Path clear for Cooper's Australian citizenship

SYDNEY • Wallabies fly-half Quade Cooper yesterday welcomed immigration reforms that could ease his path to Australian citizenship, linking the changes to his last-gasp heroics against rugby world champions South Africa at the weekend.

New Zealand-born Cooper has been denied Australian citizenship four times, despite moving to the country as a teenager and playing 71 Tests for the Wallabies.

The impasse, which the 33-year-old has previously described as "awkward", was thrown into sharp relief when he earned Australia a thrilling win over the Springboks on Sunday.

After four years in the international wilderness, Cooper nailed a 40-metre penalty after the hooter to seal a 28-26 Rugby Championship victory, in which he kicked 23 of Australia's points.

He believes that his performance generated enough pressure to force officials in Canberra to change their stance.

"Probably without playing that game, it wouldn't have come to fruition," he said in the wake of a government announcement changing citizenship requirements for "exceptional" candidates.

He also thanked members of the public and opposition lawmakers who had campaigned on his behalf, saying that he was keen to finalise the paperwork as soon as possible.

"I'll be truly grateful to get that sorted," Cooper added.

The problem arose because he recently played two seasons in Japan, meaning under current rules, he had been out of Australia for too long to qualify for citizenship.

Papua New Guinea-born Will Genia faced a similar situation, despite playing 110 Tests for Australia.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke yesterday said he was making it easier for talented candidates to gain citizenship.

While Cooper was not directly mentioned, he said the reforms included easing the residency requirements that have hampered the player's application.

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

Mr Hawke added the changes would apply to candidates including athletes, business leaders, scientists and distinguished artists.

Cooper said his move to seek citizenship was prompted by border restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"To not know if I was able to come back to my home and see my family was quite a daunting feeling when you're living in Japan," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2021, with the headline 'Path clear for Cooper's Australian citizenship'. Subscribe