Griffith Review Panel at the National Library of Australia

Image: National Library of Australia.

I’m speaking on the Griffith Review panel at the National Library of Australia, as one of the authors featured in Issue 55: ‘State of Hope,’ focused on South Australia.

The panel is at 6pm on Tuesday 21 February, in the Theatre on the Lower Ground Floor. More details are available from the National Library.

Time to Reform Multicultural Policy

I’ve had an essay published in Griffith Review, in a special issue called ‘State of Hope’, focused on South Australia as a testing ground for government-led social reform since the era of former Premier Don Dunstan.

I haven’t been able to participate in any of the nostalgia for South Australia’s past, having only arrived just as Mike Rann was replaced with Jay Weatherill. All the same, my essay addresses contemporary possibilities for new rounds of social reform, in this case in relation to how state governments “manage” the growing cultural diversity of their populations through the policy framework we refer to as multiculturalism.

The essay reflects on my experience organising InterculturAdelaide, a policy co-design workshop I convened in 2015, and of navigating the multicultural arena and the way it insists on assigning non-white Australians within discrete and bounded cultural silos. These silos are then targeted by political parties in their competitive quest to mobilise each cultural “community” as a supportive political constituency. Yet surely a focus on equitable interaction across purported cultural boundaries is a better approach for equipping Australians to navigate their own society and their increasingly multipolar region?

The essay, ‘Intercultural Futures: The Fraught Politics of Multiculturalism,’ is available for purchase from Griffith Review.

National Science & Innovation Agenda: Engagement and Impact

Image from the cover of the ARC NISA consultation paper.

I’m on a working group for the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) that has submitted advice to the Australian Research Council (ARC) on its pilot engagement and impact assessment exercise scheduled for next year. The exercise forms one component of the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), and earlier this year the ARC issued a consultation paper outlining its aims. The advice submitted by the ASAA working group argues that the ARC must define “engagement” in a manner that includes the Asian region, and that “impact” cannot be measured in terms of income alone.

How to Revamp Malaysian Studies in Australia

Image selected by Asian Currents.

Today the Asian Studies Association of Australia’s bulletin Asian Currents published a piece I wrote on how to do Malaysian Studies better in Australia. We can only watch Prime Minister Najib and his opponents’ moves and counter-moves for so long before we articulate a broader relevance for our work for communities of interest who care about Malaysia, Malaysians in Australia and Malaysia-Australia relationships.

Australia needs to look beyond Malaysia’s current political impasse and engage more widely with an important neighbour

For some time now, Malaysia watchers in Australia have focused much of their attention on the potential for the 1MDB crisis, and the 2013 election result before it, to unseat UMNO president and Barisan Nasional prime minister Najib Razak.

The imaginative pull these intertwined issues exerts is understandable—the sense of slowly building crisis, the moves and countermoves by government and opposition parties, and the clever deployment of hidden political resources are fascinating, especially when events appear to gather pace. Equally alluring is the temptation to be the person who called the critical moment just before it happened.

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Australian Libraries and Asian Studies

Image: National Library of Australia.

The recent conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia featured a roundtable by librarians and library users on Asian Studies collections. I spoke at this roundtable and made the point that Malaysia’s 2013 election generated a vast amount of printed and digital ephemera that could be lost if Australian libraries do not make a point of collecting it. Perhaps if moves are made to develop a national collections strategy for Asian Studies materials, then this situation could be rectified.

I spoke at this roundtable and made the point that Malaysia’s 2013 election generated a vast amount of printed and digital ephemera that could be lost if Australian libraries do not make a point of collecting it. Perhaps if moves are made to develop a national collections strategy for Asian Studies materials, then this situation could be rectified in line with an agreed set of priorities for libraries interested in Asia.

A full report of this discussion is available from the Australian Library and Information Association.

Asian Studies Association of Australia – New Website

A screengrab of the new ASAA website, designed by Adelaide design firm Studio Spark and integrated with cloud-based accounting processes by Adelaide accounting firm, Accodex.

I’m Secretary of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, and as part of my role I’ve commissioned a new website for the association to better support its work in advocating for the study of Asia in Australia.

The central feature of this website is the fantastic bulletin Asian Currents edited by Allan Sharp, which carries the latest developments in Asian Studies in compact and readable pieces.

If you’re an Asia scholar, or an Asia-engaged professional, joining the ASAA will put you in touch with a whole field of knowledge that can support you in your work.

Older Migrants Intercultural Forum

Today I joined in with Welcome to Australia to run a pilot forum aimed at testing whether migrant communities are in fact willing to participate in intercultural problem-solving. Guess what? They are!

Here’s the write-up of the event on Australian Policy Online:

On 27 November 2015, the MnM Centre partnered with Welcome to Australia to hold an Older Migrants Forum.  The forum was chaired by Mohammad Al-Khafaji, Chief Executive Officer: Welcome to Australia, with group discussions facilitated by Dr Amrita Malhi, MnM Centre Research Fellow, and Leah Marrone from Welcome to Australia.

The forum was devised as a pilot project aimed at testing the value of intercultural discussions between established migrant communities (in this case, mainly represented by post-WWII Greek and Italian migrants) and members of new and emerging communities (comprising migrants from Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Egypt).

Is it Worth Engaging with Liberal Debates?

Guardian Welcome to Australia

Events in Paris are already provoking new debates about whether trust in multiculturalism is justified.’ A 2015 refugee vigil in Sydney, Australia. Photograph: Mal Fairclough/AAP

That’s small-l liberal debates around tolerance, multiculturalism and interculturalism , within the context of Western liberal democracies.

I think it is worthwhile even if they do seem limited in their capacity to change things — after all, the adoption of multiculturalism and the Racial Discrimination Act 40 years ago has underpinned better lives for non-white people in Australia.

And no, I don’t think anyone should be called a pseudo-white person for participating in debates about where multiculturalism is going now.

Here is an op-ed I published on this in the The Guardian.

Showing solidarity with migrants is more than ‘comfort’ for white people

Tolerance isn’t the most ‘radical’ approach to racism. So why do many non-white Australians participate in movements that promote it as a solution?

Tony Abbott’s prime ministership sparked furious debate about Australia’s commitment to multiculturalism, including a push to wind back 18c, slights against Indigenous “lifestyle choices”, and questions about Australian Muslims’ loyalty to the nation.

As this period now fades into ancient history, Australia’s politicians have begun to re-invest in the multicultural narrative, a prescient move given the polarised debate after recent events in Paris. Earlier this month, the three major political parties made sure to send a high-level representative to address a conference organised by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (Fecca).

The mood at the conference was palpable: after years of defensiveness, it was now time to formulate a new national agenda for multicultural policy, practice and public advocacy.

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