Quade Cooper to be given Australian citizenship after rule change

Wallabies star previously rejected but will now be recognised as ‘distinguished applicant’

Australia’s Quade Cooper kicks a winning penalty against South Africa during the Rugby Championship. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA

Australia’s Quade Cooper kicks a winning penalty against South Africa during the Rugby Championship. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA

 

Quade Cooper is set to be granted Australian citizenship after the government announced changes to eligibility rules, clearing the path for “distinguished applicants” such as the Wallabies star.

The immigration minister, Alex Hawke, on Tuesday confirmed additional flexibility has been introduced to recognise the unique difficulties faced by individuals like Cooper.

Cooper had complained his touring schedule – and stints playing abroad – had led to four previous applications being rejected.

The current rules stipulate that citizenship applicants must have lived in Australia for the past four years and were not absent for more than 12 months during that time. They also state they must not have been absent from the country for more than 90 days during the 12 months before applying.

But Hawke indicated some exceptions could now be made for elite athletes like Cooper, along with artists, businesspeople and scientists.

“Exceptional people must not be prevented from becoming Australians because of the unique demands of the very work they do that makes them exceptional,” Hawke said.

Cooper, who was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia when he was 13, qualifies for the Wallabies through residency. He has made 71 appearances for Australia, the most recent coming on Sunday when his star turn guided the Wallabies to a memorable win over world champions South Africa.

His performance on the Gold Coast reignited calls for his citizenship to be granted, with Rugby Australia CEO Hamish McLennan saying it would be the “right, Australian thing to do”.

McLennan told ABC Radio Brisbane on Tuesday that the relaxation of the rules was “thoroughly deserving for Quade”.

Labor’s home affairs spokesperson, Kristina Keneally, who also advocated for Cooper and other would-be Australian citizens in similar positions, said it was “a bloody great outcome for Quade and Australia”.

“I’m absolutely delighted that minister Hawke has finally taken action to allow Quade Cooper to become an Australian citizen,” Keneally said. “It’s about time this Australian sporting champion’s passport matched his jersey.

“This change will help a number of highly regarded residents to finally become Australians.”

Cooper said he was grateful for the exposure his situation had been given and for the support he had received.

“I have to give my thanks to Kristina Keneally and her office for going into bat for me and the Australian public, who put a lot of pressure, and the media, on the government to take a look at not only my case [but others in a similar position],” Cooper said.

“It’s not over the line, but great to see the rule has been amended to make it a little easier for us. There would be countless others who’ve seen the news today and seen that little glimmer of hope.”

Cooper appeared 14 times over three years for Australia’s under-20s and schoolboys teams before making his full Wallabies debut in 2008. He travelled on his New Zealand passport throughout his rugby career, which has included two World Cups and winning the 2011 Super Rugby championship with the Reds.

In 2016 it was revealed Cooper’s lack of Australian citizenship had denied him a chance for selection with the Australian rugby sevens Olympic team for the Rio Games.

“Australian citizenship is a rare privilege and it should not come easy,” Hawke said. “Those who apply must meet a range of character, values and language requirements. They must also have lived in Australia for a minimum period to be eligible.

“However, the unique work and travel demands on some of our most highly distinguished prospective Australians should not preclude them from making the cut.” – Guardian

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