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Speeches

Succession to the Crown Bill 2015

I am pleased to rise to speak on the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015, because it provides an opportunity to focus on a long overdue change that directly impacts the perception of women, the status of women and the rights of women. It is a bill for an act to change the law relating to gender and marriage on royal succession and related matters. What motivates me to participate in this debate? As we have already heard many before me say, the sovereign of Australia of course is the same as the sovereign of the United Kingdom, and changes are being made to the law in the United Kingdom, and I wish to signal to all Australians that we are a modern government here in Australia and that my government will dispense with discriminatory practices and support equality.

The changes that we are debating and proposing in this bill will ensure that the person who is the sovereign of the United Kingdom is the sovereign of Australia, with two main provisions. Firstly, it will remove the statutory provision by which marriage to a Roman Catholic person disqualifies a person in the line of succession. This religious discrimination is contemptible in the 21st century, and therefore this bill is most welcome. Secondly, it will put an end to the archaic system of male preference primogeniture, such that in the future the order of succession will be determined simply by birth and not by sex. Frankly, I wonder if we will ever get to the point where it is actually more about intellect and ability to do the job, but I guess that is a debate for another day. Primogeniture today is not a commonly used word—clearly, because I am having a bit of trouble saying it myself!

Mr Williams: Well done, though!

Ms PRICE: Thank you. Primogeniture is the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn male child to inherit the family estate in preference to siblings. In the absence of children, inheritance passes to collateral relatives, usually males, in order of seniority. The eligible descendants of deceased elder siblings take precedence over living younger siblings. The principle has applied in history to inheritance of property and land as well as titles and offices—mostly monarchies. It was just three years ago, in 2011, when representatives of the nations of which the current sovereign is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II agreed that these rules ought to be changed. In turn, the parliaments of all Australian states and territories have also requested that the Commonwealth enact such a bill. As I said earlier, we are a modern government acknowledging that women are equals, and we will continue to dispense with laws and practices that get in the way of equality. That is ultimately why we are here today debating this bill.

This leads me on to my favourite subject, which is the electorate of Durack. As we know, it is the largest electorate in Australia. We are 1.6 million square kilometres from the northern tip of the Kimberley down through to the Pilbara, Gascoyne and Mid West to Moora, some 100 kilometres north of Perth, and out to the Wheatbelt. In the spirit of this debate, and of Dame Mary Durack's classic Kings in Grass Castles, there are plenty of women running the show in Durack, but we do not call them queens or kings—or sovereigns, for that matter.

Over the past weekend, the coastal and beautiful tropical town of Carnarvon—on the banks of the mighty Gascoyne River—suffered the severe effects of Tropical Cyclone Olwyn. Just last year—another drought year for the Carnarvon farmers—I joined in the official opening of the $100 million government funded levee bank project, which was to protect the vegetable, tomato, fruit, banana and mango plantations from flooding and to hold the precious topsoil. This year looked promising with water in the river, for a change, from some late summer rains. Then the cyclone hit, last weekend. I travelled to Carnarvon on Sunday. When I arrived I did not see a single banana tree standing. Estimates are that 100 per cent of the crop has been decimated. It was a heart-wrenching sight.

Ms Kim Nguyen—not a sovereign, but many consider her to be the Vietnamese matriarch of Carnarvon and a community leader in Carnarvon—has a family owned plantation north of the Gascoyne River. On Sunday I had the pleasure of her taking precious time to show me many of the Vietnamese plantations in Carnarvon. I saw not only the destroyed crops but also the extent of infrastructure damage. It really was heartbreaking. Ms Nguyen is a grower who has been in the region for 15 years and only last year took up the role with the Carnarvon Growers Association. She is the first member of the Carnarvon Vietnamese horticultural community to join the organisation. Ms Nguyen is a strong voice for around 100 local Vietnamese growers, many of whom share-farm.

Ms Nguyen joined the organisation because her community needs to be better informed. She speaks for them, to them and with them. Her wish is to get more Vietnamese people to participate in committees and community leadership. After last week's cyclone, I am very pleased that a translator will soon arrive in Carnarvon. They will help to explain the support that will be available, for the Vietnamese community, from the federal and state governments.

Another Durack woman—not a sovereign but a significant leader—is Lynne Craigie. Lynne is President of the Shire of East Pilbara, which includes towns like Marble Bar, reputedly Australia's hottest town, and Newman, home to BHP's Mount Whaleback iron ore operations. It is the largest open-cut iron ore mine in the world. Lynne was elected Deputy President of WALGA, the Western Australian Local Government Association, in 2012. She has been President of the Shire of East Pilbara for eight years and a shire councillor for 12 years. Lynne is involved with local, regional and state organisations. She is also chairperson of the Newman Women's Shelter, chairperson of the Pilbara Regional Council, chairperson of the WALGA Mining Forum, past chairperson of RoadWise Newman and a member of six further committees or groups. She is also a board member of the Australian Local Government Association and the Pilbara Development Commission, and is a past board member of Australia's North West tourism group. Clearly, she is a very busy lady. She is selfless and she is quite remarkable.

I am supporting the Succession to the Crown Bill today because I want to promote women like Lynne Craigie and Kim Nguyen. The seventies view of women is dead but not quite buried. Women should not hide under a bushel. I stand strongly for equal opportunity. Judge these women by what they do, not by their sex or their religion. In Durack, women work, women lead and women are respected.

I will take any opportunity to change harmful perceptions of women and to ensure equal status and equal rights for women. From my own perspective, I have always worked in male dominated areas, predominantly agriculture and mining. I have never felt any gender issues that have prevented me from getting the job I want and I have never felt that I am not respected. I acknowledge that this is not the experience of all women. We all, me included, need to call it out when we witness gender discrimination. Women like us who work in politics or who are farmers or who work in business often cannot do it on their own. Like men, they often need support. I want to put on record that without Brad Bell, my partner, I would not be doing what I am here today.

I will mention another woman in the Pilbara. As we know, it is the economic engine room of the nation. It would not surprise my modern-day colleagues and constituents to learn that the Pilbara town of Port Hedland is also led by a woman. Kelly Howlett, the popular mayor of Port Hedland and Western Australia's youngest mayor is not a sovereign either, but she is a natural and generous modern-day leader who knows all about rights and how to fight for equality.

The environmental scientist who founded the Care for Hedland environmental association was recently recognised for leading the charge for conservation in the Pilbara. Kelly was recently awarded the national Pride of Australia medal in the environment category for her conservation work. In 2007 Kelly was elected to council, at the age of 30, and became mayor of this significant local government area in 2009, at age 32. And some would say it is a pretty tough town!

Not yet 40 and with six years as a mayor, WA's youngest mayor is active, environmentally, in the community and in various leadership roles. This is with organisations such as the Pilbara Regional Council, Regional Development Australia, Pilbara Development Commission and Rose Nowers Early Learning Centre. Kelly has had many roles. She has worked as a barmaid, gardener, sustainability officer and visitor centre manager. She is what I consider a modern-day leader. She walks the talk and she is judged in Durack by her peers and what she does—not by her sex or her religion.

I have enjoyed today being able to profile some of the women I consider are running the show in Durack, through the opportunity afforded by this debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill 2015. They are not Durack's kings in grass castles, nor are they queens or sovereigns. Ms Craigie, Ms Howlett and Ms Nguyen are modern-day leaders who just happen to be women. They are judged by what they do, not by their gender, and are duly recognised and respected. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss them today.

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