The Rise and Fall of 2007-2013 Labor Government


Peter Hartcher, the Sydney Morning Herald’s political and international editor, has recently published a special five parts feature entitled, “The Meltdown“. It traced the rise and fall of the 2007- 2013 Australian Labor Government led Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

They were two extraordinary politicians. The great sadness of this time was that they were both in the same generation with the same ambition.

Together they should have been invincible.
~ Penny Wong

The State of the Federal ALP Government as described by Clarke and Dawe

As a casual observer of Australian politics I can’t help feeling tired and fed up with the current performance of the ALP at the federal and state levels. This video by Clarke and Dawe had accurately described what’s happening in the Labor government. This is a government that lost its agenda setting ability and is either in denial or lacked ideas to reverse its current position.

I had so much hopes for Australia when the ALP (Australian Labor Party) went through a disciplined and focused campaign to defeat the second longest serving Prime Minister – John Howard and took office. At the start, Rudd looked like a capable PM, financial conservative guy with foreign affairs expertise with Gillard looking liked a capable, strong deputy PM and taking on industrial relations and education portfolio amongst other things. Things looked pretty good and I thought Australia was entering into a golden age of economic and social policy progress. My admiration went to their latest level when a centre-left ALP managed to keep the Australian economy in shape through the darkest times of the 2008 GFC (global financial crisis) by riding on the China boom.

But since then everything seem to fall apart and I had my dose of reality check. This government was unable to defend their policies has gradually lost its support for its programmes and overall support despite a negative and uninspiring opposition. Australians were increasingly more worried for their future despite a blooming economy. The ALP’s internal discipline faltered, the great opportunity to push through difficult reforms despite a federal-state ALP government never came, education review led to more questions about Australia’s research future, national infrastructure investment did not fly, home insulation programme was canned, the mining super profit tax was watered down, climate change agenda captured by  the Coalition, refugee issue remained a question mark.

As a Sinophile, I was most disappointed by the dearth of leadership and ideas to engage China in a meaningful and with the forward looking vision to prepare the country for the rise of a new global power and the new opportunities beyond natural resources. Instead I saw policies and behaviours that reflected tints of yellow peril. United States is without a doubt still a global superpower and an important ally, but Australia has to prepare for the new reality.

If the federal ALP government wants to retain the confidence of the Australian public, they better get their act together and stopped repeating that these are difficult times for any government. Stop the denial and take it on the chin! Guess what? That’s why the Australian public voted them into government in the first place.

Outward Foreign Direct Investment from Emerging Economies

Recently, I have been doing research on the nature of China’s outward foreign direct investment and its impact on Australia. I found the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, Columbia University to be an invaluable source.

Between Karl Sauvant (former UNCTAD Director) and Ken Davies (former Global Relations Head, OECD), there have been numerous useful articles including:

8 Jun 2010 – Politics, Philosophy and Economics Daily Linkages




Liberalism in the global context, relations with global powers and due process adherence: Malcolm Fraser at the Lowy Institute

This week at the Lowy Institute’s Distinguished Speaker Series, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser shared candour and shrewd insights into meaning of liberalism in the global context, small countries’ relations with super powers and the importance of  due processes adherence .

Click here to listen to his presentation entitled “Liberalism and Australian foreign policy“.

Political Islam in Indonesia – A Threat to the Pancasila State?

Originally uploaded by isafrancesca

This essay argues that despite the rising Islamic manifestations among Indonesian society and the majority Muslim population, these conditions not do threaten the monotheistic nature of the Indonesia state espoused by the national philosophy – Pancasila. The secular-national parties’ victory led by the Democratic Party during the 2009 April General Election clearly affirms the view that the Muslim majority do not “see voting as ‘confessional behaviour’, explicitly linked to their faith” (Fealy 2009, Kadir 2004, Hefner 2000). Further examination of the election results also revealed uneven levels of support among the heterogeneous Islamic political parties. Until these disparate parties are able to consolidate their support bases, establish common political agendas and design viable socio-economic policies to attract the Muslim voters, their presence would not threaten the Pancasila state.

This essay begins with an introduction to Pancasila with a focus on its monotheistic nature, followed by the development of political Islam under Soeharto’s rule. Third, I will provide an introduction to the various Islamic political parties that have emerged following the demise of Soeharto’s regime. After which I will provide an analysis of the Islamic parties’ performance during the recent 2009 April General Election. Based on the latest voting trends, I will finally conclude if political Islam poses a present threat to Indonesia’s national philosophy.

The Indonesia’s national philosophy, Pancasila, consists of five principles. The first principle “Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa” states that “the State shall be based on the belief in the one and only God”. Similarly in Article 29 of the Indonesia Constitution which set out the status of religion in the state, no single religion was officially acknowledged. In addition, “the government is [also] required to follow a policy of neutrality towards all religions” and “afford equal right to all citizen regardless of their religious persuasions” (Salim 2007). These two examples highlight the basis for monotheism and religious plurality to exist in the Indonesian state where non-Muslim form the other 13% of the population (Kadir 2004).

As the nation’s dominant religion, Islamic groups has always been featured extensively in Indonesia’s historical and political landscape. Islamic mass organisations such the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and the Muhammadiyah had a history of political activism in the country ever since the independence and anti-communist movements. After seizing power from Soekarno in 1965, Soeharto saw these Islamic organisations as political challenges to his newly acquired state authority. Therefore he sought to “sideline all Islamic parties … and subjected all political activities to stringent state control” (Means 2009). Soeharto required all organisations to assert their acceptance to the national philosophy of Pancasila. During that period, he also sanctioned new an Islamic political party and state agency such as Partai Muslimin Indonesia (Parmusi) and Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), in efforts to further diffuse the Islamic vote and community leadership. For much of his rule, Soeharto was generally able to curb the influence of political Islam and but not totally emasculate its existence.

In 1999, following Soeharto’s resignation, Indonesia embarked on the electoral democracy path. The democratisation process led to a flurry of Islamic and Muslim-based political parties particularly after years of political marginalisation under Soeharto’s rule (Kadir 2004, Ufen 2009). More than twenty political parties contested in the 1999 General Election. By and large, these Islamic political parties fall under two broad categories: Islamic and Muslim-oriented parties (Kadir 2004, Ufen 2009). The Islamic parties officially proclaim their Islamic identity with the clear agenda to apply Shariah laws across the societal and political realms. Only Muslims are admitted into these parties. This list includes the United Development Party (PPP), Moon and Crescent Party (PBB) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

On the other hand, parties such as the National Awakening Party (PKB) and National Mandate Party (PAN) belonged to the Muslim-oriented category. These parties draw their support mainly from the Muslim communities, but they also espouse a “religion neutral state ideology” (Pancasila) and are inclusive towards non-Muslims along their membership (Kadir 2004). The large number of Islamic political parties’ existence illustrate the divisions and diversity of opinions among the Indonesian Muslims.

With an overwhelming Muslim population (87%), there is the hypothetical risk for the “tyranny of the majority” situation to occur in Indonesia (Salim 2007). What if the Muslim constituents decide to vote in overwhelming numbers for Islamic political parties? It could be seen as a mandate for these parties to apply Shariah laws across all spectrums of the state and society. The non-Muslim minorities would be numerically helpless to oppose it. However, thelow-level of support for Islamic political parties from previous elections persisted into the 2009 April General Election seem to offer some respite.

Despite evidence of growing conservatism and Islamic influence such as the 2008 Anti-Pornography Bill and the increasing numbers of Shariah provincial bylaws, the overall support for Islamic political parties actually fell to their lowest level in the 2009 April General Election since the post-Soeharto years (Fealy 2009). When this trend is viewed together with the Democratic Party’s runaway success in the same election, it became clear that Muslim constituents are not voting solely on their religious belief. There are two possible reasons for this occurrence: the constituent’s personal socio-economic concerns and the existence of serious internal divisions among the various Islamic political parties.

Over the last two years, Lembaga Survei Indonesia (Indonesian Survey Institute) surveys revealed the constituents’ “shrinking confidence in Islamic parties’ ability to address pressing socio-economic issues” (Fealy 2009). Compared to previous administrations, Indonesia achieved a period of stable economic growth under Yudhoyono’s first presidential term. Yudhoyono was politically acute to include members of Islamic political parties into his cabinet. The combination of his ability to deliver steady economic growth and inclusion of ministers from Islamic political parties in his cabinet enables him to capture the confidence of the majority moderate Muslims.

Second, over the recent years, serious internal cracks have emerged among the three of the four largest Islamic political parties. Since 2004, PKB was headed by four different chairmen and has been involved in legal exchanges with other rival groups. The PPP suffered from faction divisions and inapt leadership due to personality and sectional differences. The PAN was deeply divided among over its nomination for the 2009 July Presidential election. These splits do not aid the parties’ causes but has resulted in further alienation from their support bases.

This essay has demonstrated that there not strong correlation between rising religion fervour and its challenge to the Pancasila philosophy. It also highlighted that at the polling booth, the majority of the Indonesia Muslim constituents would both consider both the secular-nationalist and a wide range of Islamic political parties partially the parties’ abilities to address socio-economic issues. For the reasons, it is currently safe to assume that current state of political Islam in Indonesia does not threat the Pancasila state.

Fealy, Greg. “Indonesia’s Islamic parties in decline” Inside Story. May 11 2009. (accessed October 27, 2009)

Hefner, R.W. “Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000

Kadir, Suzaina. “Mapping Muslim politics in Southeast Asia after September 11” The Pacific Review, vol. 17, no. 2 (2004): 199-222.

Means, Gordon P. “Political Islam in Southeast Asia” 93-118. Malaysia: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2009.

Salim, Arksal. “Muslim Politics in Indonesia’s Democratization: The Religious Majority and the Rights of Minorities in the Post-Suharto Era” in Indonesia: Democracy and the Promise of Good Governance, McLeod, Ross and MacIntyre, eds., Singapore: ISEAS, 2007

Ufen, Andreas. “Mobilising Political Islam: Indonesia and Malaysia Compared” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, vol. 47, no. 3 (2009): 308-333.

A General Health Advice from the Chaser (War on Everything) ABC

– Picture taken near North Melbourne station

Remember the Chaser’s 2007 APEC Summit Osama security stunt (see youtube video)? The new season of the Chaser (War on Everything) returns on ABC1 in midst of the swine flu (H1N1 influenza) pandemic.

As a general advertised health alert, all fans and new viewers are strongly encouraged to wear those little blue facial masks and stay at home especially on Wed, 27 May for further updates.

Public Talk on Obama Administration’s First 100 Days Organised by National Library Board Singapore, Singapore Institute of International Affairs and School of Thought


The Singapore Institute of International Affairs is organising a free public talk on the first 100 days on President Obama’s administration on Saturday, 23 May 2009 at The Pod, Level 16, National Library. This event is especially tailored for youths aged 13–25.

Join Dr Dawn Dekle, Dean of the Centre for Leadership at S.P. Jain Center of Management, as she explains the contexts, backgrounds and issues facing the Obama Administration.

Due to limited seating availability, registration is required.

This event is co-organised by the National Library Board Singapore and School of Thought.

For more informatiom, please visit The Obama Administration’s First 100 Days (SIIA) link.

An Internship with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs

Good news, friends! Since last month, I joined the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) as an intern under the Eric Teo Global Citizens Internships programme. Founded in 1961, the SIIA is Singapore’s oldest think tank dedicated to the research, analysis and discussion of regional & international issues.

A unique feature of SIIA’s programmes is its commitment to public education including students and the general public population through events such as 938LIVE in NIE: What Does ASEAN Mean to You? (past) and the upcoming The Obama Administration’s First 100 Days forum (23 May 09).

During the last month with the organisation, I was introduced to the concept of “Track II diplomacy“, the various ASEAN foras, the various think tanks and special interests groups based in Singapore and the opportunity to be involved in the think tank’s flagship event – 2nd ASEAN & ASIA Forum.

I also enjoy the company I made within the organisation especially over lunch and tea discussion about philosophy and political/ economic theories. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be introduced to this environment before I return back to the university this July.

1-170409-asean-asia-form-singapore ray-berno-may-pre-aaf pauline-fan-berno-aaf-2009

Update of my fav podcast feeds: Business, Humour, Social Commentary and News

Since the economic downturn I have almost stopped buying CDs and moved onto podcasts for my aural stimulation. An audio diet laced with humour, news, business and commentary. Here is a list of my absolute must-hear feeds:

1. Hamish & Andy – My fav commute-time comedy duo from Melbourne. Give these guys a try and I reckon you will become a fan too.

2. American Public Media’s Marketplace. Great way to get an summary of Wall Street overnight performance and news.

3. NPR’s Planet Money. How to make sense of all these news from the Wall Street to the White House.

4. Robert Reich’s Commentary. Prof Robert Reich teaches public policy in Berkeley and served as Labour Secretary during the Clinton administration

5. The Story is about “people whose lives are intersecting with significant issues in the news.” The programs has previous discussed about how older people coped when their unemployment benefits ran out (foreclosures), how our past can come back and haunt us via Facebook (Facebook), and how good people can be lured and trapped in money laundering (white collar crimes).

6. BBC’s World Business Daily. An audio documentary of the world of business.

7. ABC’s 7.30 report (video). A snapshot of current issues affecting Australia.

8. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) public lectures and events. Perfect if you enjoy a detailed discussion of the world around us.

9. Sky News Business Report. My 25mins update on the Australian economy and AUD performance.

10. The Gruen Transfer (free video vodcast) by Wil Anderson (now back for Season 2)! The Gruen Transfer is about the science of advertising served with a dead wit and humour.

Does anyone know of an informational podcast feed from Singapore? It’s really difficult to find a Singapore business or social commentary podcast. I would really listen to a Singapore Mandarin podcast after MM Lee is now reminding us the importance of speaking Mandarin.