KUCHING, Dec 20: Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg has been awarded with an Honorary Doctorate by Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia in recognition of his long and distinguished service to the state of Sarawak, and his strong connection with the university.
Chancellor of Swinburne Graham Goldmsith presented the award to Abang Johari during the graduation ceremony that took place at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre today.
In his acceptance speech, Abang Johari pointed out that Sarawak, as a Malaysian territory on the island of Borneo, was a part of the association of Commonwealth countries that has a long association with Australia.
“Australia has been a place where many Sarawakians come to study and even our two previous Chief Ministers were educated in Australia under the Colombo Plan. Sarawak’s association with Australia has endured to this day, and when we in Sarawak were looking for partners to assist us in the development of our tertiary education and human resource development, Australia, Swinburne in particular, was there to lend us a helping hand,” he said.
“The Swinburne overseas campus was established in Kuching in the year 2000, thanks to Australia’s generosity and thanks to the people in Swinburne for their willingness to assist us in Sarawak to develop our human capital,” he added.
Swinburne Sarawak, he continued, was a very successful partnership between the Sarawak state government and Swinburne University of Technology to provide Australian degrees at affordable prices in Malaysia.
Since being established in 2000, Swinburne Sarawak has graduated over 7,000 students with 65 per cent from the state of Sarawak, providing a strong mechanism for developing and retaining local talent.
Swinburne Sarawak has created a significant social and economic impact for the state generating around 1,400 jobs and RM150 million per annum for the Sarawak economy and producing about 700 graduates each year.
“The state government is working closely with Swinburne Sarawak in our quest to make it a leading university in Malaysia by 2025. We are working hand-in-hand to develop a world-class campus in Kuching with around 5,000 students and a research ecosystem that links closely with Swinburne,” he assured.
Sharing his experience having been in politics for some 40 years, Abang Johari, who had served in various ministerial capacities in the Sarawak government, was proud that he was seen to and did his bit to steer Sarawak from an agriculture and commodity-based economy to one that has diversified into manufacturing and industrialisation.
“When I took over the helm as Chief Minister in 2017, I had the conviction that Sarawak has to move away from a conventional economy to one that is driven by digital technologies. We have to follow the rest of the world towards the digitalisation of our economy which presents vast opportunities for us beyond the shores of Sarawak,” he said.
“We are setting aside a big budget to upgrade our digital infrastructure to enable 4G services to be available in all parts of Sarawak to support our vision of turning Sarawak into a strong digital economy by the year 2030,” he reiterated.
Sarawak, with only a population of about 2.8 million, he admitted, was not sufficient to support a strong domestic economy and thus has to turn to the rest of Asia with a population of three billion as markets for Sarawak’s products, agricultural in particular.
“We still have large tracts of land which landowners can develop to produce food. I believe with smart and precision farming, and IoT (Internet of Things), coupled with good marketing strategies and logistics, we can penetrate the Asian food market and become a net exporter of food,” he said.
“We are also trying to reduce our carbon footprints and work towards developing a green economy, and preserve and protect the natural environment especially our rainforest. We have stopped issuing permits for large-scale logging and setting up of oil palm plantations on state land,” he said, giving assurance of the state government’s keenness in developing a sustainable timber and oil palm industry through promoting non-timber products as well as setting aside more forest areas as national parks and turning them into tourism assets.
Emphasising that Sarawak has already developed a substantial portion of its energy generation by harnessing the hydro potentials of its rivers, Abang Johari said that many industries now run mainly on renewable energy from the hydro dams.
Apart from that, he shared that Sarawak is also carrying out research into the development of hydrogen as green energy from water with the hope that one day people can benefit from an economy that is built around the use and production of hydrogen as an emission-free fuel.
“We believe we have the potential to transform our economy away from conventional into a digital economy with all the strength that we have. Our political stability, our efforts in earnest towards good public governance, our abundant natural resources, our vast renewable energy potential and our strategic location at the centre of Asia are our strong points that we must capitalise on to transform the economy and upgrade the quality of life and living standard of our people,” he said.
“We know what we want to do for ourselves in Sarawak is a very tall order. But we count ourselves fortunate that we have partners like Swinburne that are willing to help us in our effort to train and develop our human resource potential as part of our overall transformation plan,” he added. — DayakDaily