KOTA KINABALU: The plight of Sabahans in Australia, including those who overstayed, was among key issues discussed during a courtesy call by Penny Wong to Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan (pic) here.
Jeffrey said the Australian Foreign Minister was receptive to the idea of establishing a mechanism to find solutions to the issue of Sabahans overstaying there.
He said it was no secret that many Sabahans, who travelled to Australia to work in the agriculture sector in search of better wages, overstayed past their permitted 90 days.
Wong told him that her ministry would look into the situation and take the necessary steps to assist these Sabahans, he said in a statement on Thursday (June 30).
“Unfortunately, Sabah is Malaysia’s poorest state. We have eight out of the 10 poorest districts in the federation,” said Jeffrey.
“These Sabahans working in Australia are circumstantial economic migrants. At the same time, Australia needs workers in its vast agricultural industry,” he added.
He suggested that these Sabahans be given special considerations, such as amnesty and repatriation with minimal or no fines imposed.
Wong was also briefed on the plight of Sabahans who wanted to study in Australia but found the tuition and living expenses prohibitive.
Jeffrey said Wong told him her government always welcomed international students and that she would look into the matter, including scholarship opportunities for deserving Sabahan students.
“She understands that education is one of the most crucial tools any individual can acquire if they want to get out of poverty,” he said.
During the 45-minute courtesy call, Jeffrey – who is also state Agriculture and Fisheries Minister – said they also discussed potential agricultural collaboration.
“Wong encouraged my ministry to write to her government with proposals, particularly on cattle and dairy farming,” Jeffrey said.
“I told her that I am looking forward to collaborating with Australia in the agriculture, fisheries and livestock sectors,” he added.
During the meeting, he also raised issues on climate change and Wong, the former Australian climate change minister, said her government was always focussed on it.
Jeffrey said Wong welcomed the Sabah government’s conservation initiatives as such efforts will have a positive impact not only on Sabah and the surrounding region, but also on Australia.
The two ministers also spoke on the possibility of establishing an Anzac war museum for tourism purposes as well as strengthening bilateral economic cooperation between Australia and Sabah.