KOTA KINABALU: Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong was receptive to the idea of establisihing a mechanism of helping to find resolution of the Sabahans overstaying issue in her country.
It is no secret that many Sabahans who travel to Australia to work in the agriculture industry in search of better wages overstay their 90-day visa.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Jeffrey Kitingan said Wong agreed that her ministry will investigate the situation and take the necessary steps to assist these Sabahans.
“Unfortunately, Sabah is Malaysia’s poorest state. We have eight out of the ten poorest districts in the federation. These Sabahans working in Australia are circumstantial economic migrants. At the same time, Australia needs workers in its vast agricultural industry,” he said following a courtesy call from Wong today.
Kitingan said he has suggested to Wong that these Sabahans be given special considerations, such as amnesty and repatriations with minimal or no fines imposed on offenders.
Wong was also briefed on the plight of Sabahans who wanted to study in Australia but found the tuition and living expenses prohibitively expensive.
She told Kitingan that the Australian government has always welcomed international students, including those from Sabah, and she will look into the issues further including scholarship opportunities for needy but deserving Sabah students.
“She understands that education is one of the most crucial tools any individual can acquire if they want to get out of poverty,” said Kitingan.
During the 45-minute courtesy call, Kitingan who is also the Agriculture and Fisheries Minister stated that the two discussed about potential agricultural collaboration between Sabah and Australia.
“Wong assured that both countries’ relations have always been good over the years and she encouraged my ministry to write to her government with proposals particularly on cattle and dairy farming.
“I told her that I am looking forward to collaborating with Australia in agriculture, fisheries and livestock sectors,” he said.
During the meeting also, Kitingan raised issues on climate change and Wong, the former Australian climate change minister stated that her government is always focused on climate change.
Kitingan said Wong welcomed the current Sabah government’s initiative to conserve nature and she believes such efforts will have positive impact on climate change, not only in Sabah and the surrounding region, but also in Australia.
The two ministers also talked about the possibility of establishing an Anzac war museum for tourism purposes as well as strengthening bilateral economic cooperation between Australia and Sabah.