The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

Media Release

30 January 2007 

Diplomatic Appointment – High Commissioner to Malaysia

Penny Williams is to be Australia’s new High Commissioner to Malaysia.  Ms Williams is expected to take up her appointment in March 2007 and will replace James Wise, who has been High Commissioner since January 2003.

Malaysia and Australia have a strong and diverse bilateral relationship, with active and cooperative relations across a broad range of sectors.  These include trade and investment, education, defence, counter-terrorism, law enforcement and tourism.

The visit by Prime Minister Howard to Malaysia in November 2006, following the visit by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi to Australia the previous year, underlined the closeness in relations.  In addition to a long history of defence and education links (some 20,000 Malaysians study in Australia annually and there is a vast Malaysian alumni of Australian educational institutions dating back decades), the two Governments are seeking to forge even closer trade and investment links through the negotiation of a free trade agreement.  In 2005 the Australian Government announced the formation of the Australia Malaysia Institute (AMI) to further enhance people-to-people links.  A number of visits by young leaders and journalists between Malaysia and Australia have already taken place under the auspices of the AMI.

As close neighbours with shared interests in the Asia-Pacific region, there are frequent Ministerial visits between Malaysia and Australia.  Trade Ministers meet annually for the Joint Trade Committee meeting, and Foreign Ministers also have a regular bilateral exchange.  There are also frequent visits by other Ministers.  In addition, a number of regional and multilateral mechanisms provide opportunities for Ministers to consult on issues of interest to both our countries.  These include the ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference, APEC,  the East Asia Summit, the Commonwealth and the WTO.

Malaysia is Australia’s ninth largest trading partner of goods and services, and our second largest trading partner among the ASEAN countries, with two-way trade totalling $11.35 billion in 2005-06.  Australian merchandise exports totalled $2.5 billion while exports of services totalled $1.2 billion.  In that year Malaysia was Australia’s 13th largest export market for goods and services, and our eighth largest source of imports. 

Ms Williams is currently First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division, a position she has held since 2005.  Overseas, Ms Williams served as Counsellor, Santiago (1997-2000) and First Secretary, Damascus (1992-94).

In Canberra, Ms Williams has held a range of positions including First Assistant Secretary, Diplomatic Security Information Management and Services Division (2004-05); Assistant Secretary, Staffing Branch (2003-04) and Director, Staffing Operations Section (2001-02).

Ms Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts in Asian Studies (Hons).  She is married and has four children.  Ms Williams speaks Arabic, Spanish and Indonesian.

Media Inquiries: Mr Downer's office 02 6277 7500 - Departmental Media Liaison 02 6261 1555

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