46 years ago this month, in 1971, Sheila Colyer arrived in Australia from England. Last week she finally took the oath and became an Australian citizen. I find it interesting, as there has been a lot of talk recently about Australian Citizenship at the Federal level, but under an arrangement with the British government, prior to 1984 - 6 months after arrival, British Citizens had to enrol and vote. And so Sheila did, and has voted in every election, Federal and Territory ever since. And, as she tells me, worked till her retirement and paid her taxes.
So why, I asked her, did she, at this late stage decide to become an Australian? She tells me, it wasn’t that she hadn’t thought about it over the years, but it had never really risen to the top of her list of things to do – and there was no real incentive for her. But as she approached her 80th birthday, her daughter challenged her, you are going to be 80 soon, don’t you think it’s time you became an Australian Citizen.
So Sheila decided that it was time. One of the joys of being a Member for the electorate of Yerrabi, is the opportunity to work with my constituents. And I have known Sheila for some time, so when Sheila contacted me, and asked me to help her fill in the form, and certify that I had known her for some time, I was more than happy to help her. It doesn’t cost much to get a form. As a pensioner, Sheila was able to get a hardcopy for just twenty dollars. So we filled out the form, lodged it and just last week, 8 months after lodging the form, Sheila finally took the oath that made her a Citizen of this great nation.
We do live in a great country, where – no matter where you come from, you have an amazing opportunity to become a citizen and since 1984, only this gave you the right to vote. Voting is a civic duty, which is both a right and a freedom, one that allows us as citizens to have a choice in government. A choice in who represents us – though, as an aside, the members opposite would waive that right to the union movement. The right for voters to choose their representatives is one that should be valued and honoured by Members of this Assembly, and not one that should be treated lightly, with disdain and disrespect as is the tendency for the members of the Labor party, who would legislate control of government and government decisions to those not elected by the voters.
As her elected Member for Yerrabi, I value Sheila’s efforts at 80 years of age to become an Australian Citizen, and I would encourage others to similarly take that step. And though she has voted all her life, I know that the next time she votes, she too will feel a sense of pride – as she tells me she did, when she took the oath. Which by the way, she learned off by heart so she didn’t need to read it off a card – no mean feat at 80! She tells me that it was a lovely ceremony, at the Albert Hall, where the first formal citizenship ceremony took place in Feb of 1949. But what she is most looking forward to is being able to vote as an Australian.