Asian Studies Association of Australia Asian Currents
The Asian Studies Association of Australia's e-bulletin
Maximising Australia's Asian Knowledge
March 2008 | ISSN 1449-4418 | <> for the plain copy (no images) of this issue please click here

Sponsored by ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network

In this issue:



By Susan Chaplin, Independent Researcher, Canberra

While India’s rapid economic development is being reflected in the frenetic pace of basic infrastructure construction taking place in her cities, the Indian state is yet to provide adequate sanitation for all urban residents. Only 46 per cent of urban households are reported to have water flush toilets, and significantly only 36 per cent are connected to the sewer system. For the millions of urban poor forced to live in slums and illegal squatter settlements because of the chronic shortages of housing, a lack of adequate sanitation means not only unhygienic living and working conditions, but also the burden of preventable diseases. Approximately 50 per cent of child mortality in urban slums continues to be directly related to poor sanitation and the subsequent contamination of drinking water.

The outlook though is not totally pessimistic. Since the mid 1990s many partnerships have been established between state and local governments, non-government organisations (NGO) and organisations of slum dwellers to build and maintain community toilets. One of the most innovative partnerships is the alliance between the Mumbai-based NGO, the Society for the Provision of Area Resource Centres (SPARC);

the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF); and Mahila Milan (Women Together), which has constructed thousands of community toilets across India for informal settlement dwellers.

The initial experiences in building and maintaining community toilet blocks took place between 1988 and 1996 in Kanpur, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow as well as Mumbai. Before construction began, community-managed slum surveys were carried out to highlight the inadequate provision of public toilets and their poor condition. The first of the larger projects was the community toilet project in Pune (1998 and 2000) in which the Alliance constructed 800 of the more than 8,000 toilet seats built. This project, initiated by the Municipal Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, was very significant because for the first time a government agency provided the finance, water and electricity, while local organisations provided the design, construction and maintenance.

The strength of the Alliance is their belief that accommodation, negotiation and application of long-term pressure are more important than a focus on a single project or dispute. That is why it is the members who decide where, how and when community toilet blocks will be built. The precise nature of this ‘politics of patience’ varies from one community to another and from city to city. The result is that the Alliance has built relationships with the various levels of state bureaucracies, municipal corporations, the central government and its authorities, and the private sector, by not aligning itself with a particular political party.

Whatever the long-term outcomes of such partnerships for community sanitation, they have produced one particular achievement – the direct participation of the urban poor in the design, construction and maintenance of new community toilets. By improving their construction and management skills, and thus their income-earning ability, and reducing the burden of disease, slum sanitation projects can become genuine anti-poverty programs. They can also empower many slum-dwellers to have the confidence to deal with government agencies and perhaps make greater demands for other basic services.


See also:
Susan Chaplin (2007) ‘Partnerships of Hope: New Ways of Providing Sanitation Services in Urban India’ in Annapurna Shaw (ed), India Cities in Transition, Orient Longman, New Delhi


By Siaan Matthews, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University,

Australia and Malaysia have a close bilateral relationship. They share similar British government backgrounds, they are both federal systems, they both have multiethnic communities, they enjoy extensive trade and educational links, they live in the same geographic region ... the list goes on. But given all this, why haven’t Australia and Malaysia developed an even closer bilateral relationship?

One answer lies in unmistakable differences in their approaches to government, that is, the how and the why of policy making. For example, Australians emphasise the importance of policy analysis, wide consultation and internal coordination. Australia also places importance on public servants being frank and fearless, apolitical, and on policy-making being generally transparent and democratic.

My examination, as part of my doctoral work, of the last five federal budget speeches in each country highlights this. In Australian budget speeches, the words ‘terrorism/terrorist’ were referred to every year, with a total of 32 references in the five speeches. In the Malaysian budget speeches ‘terrorism/terrorist’ was only raised (eight times) in one year, 2004. I also found different attitudes when interviewing senior Malaysian public servants and opinion leaders. When given a selection of 12 key policy considerations, no Malaysian interviewee selected counter-terrorism as a top priority in policy-making (selections available included trade and economic growth, arts and culture, education and counter-terrorism). This analysis suggests that, although counter-terrorism is important in both countries, the way it is handled and the emphasis placed on terrorism within the context of other policy considerations is distinctly different.

So how does this affect the relationship? Both Australian and Malaysian public servants need to have an understanding of how their approaches differ. Equally, both sides need to develop a deeper understanding of what factors will affect a policy decision in both countries. This two-fold need is demonstrated by the protracted Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations which began in May 2005,

were due to conclude in mid-2006, but which are still ongoing, perhaps due to very different negotiating styles. (The Singapore-Australia FTA was concluded in just 18 months (April 2001 to October 2002)).

Malaysian public servants openly admit they are politically driven, particularly in the context that there is only one major coalition and this means that almost everyone (including public servants) fall within the coalition’s sphere. (This continues to be the case despite the swing away from the coalition in the recent Malaysian elections.) This political public service is considered strength because it encourages a focus on meeting the country’s development goals, something public servants willingly admit leads to some lessening of democracy and the dampening of freedoms.

Policy development in Malaysia is also highly centralised. Key policies are sometimes developed and implemented by central agencies, such as the Economic Planning Unit, which then direct the relevant line ministry to take over the policy maintenance and implementation.

The factors which shape public servants’ ways of operating in Malaysia and Australia are also distinctly different, with an interesting example being the different emphases on counter-terrorism.

Malaysia visibly demonstrates its commitment to overcoming terrorism by hosting the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-terrorism.
Apart from that, Malaysian policy-makers say considerably less about terrorism than those in Australia.

With new governments now in power in both countries, public servants have a well-timed opportunity to incorporate new understandings about approaches to public policy into the daily policy-making process. Ultimately, these considerations will assist both Australia and Malaysia by further strengthening the bilateral relationship.


Further information on the Australia-Malaysia relationship is found in the 2007 report by the Australian Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Website has a dedicated section on the Malaysia-Australia FTA. This includes regular updates and specific negotiation reports:

Further information about policy development and administrative reforms in the Malaysian Public Service is available at the website of the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit

The MyGovernment portal ( is a single point of access/gateway to many government services. A quick perusal of some of the ministries’ mission statements highlights the different approach to policy making in Malaysia.

For commentary on the recent election see, ‘Malaysia’s democratic opening’ by Bridget Welsh


This month we profile Francesca Beddie, editor of Asian Currents and former diplomat, who served in Jakarta, Moscow and Berlin.

Q: When did you become interested in Asia and why?
A: I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in order to go to Moscow. It was the early eighties and I wanted to see how homo Sovieticus lived. I applied for Moscow – I’d done Russian and German history and spoke good German. No-one in my year spoke Russian. My second preference was Paris; my third – for reasons I cannot now imagine – Lima. I was told I was going to Jakarta. I protested. I was told again and six weeks later found myself at the RAAF School of Languages at Point Cook, an honorary lieutenant learning Indonesian. The classrooms were weatherboard structures, a good walk across the windswept airfield. They were either hot or cold and we stayed there all day every day to learn Indonesian. At night we studied. And as a result most of the class, nearly all army people, graduated ten months later with Interpreter status.

Soon after I found myself in Yogyakarta, enrolled for six weeks with a tutor who was to polish the training Point Cook had given me. I studied every morning then took a becak through dead quiet streets – in those days nothing was open between midday and three – to the Taman Sari, where I dabbled in batik painting. I could understand neither the becak driver nor most shop owners. I was desolate.

Eventually, I got to Jakarta and started work, in what was to become the most satisfying professional assignment of my life, which included interpreting for ministers and ambassadors and reporting on political Islam. It also heralded a deep fondness and fascination for Indonesia, many lasting friendships and perennial concern at the vulnerability of political relations between Australia and Indonesia.

Q: What are your current preoccupations?
A: I did get to Moscow, after a second assignment in Indonesia, in December 1989. I stayed until 1993. When I eventually got back to Australia in 1995, I was struck by the contrast between attitudes in Indonesia and Russia to the value of education and those prevailing in Australia. The concern to improve that situation eventually led me to my current job in vocational education research.

Many training providers are looking eagerly to Asia for new markets. They are attracting students to Australian-based courses and some are establishing operations abroad. Few, however, are thinking about the Asia-related skills needed to make this business sustainable or, indeed, about preparing Australia’s future workforce to operate anywhere in the world.

Q: What are your hopes for Asian Studies in Australia?
My mastery of Indonesian proved temporary. While I can revive my skills to some degree, these are in marked contrast to my ability to rekindle my German language, learned from the age of eight until I was twenty. That contrast underlines the necessity for broader recognition of the needed to learn a language; and to learn not only its structure and vocabulary but its heritage through its poetry and literature, politics and history. This is an investment in an Asia-literate society, in the platform for securing Australia’s well being.

Postgraduate of the month

Wasan Panyagaew,, now a lecturer in Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Thailand, is the recipient of the 2007 ASAA Presidents’ prize for his doctoral thesis, ‘Moving Dai: Towards an anthropology of people “living in place” in the borderlands of the upper Mekong’. completed at the Australian National University (ANU).

Wasan’s journey in pursuit of a PhD degree began in 2001, when he was awarded a scholarship by the Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University. He applied for study places in the United States and in England, and received an offer from the University of Leeds. Finally, however, he decided to go to Canberra,

even without any knowledge of that most quiet and mysterious place.

The reason for his decision to study anthropology at the ANU was the existence of a Thai-Yunnan Project in the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, which had attracted many prominent scholars, including Professor Nicholas Tapp, an expert on the Hmong people. To have a chance to study with these scholars might be good, he thought! And it was indeed good, although Wasan had to adjust to undertaking a research degree rather than doing course work. He got into the rhythm and now back in Chiang Mai he even sometimes misses that life in Canberra, and the routine of seeing the Telstra Tower, perched on the top of Black Mountain, as he walked home from the Coombs Building each evening.

In announcing their decision to award him the Presidents’ prize, the judges said that Wasan had written a theoretically sophisticated and highly original exploration of Dai identity with excellent ethnographic content that made light of difficult fieldwork conditions. Wasan continues to explore issues to do with the place of minorities in the Upper Mekong.

Website of the month is the website for a performing arts organisation, dedicated to intercultural collaboration through music. While based out of New York City, Berlin and Melbourne, its activities are becoming more and more engaged in Asia, with collaborations planned in China and India in 2008-2009. The members of Grenzenlos are specialists in the language of contemporary classical western music, but many are also involved in other areas of the arts, sciences and the humanities.

Recent publication of interest

Onze Ong, Onghokham dalan Kenangan, is a collection of essays in Indonesian, English and Dutch commemorating the life of Indonesian historian and bon vivant, Onghokham. It was published in December 2007 by Kommunitas Bambu ( The editors, David Reeve, JJ Rizal and Wasmi Alhazari, managed to pool reflections from an extraordinarily diverse range of academics, journalists, diplomats and even the actor Miriam Margoyles, who writes very fondly of her friend, Ong. It is a study in how one man can build bridges across cultures using food and ideas. To buy the book, please contact editor JJ Rizal at

Did you know?

Until Easter, Dr Peter Friedlander was a lecturer at La Trobe University, where he taught Hindi language both on campus and via distance education. Hindi is only available at tertiary level in Australia from three institutions, La Trobe University, Sydney University and ANU. La Trobe was the only provider of Hindi as a distance education subject in Australia and is now almost certain to drop Hindi from the end of 2008. Dr Friedlander's decision to take up a post at the National University of Singapore has been informed by the ongoing lack of funding and support for teaching Hindi in Australia. While it might not be essential to know Hindi to study India or to do business there, it is worth remembering that less than five per cent of India's one billion people speak English. Hindi is not only the official language but is also spoken by around half a billion people in India and is the main language of at least 40 per cent of print and broadcast media.

Diary dates

EU-ASIA RELATIONS: A CRITICAL REVIEW, 27-28 March, Melbourne. This international conference hosted by the Contemporary Europe Research Centre, University of Melbourne, will examine the EU’s external relations and objectives in Asia-Pacific. To capitalise on the conclusions of the conference, a policy workshop on 27 June 2008 in Brussels is to follow. These events are organised with the European Institute of Asian Studies in Brussels. See

"MIGRATION TO PAPUA SINCE 1963: GO EAST, YOUNG MAN", 4 April, Sydney. The mass migration that has occurred since Papua became part of Indonesia in 1963 has caused great changes to Papua's people. This presentation by Stuart Upton will look at the history of this demographic transformation. There are also political dimensions to this movement, with many Indonesians seeing the area. 5.50 pm, University of Sydney, Rm 331, Old Teachers College, see

INTIMATE ENCOUNTERS INDIAN PAINTINGS FROM AUSTRALIAN COLLECTIONS, 22 February to 4 May, Sydney. The Art Gallery of NSW is hosting an exhibition drawing from collections throughout Australia, to survey the major schools of Indian painting, highlighting the rich interactions that inspired each tradition.

THE FUTURE OF THE MULTILATERAL TRADE SYSTEM – 7 April, 2008, Melbourne. The Centre For Public Policy is holding a symposium to reflect on the key challenges facing the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and discuss the findings and recommendations of the Warwick Commission report on the Future of the Multilateral Trade System, which can be downloaded from This event will be held at the Melbourne Business School, 200 Leicester Street, Carlton. Registration is $275. For more information

WORKSHOP ON LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT IN RESEARCH ON ASIA AND THE PACIFIC: Calls for Expression of Interest by 15 April 2008. The ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network is seeking EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST from members to run another two to three day workshop aimed at training postgraduate students and early career researchers in research leadership and management. The Network will provide $20,000 to the successful applicants for the workshop. For more information contact:

CRITICAL HAN STUDIES SYMPOSIUM & WORKSHOP, 24-27April 2008, Stanford University. Han is a colossal category of identity that encompasses ninety-four percent of the population of mainland China, making it the largest ethnic group on earth. Participants in the first-ever Critical Han Studies Symposium & Workshop will help develop materials to be published in two path-breaking volumes: Critical Han Studies, an edited volume, and the Critical Han Studies Reader, a collection of primary source materials in translation. For more information contact Professor Thomas S. Mullaney at or James Leibold at Latrobe University: leibold.html

INTERNATIONAL COLLOQUIUM ON ASIAN BUSINESS (ICAB), 30 June to 3 July 2008 Bangkok, Thailand. The colloquium invites abstracts and papers concerned with Asian business and management issues. Topics to be discussed include intellectual property, brands and branding, finance, managing risk, corporate social responsibility, disaster management, market entry, leadership, and a host of others. The conference particularly welcomes papers that employ novel or interdisciplinary approaches, perhaps drawing from areas of sociology, economics, psychology, cultural studies, history, gender studies or politics. See or email

IS THIS THE ASIAN CENTURY? 17th Asian Studies Association of Australia Conference, 1-3 Jul 2008, Melbourne. The biennial Asian Studies Association of Australia conference is the largest gathering of expertise on Asia in the southern hemisphere. The theme for 2008 invites you to assess how the regions and issues in which you are interested are faring. The ASAA conference is multi-disciplinary and covers Central, South, South-East and North East Asia and the relationship of all of these with the rest of the world. See

THE POLITICS OF ISLAM IN OUTER INDONESIA, 22-26 July, Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, Indonesia. This is the 5th International Symposium sponsored by Jurnal Antropologi Indonesia. These symposia are now among the world's largest gatherings of Indonesianists, primarily but not exclusively anthropologists. Ian Chalmers and Greg Acciaioli are calling for papers to be submitted to the panel: 'The politics of Islam in Outer Indonesia' This panel will explore the political, social and cultural dynamics of Islamic revitalisation today. To express your interest in presenting at this panel, please contact Greg Acciaioli, > Anthropology, University of Western Australia or Ian Chalmers, Indonesian Studies, Humanities, Curtin University of Technology ( ).
For an overview of the conference theme see:


TRANSITION AND INTERCHANGE Ninth Women in Asia Conference, 29 September-1 October 2008, Brisbane. The University of Queensland is hosting the ninth Women in Asia (WIA) Conference, to be held from 29 September-1 October, 2008. Call for Papers: Contributions are invited from various disciplines on a large number of themes concerning the lives of women in Asia. Participants are encouraged to submit proposals for panels (with 3-4 papers per panel). Individual proposals are also welcome. Enquiries can be addressed to

ARTSingapore, 9-13 October 2008, Singapore. This contemporary visual art fair is both a trade and consumer fair, and thus a platform for art dealers and galleries to network and foster business relationships, and for art collectors to acquire new works

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About the ASAA

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) promotes the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures, and politics in Australia, supports teaching and research in Asian studies and works towards an understanding of Asia in the community at large. It publishes the Asian Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference. ASAA and the Centre for Language Studies at National University of Singapore also co-publish an annual supplementary issue of the Centre's fully peer-reviewed electronic Foreign Language Teaching Journal (e-FLT). See

The ASAA believes there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has called on the government to show national leadership in the promotion of Australia’s Asia knowledge and skills. See Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset

Asian Currents is published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA). It is edited by Francesca Beddie. The editorial board consists of Robert Cribb, ASAA President; Michele Ford, ASAA Secretary; Mina Roces, ASAA Publications officer; and Lenore Lyons, ASAA Council member.

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