December 11, 2007
Travel Log 4: Australia
Thanks to the Australia-Malaysia Institute (AMI) under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australia, I was selected along with 4 other young Malaysians to participate in their Young Leaders Program. Every year they will be bringing 5 young Malaysians (apparently future leaders of the country, ha ha) to observe and be educated with Australia’s political, economic and social leaders. This time, we were in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney meeting with different organisations and groups. Some of the more prominent ones are listed below here.
Of most importance to me were those working on public policy issues. They had, for example, the Business Council of Australia that worked on specific policy issues, funded by corporations, that were then fed into Government. Lowy Institute of International Policy studies Australian foreign policy and is completely independent of Government. Very impressive, all of them.
Next level were the accountability groups. The Ombudsman is squeaky clean and such great measures are put into place to ensure the individuals themselves are clean! Met with the Human Rights Commission, there are only THREE FULL TIME commissioners, much more effective than having 20 over part timers like in Malaysia. The Commissioner we met was completely blind, yet he gave a full briefing to us using his braille notebook. So deeply impressed and moved by this meeting.
Met with the Centre on Multicultural Youth Issues. Australia, being such a migrant country in the first place, (as is Malaysia), is very conscientious on the needs of migrant youth. Conducting programmes on migrant and refugee youth, they deal at both the activity and policy level, a very effective model.
Government departments are as efficient if not more than private sector organisations. The Office of Best Practices, Department of Foreign Affairs, Public Service Commission, Electoral Commission, were extremely efficient with their materials and presentation, showing the measures taken to ensure the best and most effective models.
Australia is one of the true democracies around. Because they have compulsory voting, they have 95% of the Australian population turning up during elections. They are fined if they don’t vote. Isn’t that amazing? We should do that in Malaysia too.
Their transition from the Liberal to Labour Governments was so smooth and with no friction and noise whatsoever. This is true democracy, where the people’s voices can be heard. I had the chance to ask about how the new Government would change policies.
In general, Economic management policies would remain the same, since Australia has been having such great economic fundamentals in the past 10 years. Social policies would change to be more socially inclusive, more focus on climate change (the new Minister for Climate Change is none other than Penny Wong, Sabah-born Ozzie, also incidentally a lesbian), less focus on Iraq and Middle East issue (ie. no more shadowing Bush as Rudd’s predecessor Howard was warrant to do).
One interesting notion was that Howard expected the people to vote him in due to his strong economic credentials for Australia. Akin to other presidential campaigns “It’s the Economy, Stupid”, he rode on it. But the tide died down, showing that at a certain point people do not ONLY rely upon their filled up pockets. I think this is an important principle to learn, where in the long run, development brings about greater sophistry in thought and ideology… very much Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I suppose.
Rudd’s Government is reaching out to Asia more and more. I am utterly embarrassed at my inability to speak Chinese, whereas the new premier totters on in perfect Mandarin to China.
Australia reminded me that we are light years behind time and have much work to do in catching up. This is provided that we have political will to change. I doubt much will shift, given our inherent political structures, but perhaps one day, one day… when things are put in place, I will have a chance to be a Malaysian Chinese Prime Minister. (haha, in your dreams).
All I can humbly ask for is that we dismantle race based politics and go ideological. Get clean with proper systems in place. Check and balance. Strong opposition. Free media. All elements that I have constantly referred to. Come on Malaysia.
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