Opening of the Centenary of the Abolition of the Queensland Legislative Council Seminar
Mr Speaker, the Honourable Curtis Pitt MP; Members of Parliament; former member of the Executive Council of Queensland, Dr Denver Beanland; Clerk of the Parliament, Mr Neil Laurie; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
I too acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands around Brisbane, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, and extend respectful greetings to Elders, past, present and emerging.
I thank Mr Speaker for his kind invitation to address this important historical seminar, marking 100 years since the abolition of the Legislative Council.
As Governor and Patron of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, I was very pleased to learn this significant moment in Queensland’s history is subject to serious and thoughtful discussion and reflection.
I therefore thank and congratulate the Parliament and the Society for seizing this opportunity, and for all seminar delegates for taking time to be here today.
Having looked at the program of highly credentialled speakers, I have every confidence you will leave today with a deeper appreciation of the historical, political and legal context of the Legislative Council – and a more intimate knowledge of some of the key personalities involved!
As the current Governor, I thought it would be useful to focus my remarks on one group of relevant personalities – the vice-regal representatives.
Now the first Governor I mention is not Queensland’s first, Sir George Bowen, but a gentleman by the name of William Denison.
In 1859, he was the Governor of New South Wales (and as someone born in Sydney, I can say that placename without whispering it, although I should confirm I am now very at ease wearing maroon!)
Governor Denison appointed the first 11 members of the Legislative Council for five-year terms, thereby ensuring some semblance of responsible government was in place for Governor Bowen’s arrival later that year.
Now Sir George was born in County Donegal, Ireland.
But it would be another Irish-born Governor, Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, who would play the largest role of any Governor in the Legislative Council’s Abolition.
He arrived two months before the election of the government in 1915 of TJ Ryan and was Governor during the unsuccessful referendum to abolish the Council in 1917.
When Parliament resumed later that year, Goold-Adams agreed to the Premier’s requests to appoint more members to the Legislative Council – but not the14 additional members required a few years’ later to get the abolition bill through the Upper House.
That honour – of appointing the ‘suicide squad’ – belonged to Goold-Adams’ temporary replacement, Lieutenant-Governor William Lennon – who famously also appointed himself as President of the Legislative Council, a position he retained until it successfully voted to abolish itself in October 1921.
Our final vice-regal personality is Sir Matthew Nathan, who as Governor from 1920 reserved the abolition bill for His Majesty’s pleasure.
At the time, British Ministers were politically responsible to the Crown for Queensland affairs.
Despite attempts from opponents of abolition to intervene, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, one Winston Churchill, forwarded the Abolition Bill to King George the Fifth for Royal Assent, which was granted on 3 March 1922.
This final part of the story, I believe, has enduring contemporary relevance.
It underscores a fundamental principle which remains the bedrock of our constitutional system today: Queensland’s constitutional destiny can only be ever determined locally.
And that, I believe, is a reassuring principle regardless of whether you advocate for or against the reintroduction of an Upper House.
I thank you all once again for your participation in today’s seminar, and I wish you all a rewarding and stimulating day of debate and reflection.