Sportspeople and Citizenship: does bowling a wrong ‘un make you worthy of the fast track?

In 2009 the then Minister for Immigration pushed through various amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (the Act) in the obliquely named Australian Citizenship Amendments (Citizen Test Review and Other Measures) Act 2009. Those other measures including the introduction into the Act of new sections that prescribed when and how a person will satisfy the “special residence requirement”. The new prescriptive section states (as is relevant for the purposes of this blog):

For the purposes of [the Act] a person satisfies the special residence requirement if the applicant is seeking to engage in an activity specified in [a Regulation], the applicant’s engagement in that activity would be of benefit to Australia, the applicant needs to be an Australian citizen in order to engage in that activity and in order for the applicant to engage in that activity, there is insufficient time for the applicant to satisfy the general residence requirement.

There are, of course, other moderately minor hurdles (pun intended) for an applicant under this section but in essence the amendment to the Act allowed a person undertaking a specified activity for the benefit of Australia to have their citizenship this country fast tracked.

What are the prescribed activities? Also in 2009, Minister Evans pronounced a legislative instrument that made these activities “specified” for the purposes of the provision above:

1. Employment in a position which requires a high-level security clearance in a Department, an Executive Agency, or a Statutory Agency of the Commonwealth.

2. Participation in an Australian team in the following competitions: the Olympic Winter Games, the Paralympic Winter Games, the Olympic Summer Games, the Paralympic Summer Games, the Davis Cup Competition and the Fed Cup Competition.

Yes folks: being a sportsperson gets you to the head of the queue in this country. Since the introduction of the measure noted above the Australian Olympic Committee has assisted 15 athletes gain citizenship on the fast track with three competing at the Winter Olympics. In speed skater Tatiana Borodulina’s case she was so thankful at her opportunity to become an Australian citizen and represent us at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games that almost immediately after said games she renounced her citizenship and returned to Russia.

Why is this an issue now? Afterall the amending legislation went through some 4 years ago. Well things probably would have stayed as they are in Canberra but for a young man called Fawad Ahmed and his special skill of bowling leg breaks and wrong ‘uns. You see Australia is playing in the Ashes this year and is, by some accounts, desperately short on spin bowlers to face England this coming August. The problem is that Mr Ahmed has not yet met the general residence requirements under Australian law to become a citizen and does not play in a sport that qualifies under the Minister Evans’ pronouncement outlined above.

So today, the current Minister for Immigration Brendan O’Connor will be introducing to parliament an amendment to the legislative list of approved sporting contests to include the Ashes so that Mr Ahmed can possibly play.

Setting aside whether or not Mr Ahmed ought be picked on the merits it astonishes me that Australia and Australians seem to rank ability with a tennis racket, a speed skate or a cricket ball as above all of those others who are striving to become citizens and are equally as qualified save that their qualification is with a scalpel or a pen or a lathe.

Take the case of two immigrants from Pakistan who arrived in Australia on the same date: one plays cricket and the other is a nobel prize winning pharmacist working on a revolutionary drug to cure cancer. Under Australian law, as likely to be amended today, the cricketer becomes a citizen first.

Forgive me but I just can not believe for a second that the outcome of that, albeit ridiculously hypothetical example, is right. In fact I would go so far as to say that the totality of of sections 22A – 22C introduced to the Act in 2009 as about to be amended are nothing short of an embarrassment to this country. Bowling a good wrong ‘un does in Australian make you more worthy of citizenship here it seems and I for one am ashamed.