Penny Wong: Australia aware of visa delays for Malaysians, tackling backlog

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (in white shirt with red stripes) during the walkabout on Thursday at Foh Sang, Luyang which is a local hotspot for Chinese community to hang around.

KOTA KINABALU: Australia is aware of the delays in visa approval for Malaysians wanting to travel there, and is making attempts to remedy the situation, says its Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

She said she visited the Australian High Commission in Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week, and noted there was a backlog of applications to clear.

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“That (difficulty getting visa) has been raised to me, as you would expect, by people in Malaysia.

“I understand we are working through the backlog. We are conscious of the delays for people who want to come to Australia.

“I was in the High Commission (recently) and spoke to people there. They are working very hard to get through the backlog,” she said after a walkabout at Foh Sang in Luyang here on Thursday (June 30).

Wong was responding to a question by Australian media on the visa delays faced due to the strict requirements for Malaysians to provide information like bank records.

Asked about plans for cooperation with Sabah after she met local leaders, Wong said they were looking at building more synergy in various fields, education in particular.

“Obviously having an (Australian) Foreign Minister who is Sabahan by birth, we hope that there will be more links.

“We did discuss... obviously education is important and there are some industry links, but we have more work to do.

“Primarily this (Sabah) visit is for people-to-people engagement and I am grateful and honoured that so many politicians and dignitaries from different parts of the political spectrum have been willing to engage with me,” added Wong, who arrived in Sabah on Wednesday (June 29).

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On a suggestion that some locals wanted to see an Australian university created in Sabah, she said it was something to be looked into.

Wong said in general, Malaysia and Australia shared similarities in terms of being diverse and multicultural societies, both nations having a long-standing history in terms of people-to-people ties, as well as defence and strategic cooperation going back to 1971.

“We have people like my father and many other Malaysians who studied in Australia in the past and at present.

“Relationships always require engagement and work, and so a strong people-to-people link (is needed) – foreign ministers, members of government, the media and even community can continue to build that relationship,” she said when asked how Australia could deepen ties with Malaysia.

“I think it matters for Australia to speak to Southeast Asia in a way that recognises we are part of the region.

“These are challenging times for the world. We are seeking to navigate (the challenges) and we do our best when we do it together. That connectivity comes from the understanding that our future prosperity and security is shared,” she said.

On Australia's role in maintaining security in the South China Sea, Wong stressed its stand that international laws must be observed.

“This matters not only to claimant states but to all states in the region, as our trade transits through the South China Sea.

"There is a reason why it is important to have international norms followed, so this is the position Australia continues to observe,” she added.

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