KOTA KINABALU, June 30 — The Australian government will look into the long delays for visas for Malaysians after multiple complaints, said its Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
Answering a question about long waiting times for visa approvals, Wong said that she was aware of the issue and understood why people were frustrated.
“That has been raised to me, as you would expect, by people in Malaysia.
“I understand we are working through the backlog — there has been a backlog and we are conscious of the delays for people who want to come to Australia. I visited the High Commission recently and spoke to people — they are working very hard to get through the backlog,” said Wong.
She was then asked about the numerous complaints received about the extensive application process which requires bank records, and subsequent long delays for approval.
The visa glitches come amidst her visit here to strengthen bilateral ties that include people-to-people engagement as well as other government ties.
A long-serving senator who was recently appointed to the portfolio, the Sabah-born Wong said that although her connection to her birthplace would deepen people-to-people relations, “there was still work to do”.
Wong has been emphasising her roots and connection to South-east Asia and said her recent trip home has been wonderful and well received by local leaders.
“Obviously, having an Australian foreign minister who is Sabahan by birth from east Malaysia, we hope that there will be more links.
“We have discussed this and obviously education is important and there is some industry link, but we have got more work to do,” she added.
She said that the current visit was primarily for people-to-people engagement and to that end she met with many political figures including her counterpart Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, Sabah Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Jeffrey Kitingan and Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun and Opposition leaders, as well as members of civil society.
“Relationships always require engagement and work, and what I really pleased about is the way we have been received, me and my delegation, it has been warm and hospitable.
“But it is important to remember we are not starting just from now. We have a longstanding relationship with Malaysia, very deep people-to-people ties and defensive agreements which go back to 1971.
“I think it matters for Australia to speak to South-east Asia in a way that recognises that we are part of the region. These are challenging times for the world, and we are seeking to navigate it,” she said.
On the question of security within the disputed regions of the South China Sea, Wong said that Australia’s policy has always been to respect international laws, norms and UN conventions.
“This matter is not only for claimant states, but they matter to all states in the region. A great deal of our trade transits through the region and there is a reason why it is important to have international laws observed. That is the position Australia will continue to observe and countries of region continue to take,” she said.
Asked about advice for Malaysia’s LGBTQI community, Wong — who is openly gay — said she cannot comment on domestic politics but said her views are known from her previous actions.
“I don’t give advice on domestic politics on the countries to which I go but I will say this — people know my views from the things I’ve said over 20 years in public life,” she said.
Wong is here on an overnight visit after visiting Kuala Lumpur. She leaves for Australia this afternoon.