Chapter 3 - Exchanging Views on Policy and Politics

Chapter 3

Exchanging Views on Policy and Politics

Also nourishing the relationship is the mutual policy dialogue maintained through an active program of Track Two diplomacy initiatives, such as those convened by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), and Asialink. These meetings foster expert policy discussions among think-tanks, academics, government representatives and the media. ISIS Malaysia has been at the forefront of these regional meetings since the founding of the ASEAN-ISIS network in 1988, and it is host of the largest such regional gathering, the Asia Pacific Roundtable (APR) held annually in Kuala Lumpur.

Photo of Two students from SMK Tinggi Perempuan Secondary school in Melaka

Two students from SMK Tinggi Perempuan Secondary school in Melaka, holding a letter from Year 7 students from Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College in Geelong, during the Malaysia Unplugged 2012 study tour.

When Asialink launched its first regional Track Two diplomacy initiative, the Asialink Conversations, held in Melbourne in 2002 and sponsored by the Myer Foundation, it did so with the strong support of ISIS Malaysia. Firmly establishing the Conversations, the second in the series was held in Malaysia in 2004 and it has since become an important Track Two program in the Asia region. Asialink has also worked in partnership with ISIS Malaysia (and the Asia New Zealand Foundation) since 2008 to convene an annual Track Two ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand (AANZ) Dialogue. The AANZ Dialogue is convened to coincide with annual CSCAP meetings, thereby covering a broad range of policy issues, ranging from defence and disaster relief, to trade and cultural matters. ISIS Malaysia is also central to the Australia–ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program (A2ELP) sponsored by the Australia–Malaysia Institute since 2011.27 The A2ELP brings young Australians together with emerging leaders from all ten ASEAN countries to attend the APR where they interact with some of the region's most distinguished specialists and build networks of next-generation leaders.

Photo of Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop participating in a teleconference between Malaysian students in Selangor and Australian students in Christmas Island through the BRIDGE Project, August 2015.

Photo of Australian Teacher Kira Monaghan

Australian Teacher Kira Monaghan, from Duncraig Senior High School Western Australia, working with a student from Sekolah Menengah Sains Sultan Mahmud, Kuala Terengganu during the BRIDGE Project Malaysia, 2015.

Photo of The Fourth Australia-New Zealand ASEAN Dialogue Group meeting

The Fourth Australia-New Zealand ASEAN Dialogue Group meeting in Kuala Lumpur, 2011.

Today, we see that, with the widening of studies, educational exchanges and research to include all levels from primary through to postgraduate and the introduction of the New Colombo Plan, the chain of Australia–Malaysia education links with their broader academic, political, business, sporting, cultural and social benefits is now full circle. This complex web of educational and intellectual links developed over 60 years provides Australians and Malaysians with a network of enduring partnerships, endowing both our nations with a wealth of friendship and mutual understanding.

My Story

Photo of Deborah Moore

Deborah Moore
Armidale High School
New South Wales

As a Japanese teacher, Bahasa Indonesia speaker, and a lover of Asian culture, it was my dream to engage our students with the diverse cultures of Asia. When the BRIDGE project opportunity arose I was quick to embrace this chance to form a meaningful relationship with a school in Malaysia. Luckily my principal shared my vision and our application was successful!

Armidale High School (AHS), located in regional New South Wales, provides students with limited opportunities to engage with Asia and Asians. Yet we live in a globally connected environment, so must incorporate Asian perspectives into our teaching and learning. Not only is it a curriculum priority but also an essential skill for our students.

Going to Malaysia to meet with my partner teacher Rohaiza Tapsir at Sekolah Tun Fatimah (STF) School in Johor Bahru, we planned an exciting journey for our students. Rohaiza taught me about Malaysian culture, allowing me to truly connect with her and the Malaysian people. Then teaching the girls participating in the program in person was such a great experience. I am still teaching them using our online classroom Edmodo and we interact daily. This experience has led to the forming of some deep friendships.

Our project begins with the Flat Traveller (FT) exchange, where the girls in Malaysia make FTs of themselves for distribution among my students at AHS. My students are currently preparing their FTs, 'showing' the Malaysian girls at STF life in Australia through digital stories. Rohaiza then takes our FTs back after her visit to Armidale in June. We will also use Adobe Connect (a video conferencing tool) to share our work and continue 'chatting' on Edmodo.

I have been impressed with the level of engagement between students from both countries— and their enthusiasm is contagious! It is a project that not only benefits students and staff, but also the wider community, promoting cross-cultural understanding. Thanks to the Australia– Malaysia Institute and DFAT for providing teachers with this invaluable experience—and thank you Rohaiza and the amazing staff and students at STF. It is an honour to work with you on this project.

My Story

Photo of Dato Professor Lance

Dato Professor Lance
Twomey AO, PSBS
(Sarawak), PhD.
Chair, Australia–Malaysia
Institute Board (2009–2015)

As well as marking the 60th anniversary of Australia–Malaysia diplomacy this year, we are also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Australia–Malaysia Institute (AMI). Since 2005, the AMI has been funded by successive Australian governments, with administrative and management support from the Southeast Asia section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). I am pleased to have had the opportunity to be Chairman of the Advisory Board of the AMI for the last six years.

The mandate of the Institute was to support, enhance and extend the people-to-people linkages between Australians and Malaysians and between complementary public and private institutions. Strengthening education, intercultural and youth interaction has been a central part of our work, as well as the fostering and further development of leadership potential. The Board considered it critical that the programs given financial support should have individuals from both nations and when appropriate, from other neighbouring countries as well. The AMI facilitated this by means of: (a) an annual grant round, to which individuals and groups from Australia and Malaysia could apply; and (b) by initiatives generated by the AMI itself. Among the latter cultural, experiential and development projects, which are often bilateral, include (among others):

  • young political leaders experiential visits;
  • young diplomats experiential visits;
  • sister schools linkages and visits (students and/or teachers);
  • cultural exchange and internships;
  • media exchange and internships;
  • sports collaboration and assistance (coaches and/or athletes);
  • interfaith dialogue;
  • support for Malaysian students in Australia;
  • the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program (A2ELP), a highly successful project jointly supported by the Australia–Thailand and Australia–Indonesia Institutes since 2011. The A2ELP has spawned a large alumni group of enterprising young people of considerable potential.

Prior to my time with the AMI, as Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University, I had the extraordinary good fortune to work with the Sarawak State Government on a joint project to develop a branch campus at Miri in the north of the state. Curtin University Miri is now in its 16th year, contains over 4500 students, including international students from more than 40 other countries. More recently I completed a workforce project for the Chief Minister of Sarawak to determine their professional and workforce requirements for a major industrial coastal development under construction just south of Miri.

Photo of A2ELP participants

A2ELP participants with students from St. Michael High School Sabah, 2014.

My Story

Photo of Anthony Milner

Professor Anthony Milner,
Basham Professor of
Asian History
Australian National University

It seems remarkable to think that I have been involved with Malaysia as an historian for nearly 50 years. Over the last two decades, I have also participated in a range of Track Two initiatives with Malaysia as International Director of Asialink and Co-Chair of the Australian Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation (CSCAP). These initiatives have national significance as Australians seek to deepen their engagement in Asia. 'Track Two' means 'not government-led', but nevertheless, these initiatives are responsive to government endeavours. At their best, Track Two meetings offer the opportunity for very frank exchanges, exploratory thinking and valuable relationship-building.

In a sense, Malaysia has been an ideal partner. We know one another well and are open with each other–and the fact that we sometimes have different views gives us a good deal to talk about. Discussions about economic, security and educational relations with Malaysians at Track Two meetings prepare Australians for wider Asian engagement. At CSCAP meetings, for example, tough security matters are deliberated on and Malaysia is centrally important in these discussions. Australian organisations facilitating Track Two dialogues, such as Asialink and the St James Ethics Centre, have sought Malaysian partner organisations to develop wider Asian networks. On their part the Malaysians–most especially the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia–have helped to 'socialise' Australia, drawing us into regional processes.

Australia is an active player in Track Two forums, and each year partners with the Asia New Zealand Foundation for the annual ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Dialogue, hosted by ISIS Malaysia. This dialogue brings academics, members of the media and corporate sectors, and senior public servants (in their private capacity) to the table. These discussions have often helped to moderate various thorny issues in Australia's regional relations. Some of our most lively Malaysian collaborators have been trained in Australia. "You wonder why I am so outspoken about Australia's faults", said one prominent Malaysian to an Asialink group (which included Prime Minister Howard): "it was my training at Monash University that made me a tough critic".