Sabah-born Australian Minister Penny Wong explains how education has shaped her life | Daily Express Online

Penny Wong, Australian minister born in Sabah, explains how education has shaped her life

Published on: Wednesday, June 29, 2022

By: Malay Mail

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Australian Foreign Minister Senator Penny Wong (left) greets members of the public during a government, business and civil society networking brunch in Kuala Lumpur on June 29, 2022. (Bernama photo)

Kuala Lumpur: Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong began her keynote address in Malaysia today by reminiscing about her Malaysian roots and sharing a story about the importance of education. “I doubt my poh-poh (grandmother) could ever imagine it. Her name was Madame Lai Fung Shim. She was of Hakka descent,” the Sabah-born senator said. Wong shared that her grand- mother was barely literate as much of her family died in the war and she was left alone to raise her children in difficult times.

“In times of struggle, I think of her and what she had to endure. Her determination to survive and save herself and her children is something I draw strength from every day.” Her son, Francis Wong, was a bright, hard-working student. His efforts won him a Colombo Plan scholarship, to study architecture at the University of Adelaide. The opportunity to study was the opportunity that defined his life.” This meant that he could rise out of the poverty he had known as a child. It meant doors were opening that would otherwise have been firmly shut. It meant he could come to Australia – a very different Australia from what we know today,” the senator said. Wong said education was a way for his father to lift himself out of poverty and eventually return to Kota Kinabalu and start a family. “Dad brought knowledge and skills with him. He became a notable figure in Kota Kinabalu, designing prominent municipal buildings – although sadly I am told many have been superseded.

“The value of this education has never left him. He always told me: ‘They can take everything from you, but they can’t take your studies away from you,'” she said. Wong said Malaysia and Australia have built great respect and mutual understanding based on education. “Over the past 20 years, more than 125,000 Malaysians have studied in Australia, and many Australians are benefiting from an education in Malaysia,” she said, citing Malaysia as one of the most popular destinations. for Australian undergraduate students supported by the New Colombo Plan. She then reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to building strong bilateral relations with Malaysia through other areas of cooperation that were signed into a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement by the two countries last year. “It’s a solid basis for deeper cooperation, but we can do more. Australia wants to work together on the challenges we both face, including food security, health and pandemic recovery,” she said.


Wong is due to travel to Kota Kinabalu today – her first return to Sabah since taking over as Australia’s foreign minister. Wong is the first Asian-born foreign minister and Australia’s first openly gay federal parliamentarian and was instrumental in the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2017.
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