How one mistake snowballed into supposed M’sian ‘ban’ on Aussie farms

Deputy minister clarifies there are no such restrictions on M’sians.

The misinterpretation of a parliamentary reply in the Dewan Negara has snowballed into a supposed “ban” by Putrajaya on Malaysians from working on Australian farms under a special visa programme.

MPs have issued press statements and held a media conference calling for a review of the non-existent ban which became part of the national narrative.

It started on Oct 11 when Deputy Human Resources Minister Awang Hashim (below) was asked to update on the discussion between Malaysia and Australia on the latter’s Farm Labour Visa Scheme.

The scheme seeks to recruit workers from the region to address the shortage of farmworkers in Australia.

Awang told the Dewan Negara that the Human Resources Ministry had been briefed on the scheme but did not intend to emulate it for Malaysia.

The deputy minister added that this is because the Australian scheme, which allows migrants to work in the country’s agriculture sector for three years, could lead to “permanent residency”.

Instead, Awang said Putrajaya will embark on a Malaysianisation programme that seeks to increase the participation of locals in the agriculture sector.

However, a letter to the editor published by a news portal on Oct 13 declared that “Awang Hashim told the Dewan Negara last week that Malaysia would not take part in the (Australian) scheme”.

The letter further claimed that Awang had said the “Australian scheme would compete against the new government’s programme of replacing foreign plantation workers with Malaysian workers.”.

The confusion between emulating and participating in the scheme led to claims that a ban had been imposed on Malaysians from participating in the Australian scheme.

Awang, when contacted, maintained that he had never said such things as claimed in the letter.

A review of the Dewan Negara Hansard confirmed this.

“I have never said anything like that. I have clarified. There are no restrictions on Malaysians, there are no restrictions,” Awang told Malaysiakini when asked to clarify if Malaysians are banned from participating in the Australian scheme.

He reiterated the similar problems Malaysia and Australia are facing in recruiting workers for the agriculture sector and reiterated that Malaysia will opt for a “Malaysianisation” approach over Australia’s recruitment of migrants.

Scheme to resolve exploitation of M’sians

However, the erroneous letter led to several media reports about a purported ban prompting a number of MPs to also respond.

Former human resources minister M Kulasegaran decried the supposed ban as “irrational” and said the government should not stop people from seeking higher wages. A$1 is equal to RM3.09.

Meanwhile, Selayang MP William Leong called for a review of the “ban” and also called a press conference over the issue.

Awang, who is also PAS’ Pendang MP, assured that there was no ban.

Both Kulasegaran and Leong have highlighted the benefits of the scheme, particularly in addressing the exploitation of some Malaysian workers on Australian farms.

“It is important to note that the Australian Asean farmworkers visa scheme accorded both the Australian and Malaysian governments a way to eradicate a significant number of Malaysians working in Australian farms under exploitative conditions,” Kulasegaran said in a statement.

“The farm work visa is a result of the Australian parliament committee’s findings of labour exploitation linking to visa conditions, leveraged by unscrupulous employers to exert control of migrant labour, many of whom are Malaysians,” Leong added in a separate statement.

Leong also corrected Awang’s assertion in the Dewan Negara that the scheme will lead to permanent residency.

“The Australian department of foreign affairs and trade has stated that the Australian farm work visa is not a path to permanent residence in Australia,” he said.

On Putrajaya’s part, it failed to address the confusion for over a week, fuelling the belief of a ban.

By : ALYAA ALHADJRI – MALAYSIAKINI

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