The Australian Senate will have woman born and raised in Kenya as one of its 76 members after Mrs Lucy Gichuhi was on Wednesday confirmed.
The High Court declared Mrs Gichuhi, 54, one of the 12 senators for the state of South Australia, ending speculation that a question on her citizenship would derail her dream of becoming a representative.
“I humbly accept this honour and privilege to serve Australians,” said Mrs Gichuhi, who has been an Australian citizen since 2001, in a speech to journalists after the declaration.
Mrs Gichuhi — who will be sworn in on May 9, when the House holds its next sitting — said she would not have dreamt of holding such a position when she first landed in the small continent in 1999 with her family after being given a permanent resident visa.
“I could not have imagined, nearly 20 years ago, that as a new Australian I would one day have the opportunity to serve this great nation in the Senate,” said Mrs Gichuhi.
Added the accountant-cum-lawyer: “This is not about Lucy Gichuhi or any other personality, nor political party. It is about the integrity of the institutions in this great nation.
Only this integrity can enable all of us, regardless of colour, creed or countries of origin, to pursue our dreams and aspirations in this great nation.”
In her speech, Mrs Gichuhi, who hails from Mathira in Nyeri County, however avoided the citizenship question that has been raised many times since an April 5 court decision showed her as the most probable replacement for then-South Australia Senator Bob Day.
Mr Dayhad his election in July last year nullified after he was found to have done business with the Australian Commonwealth by renting out a house in 2015.
In the Australian system, 12 senators are elected to represent each of the six states in a voting system that relies on the number of votes a party garners.
Two senators are then added from each of the two mainland territories.
Mr Day was one of those from the Family First with Mrs Gichuhi the only other candidate seeking to represent the state through the party. After Mr Day’s election was nullified, she was almost automatically the replacement.
“Mr Day chose me to be his running mate, and while he has left public life, I and the Family First team will honour his extraordinary contribution for many years to come,” said Mrs Gichuhi.
The state she will be representing measures 380,070 square miles and had a population of 1.7 million people by 2013. It’s headquartered in Adelaide, where Mrs Gichuhi lives with her husband William and their daughters Peris, Agnes and Joy.
In her speech, the new senator thanked her family for having “made my life worth living”. She also made a forecast of what her future will be like, promising to bring change.
“I know that I enter public life at a challenging time in one of the most powerful Senates in the world,” said Mrs Gichuhi. “I acknowledge, as a common Australian, there are times I have perceived our politics as polarised.
“My promise to Australians is that I hope to bring an altitude of reconciliatory politics and hopefully impact and not impose.”
Before she was confirmed, however, the court had to tackle the citizenship matter. In Australia, anyone who holds dual citizenship is not eligible to be in either House of Parliament.
The Labour Party, through acting shadow attorney-general Katy Gallagher, had sought to illustrate that she had not rescinded her Kenyan citizenship. But the court would hear none of it.
According to The Australian, Justice Jeffrey Nettle said there had been speculation since January that Mrs Gichuhi would enter the Senate, giving the party plenty of time to investigate the matter.
GRANT MORE TIME
The publication reported that the judge told the party that Attorney-General George Brandis had investigated Mrs Gichuhi’s eligibility by March, when he declared her eligible.
“For those reasons, the court is not going to grant more time,” the newspaper quoted Justice Nettle as saying.
Meanwhile, speculation has been rife among Australian media on whether she will be voting in favour of the government like her predecessor.
But Mrs Gichuhi said: “I look forward to consulting with the government, the opposition and the Senate crossbench as I move towards playing an active, effective role in parliament.”