Give Our Immigrants A Sporting Chance


How hard should it be to be an Australian? "Very very hard"? "A little bit harder than that"? Or "Impossible"? It’s a difficult question for any patriotic citizen.

But perhaps before we answer it, we should look at just why anyone would want to be an Australian, given that citizens of this country live in fear of a variety of menaces, from lethal dust storms, to rampaging government-sponsored paedophiles, to being sworn at by the prime minister.

Why do people want to be Australian? You and I, of course, can’t help it, having been born here, but there are thousands of people out there — illegal immigrants, aspiring illegal immigrants, incorrectly approved immigrants — who want to become Australian.

This is quite amazing. I do realise, from various media reports, that Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other such places are not perfect, but risking your life to travel halfway around the world? For what? To end up living in Dandenong? To have your children press-ganged into an all-Sudanese soccer team? To open one of those depressing ethnic outlets in a food court where the staff stand staring out at the crowd with sad eyes while the chicken korma congeals and the Hungry Jack’s next door slowly forces you out of business? Is that the dream you’re chasing? Is the horror of your own country really sufficient to justify volunteering for the horror of this one?

Well frankly, immigrants, I think maybe you should come to terms with a little principle called "not running away from your problems". Yes, there may be civil war in your country — but we’ve all got problems, you know? Look at Magda Szubanski — she was subjected to possibly the most ferocious, misogynist, racist, antisemitic, sickening diatribe launched against a beloved heroine of Australian entertainment since Ray Martin bit off Ruth Cracknell’s foot. But did she run away? Did she say, "Oh I just can’t take it, I’m leaving the country"? Did she pussy out and settle in Mogadishu?

No! She stuck out her chin, put her hands on her hips for a series of approximately 18,000 photographs, and complained. Just like a real Australian. Maybe all those refugees and such could learn a thing or two from Magda. Maybe they could take a moment to think about how there are people in the world worse off than they are. In fact, maybe we should send Magda to the Third World to toughen these guys up a bit. It could also help her lose a bit of … but anyway, moving on.

So regardless of how mad they are for choosing to come here, and regardless of how much raw sewage we are going to have to drink because of the increased population, the fact remains a hell of a lot of people want to share in the dubious benefits of Australian citizenship. Which brings us back to my original question: How do we strike a balance between making it difficult enough to discourage undesirables, while at the same time smoothing the path for those who can make a valuable contribution?

Thankfully, the Government has found a rather clever way to solve this dilemma: they have amended immigration laws so that, whereas ordinary useless immigrants must wait for four years to become citizens, potential Olympic athletes only have to wait for two.

This seems a fair and reasonable compromise to a difficult situation, and one that will please everyone who matters. Indeed, the strengths of the scheme are explained beautifully by immigration lawyer Susan Harris Rimmer, who points out, "We knock back a doctor with a kid with a disability but we fast-track athletes. It’s about values and the message we’re sending", which sums up the positives of the Government’s move very neatly.

Unfortunately, there are those who disagree with Harris Rimmer’s commonsense approval, and complain that the policy is in some way discriminatory. As if this were a bad thing! Don’t we want to discriminate in granting the honour of Australian citizenship? Do we want to accept any old hoodlum without regard to the havoc they will wreak upon our well-ordered life? Do we really want to precipitate the inevitable cycle of bloodshed and multicultural street festivals that will surely follow any moves to make citizenship laws less discriminatory?

Now, some may ask, why allow professional sportspeople to become citizens more easily than others based purely on their athletic prowess? This is one of those questions that demands not so much an answer as a prolonged bout of aggressive braying laughter. Why? Why? You may as well ask why strive for sporting excellence at all? You may as well ask why encourage our young sportsmen and women to be their very best? You may as well ask why we should base our national sense of self-esteem entirely on the success or failure of a select group of people who carry out their chosen recreation while wearing clothing of colours traditionally associated with the geographic area in which we happen to have been born? You may as well ask why we should spend millions upon millions of taxpayers’ dollars on maximising the chances of boosting our self-esteem in this way?

In short, you may as well ask why don’t we all just give up on life, hook ourselves up to suicide machines, and draw up new wills leaving all our belongings to the Legalise Hemp Alliance? Because if we wilfully place obstacles in the way of aspiring Olympians, who have been dreaming all their lives of escaping their seedy rat-hole of a country and competing in the green and gold, just to make their application as hard as that of other immigrants and satisfy our quaint, 19th-century notions of equality, then we are no better than those who hate our country and want us to be more like New Zealand.

Which is why it is important that we get the requirements for citizenship right. There has been some comment in the media about how the citizenship process does not properly take into account the needs and situations of prospective immigrants, which is like saying that the sausage-making process does not properly take into account the needs and situations of pig intestines. These commentators are missing the whole point. What we need is a process that protects ordinary Australians from upsetting encounters with foreigners, while also ensuring that Australia’s medal count continues to hover in the upper reaches of the ladder, and of course that any immigrants who do beat the system live their lives in constant terror of appearing too ethnic.

With that in mind, I propose a three-step process. Step One would involve asking potential citizens why they want to be Australian. This would allow us to quickly weed out anyone giving answers such as "To plant explosives at major sporting events" or "To produce a new lifestyle programme".

Step Two would involve the potential citizen sitting the current citizenship test, with the key difference that poor performance will be punished instantaneously, with small electric shocks to be applied to the extremities every time an incorrect answer is given. This will act as a deterrent to poorly prepared immigrants, and also help make new citizens more pliable and docile, lessening the chance of civil unrest. This is in line with best practice in the field of training dogs — the immigrants of the animal kingdom — and would improve the citizen pool significantly. To continue with the theme, good performers could be rewarded with small treats and gentle patting.

In Step Three, of course, aspiring Australians would have to pass a physical test. The applicant could select one of two physical challenges: compete for and win a gold medal at the next Olympics; or live in a desert detention facility for six years without suffering fatal self-harm or excessive mental illness. This step of the process, which would be the first in the world to fuse punitive right-wing policy with hit television show The Amazing Race, would really sort the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, and the Russian pole-vaulters from the Afghan lip-stichers.

So there it is. I feel confident that if we implement this plan, and remain vigilant in enforcing the rules, we will quickly be living in a country where the only people worthy of citizenship are natural-born Australians, genetically gifted Eastern Europeans, and those hardy folk with that most peculiar and intriguing mix of intellectual traits: the intelligence to navigate the citizenship process; and the stupidity to have chosen to in the first place.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.