Australian Economy

Debate over ‘brain drain’ as Malaysia cheers election of Penny Wong, Sam Lim in Australia

The appointment of Malaysian-born Penny Wong as Foreign Minister and the unexpected election of former police officer Sam Lim in Western Australia have been met with a flurry of pride in the Malaysian press and on social media. 

It has also reignited a familiar debate over “brain drain”: the exodus of skilled Malaysians, particularly from ethnic minority backgrounds, that has been a long-term challenge for the South-East Asian nation’s economy.

Malaysian MP Charles Santiago, in congratulating Mr Lim, said Australia “benefits from Malaysia’s brain drain”.

Senator Wong, long a powerful figure in the Labor Party, was recently sworn in as Australia’s first Malaysian-born and ethnically Asian foreign minister.

Malaysian newspaper The Star interviewed Senator Wong’s brother James, who still lives in the state of Sabah on Borneo island, and described his older sister as “loving and genuine”.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong attends a traditional welcome in Samoa
Senator Wong was born in Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah.(Reuters: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

“Penny’s story should be an inspiration to our young Sabahans,” Mr Wong was quoted as saying.

“Looking at the rise of a simple Sabahan girl in Australian politics, it means that Sabahans have the potential to succeed and should not underestimate themselves.”

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