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.

Review in Southeast Asian Studies

Cover of the journal Southeast Asian Studies

The Kyoto-based journal Southeast Asian Studies has published a review by R. Michael Feener of the edited volume From Anatolia to Aceh. Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia, edited by A.C.S. Peacock and Annabel Teh Gallop, in which I published a chapter.

Feener’s comments on my work are:

Amrita Malhi’s chapter opens a window onto previously under-appreciated dimensions of anti-British uprisings in early twentieth-century Malaya through her explorations of the “subterranean symbolic life” of the Ottoman Empire in Muslim Southeast Asia—and in particular in the ritual and political imaginations of Malay “secret societies.”

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.

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.

New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 3

Image: Malaysia’s “redshirts” clash with the police at a recent rally in Kuala Lumpur. Selected by New Mandala.

Part 3 of my Mahathir series for New Mandala is below.

Social cohesion and scandal cycles in Malaysia

Mahathir on the divisions tearing a country, the opposition and politics apart.

“I’m afraid the whole thing revolves around Najib,” former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last month in his Putrajaya office.

“Because of Najib and his attempt to retain his position as Prime Minister, it becomes difficult for any kind of real dialogue or reforms to be carried out.”

Since this interview, negotiations to create a new opposition front in Malaysia have been in full swing. Party leaders have spent the last three weeks issuing statements on policy issues that will determine their chances of success at the next election, slated for 2018.

One key issue is social cohesion in a nation wearied by toxic debates around race and religion.

Read more

New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 2

The second part of my Mahathir series for New Mandala.

Mahathir and Malaysia’s money politics

In a country where cash is king, soon nothing will happen without bribery, alleges former PM.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad looked on Thursday like a man with important calculations to make. Even as he smiled and laughed, he seemed quiet and reflective as he discussed Malaysia’s dramatic political realignment.

“We had a wrong understanding of the level of concern on the part of the people about what is happening,” he said.

A few days earlier, Mahathir had campaigned with the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition in twin by-elections, called after two incumbents died in a helicopter crash. Held in the federal electorates of Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, both by-elections were won with increased margins by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

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New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 1

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Last week, I interviewed Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, about his intentions for his campaign of public opposition to current Prime Minister, Najib Razak. This is the first of my essays based on that interview for New Mandala, the Southeast Asia blog published by The Australian National University’s Coral Bell School for Asia Pacific Affairs.

Mahathir prepares for Najib confrontation

For former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, defeating PM Najib Razak at the next election is “theoretically” possible, albeit not with money politics which he claims is Najib’s only competitive advantage. “Najib is very, very weak,” Mahathir said on Thursday in his Putrajaya office, adding that “if he is not able to bribe, he will lose. He has to bribe, because he believes that bribery is king.”

Despite his perceived weakness, however, and after his twin by-election victories earlier this month, calls have resumed for Najib to call a snap election soon, while fractious opposition parties remain in a state of tactical disarray. Najib may be preparing to do exactly that, foreshadowing on the weekend that he will announce a cabinet reshuffle today. Whenever Najib does call the election, which is due in or before 2018, Mahathir appears to have concluded that he will not win by developing a competing brand of money politics. “I can’t,” Mahathir said, “because if we give money he will always give more. He has tons of money.”

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KITLV Southeast Asia Update

Today I had the pleasure of speaking at this year’s Southeast Asia Update, organised by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), in the first Round Table session of the day, titled ‘Religious Renewal’. The discussion featured themes such as the continued reality of religious plurality and diversity alongside strong efforts by state and non-state actors to generate new orthodoxies. Picture: KITLV.

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