The word “colonizing” is, of course, not part of the oath — and the insert by Thorpe, an Aboriginal woman, was a sharp public rebuke of Australia’s colonial past.
Britain’s queen is the head of state of Australia, a British commonwealth. Australia’s governing Labor Party has said it may consider putting forth a referendum on becoming a republic with its own head of state, should the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, win a second term. However, the party has said that efforts to provide Indigenous Australians with representation in Parliament should come first.
Thorpe, who is of Djab Wurrung, Gunnai and Gunditjmara heritage and a member of the Green Party representing the state of Victoria, said in a phone interview that she had not exactly planned to make the change to the oath.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said of the ceremony, which took place on Monday. “I felt really uncomfortable. I felt really upset that I had to go and do something that I didn’t want to do — to swear allegiance to a colonizer from another country.”
Thorpe’s revised pledge was interrupted by the president of the Senate, Sue Lines, who informed her that she was “required to recite the oath as printed on the card.”
Chuckling, Thorpe said the oath as written, the second time omitting “colonizing” from her pledge to the Queen, “her heirs and successors, according to law.”
Yet Thorpe told The Washington Post that when she repeated the oath, “I absolutely did not mean what I was saying.”
“It wasn’t from my heart,” she said. “I said it like I had a gun to my head.”
Thorpe criticized the practice of requiring the oath to the queen in order to take a seat in the Senate.
She was elected this year after previously being appointed to her Senate seat in 2020, becoming the first Indigenous representative for the state of Victoria to the national Senate. At that swearing-in ceremony, she said the oath as written but did so with a raised fist and carrying a “message stick” with 441 markings, which she said “represent Aboriginal deaths in [police] custody.”
Some senators in the chamber during her swearing-in Monday criticized her protest. The Australian, a newspaper owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia, put a photo of Thorpe on the front page, declaring that the “Greens’ Queen gambit backfires.”
But a political columnist for the Guardian, Greg Jericho, surmised that “getting your photo on the front page looking strong and proud in your protest is the very opposite of a gambit backfiring.”
I suspect getting your photo on the front page looking strong and proud in your protest is the very opposite of a gambit backfiring pic.twitter.com/ZcAhKQ2m5P
— Greg Jericho (@GrogsGamut) August 1, 2022
Thorpe said that while her impromptu off-script moment was not exactly “celebrated,” some of her colleagues have also expressed displeasure with the required oath.
Thorpe said she will work on either abolishing the oath or providing alternatives for lawmakers “so that we can choose for ourselves what we want to do and who we want to swear allegiance to.”