor of Western Australia

To The Loyal Societies of Western Australia on the occasion of the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III

Mr Tony Goodman, Chairperson, Loyal Societies of WA, members of each of the societies, many distinguished guests, friends.

In commencing my remarks, I acknowledge that we meet tonight on the traditional lands of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation, whose elders past and present I recognise and pay my respects. An acknowledgement such as this has long been a matter of Royal Decree on this land. The instructions issued with the Letters Patent to our first Lieutenant Governor, and Governor, Captain James Stirling by His Majesty William IV, in 1831, directed the Governor that he was especially to take care and protect the original inhabitants of this lands in their persons and in the free enjoyment of their possessions.

Lucette and I are delighted to join you tonight as we celebrate the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III. There are many familiar faces here this evening, including Kevin Skipworth CVO and Carol Buckley LVO AM who worked with Lucette at Government House with the then Governor Major General Michael Jeffery and Mr Marlene Jeffery. During that time, in 1994, King Charles made the fourth of his six visits to Western Australia. It was on that visit Lucette had the privilege of meeting the then Prince of Wales when he stayed at Government House. Alas I missed out on that occasion.

At about this time tomorrow, around the Commonwealth, people of all walks of life will swear allegiance to their Sovereign, His Majesty King Charles III. Many of us, of course, have already done so, even before His Majesty was King, as I did when I swore allegiance to our Sovereign Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and her heirs and successors according to law. That allegiance, which elegantly rests upon the twin pillars of the Sovereignty of the Crown and the rule of law, is one that seamlessly and automatic passes from one Sovereign to the next. There is never, as it were, an interregnum, in that allegiance.

That seamless transition is one of the features which gives our system of government its great stability.

It is also part of the genius of our system of government that it is able to hold together in harmony a number of different notions of Sovereignty.

Notions of popular sovereignty, for example, regard the political and legal sovereignty of a community as residing in ‘the people’. It should not be thought, however, as a matter of either law or custom that notions of popular sovereignty are confined to republican forms of government. On the contrary, the Constitution of Australia has always recognised that the Sovereignty of the Crown and popular sovereignty exist side by side; they co-exist and they enhance one another.

In 1901 the year of Australia’s federation, for example, Andrew Inglis Clark, one of the founding fathers of the Constitution said, of the Australian Constitution assented to by Queen Victoria the year before:

“Every community of men [and women] is governed by present possessors of sovereignty and not by the commands of men [and women] who have ceased to exist. … But so long as the present possessors of sovereignty convey their commands in the language of their predecessors, that language must be interpreted … consistently with a proper use of it as an intelligible vehicle of the conceptions and intentions of the human mind… If the present possessors of sovereignty discover that the result so produced is contrary in particular cases to their will in regard to future cases of a like character, they will amend the language which they previously retained as the expression of their will.”

The sovereignty of the Crown and popular sovereignty, we can therefore see, have always co-existed harmoniously as part of constitutional system of government.

More recently, in our own time, notions of sovereignty have also been the lens through which the spiritual and legal connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have found their expression.

Those expressions of sovereignty, as with other notions of sovereignty, are not all the same: they come in a wide variety of forms and are expressed in many different ways. It is important to recognise, however, that expressions of Aboriginal sovereignty are not all, or not necessarily, expressions of sovereignty adverse to popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the Crown.

Take for example the Uluru Statement from the Heart, about which much has been said and will continue to be said. That Statement commences with the following words:

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.

This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

We should notice something remarkable about this expression of spiritual sovereignty. It is expressly said to co-exist with the sovereignty of the Crown. It does not deny the sovereignty of the Crown; on the contrary it affirms it.

This is a matter for great reflection by us as Australians, as our constitutional arrangements continue to evolve: that within this statement of Aboriginal attachment to, and connection with, the land of this continent, is an express recognition of the sovereignty of the Crown and an acknowledgement of co-existence with it.

Because of course, constitutional evolution is nothing new for our Crown.

Indeed, I would like to suggest that it is the combination of stability and evolution that has been its greatest genius and profound contribution not only to the Crown’s realms but to the safety and stability of the wider world.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the remarkable and transformational reign of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In her more than 70 years as Queen, Her Majesty presided over what, I would dare to suggest, was the most successful, peaceful transformation of sovereignty that history has yet witnessed. Her Majesty’s watchful and careful oversight of decades of transition from Empire to Commonwealth, and of de-colonisation, helped redefine our understanding of the sovereignty of the Crown, while remaining faithful to its traditions and the stability that have always been its hallmark.

His Majesty King Charles III, of course, lived through that transformation. His Majesty observed it first-hand and, as Prince of Wales, made his own significant contributions to it. There can be no doubt that His Majesty will continue to reign in a way that brings out the genius of the Crown’s continuity, its stability, and its flexibility. Tomorrow is an opportunity to celebrate all that that means for Australia and for the world.

God Save The King!

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