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May 2009

Some thoughts on the 20th anniversary of my book http://www.usyd.edu.au/sydney_ideas_quarterly/articles/society/01_society.shtml

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Those of us in Asian Studies have been waiting for a long time for a Prime Minister like Kevin Rudd who wants to make Australia 'Asia literate'. The Rudd Government has provided a positive boost to the morale of Asian Studies, but will the rhetoric be matched with a clear plan as to how to achieve such Asia literacy?

On the education front, there has been a restored version of the former Asian languages strategy, but only at a rate of about two-thirds of the program that the Howard Government cut out, meaning that the funding translates into tiny amounts by the time it gets to school levels. Given the indifference towards Asia amongst many educational administrators, you wonder whether they will think it worth their while spending time applying for a program that only gives a maximum of $20,000 per school.

The travel warnings continue, meaning that the program will probably not fund anything that involves actually exposing teaching to time in Indonesia.

One of the first effects of the initial attempt by the Rudd Government to show that it was tough economically was a cut to the National Library, resulting in the scaling back of the Indonesian publications acquisitions scheme. I found out on my recent trip to Europe that this means the National Library no longer goes out to acquire publications itself, but relies on the Dutch KITLV program to provide it with second copies of their acquisitions. How bizarre is that?

In general there is a total indifference to any Arts links with Asia from the Rudd Government, and the current minister, whose music I much admire, shows no interest in Asia. At the Australia-Indonesia conference earlier this year, the Arts received short shrift, in spite of the way that cultural programs have been so important in providing basic awareness of Asia in Australia. Some of my friends and students, for example, are involved in schools programs teaching kids in rural areas about Indonesian dance and music, but have to be supported by private bodies for this.

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