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Oct 29, 2012

Here's one we prepared earlier: Labor goes back to Asia

Labor's new Asian vision is a lot like its Keating-era big picture, only with more spin. Labor looks like the party with some vision of where it wants to go, even if that vision is mainly rear-vision.


If you have distinct feeling of déjà vu from the Asian century white paper, it’s fine: we’ve been here before, a lot.

Take one of the 25 objectives (backed by more than 120 “pathways”) put forward in the paper, that students will have the opportunity to continuously study an Asian language.

The first politician to promise access to Asian languages was Susan Ryan in the Hawke government, when she unveiled the National Languages Policy. Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian were identified among the priority languages and students were supposed to have access to at least one language as part of their education, “preferably continuously”.

Ever since then, Australian politicians have been committing that our students will study Asian languages.

Commitments are one thing, of course; delivery is another. The Howard government axed the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools program a decade ago, making Tony Abbott’s call for more students to be studying Asian languages earlier this year somewhat ironic.

Peter Garrett said that funding for the latest commitment on Asian languages would be part of the Gonski funding package. Indeed, the Gonski goals form part of the white paper goals.

For that matter, most of the government’s policy agenda is in the white paper. The national disability insurance scheme (under the goal of ensuring “all Australians will be able to benefit from, and participate in, Australia’s growing prosperity and engagement in Asia”), the national broadband network, the carbon pricing scheme, food security, the Murray-Darling, budget surpluses.

Even sport is in there. I kid you not. “The Australia in the Asian Century white paper highlights the huge potential to use sport to strengthen Australia’s connections in Asia, Minister for Sport Senator Kate Lundy, said today,” ran one of the flurry of press releases sent out yesterday bearing the “Asian Century” title.

That’s because the Asian Century white paper is less about Australia’s future in the region than about both domestic policy and domestic politics. The Gillard government now has itself an overarching framework within which most of its domestic and international agenda now fits, one the Prime Minister even before yesterday’s launch at the (taxpayer-subsidised) Lowy Institute was using to frame the government’s policies. Get used to hearing “Asian century” a lot between now and the election.

For a government routinely accused of lacking vision, and for a Prime Minister who has always struggled to get across to voters what her overall agenda for her time in office is, it provides an opportunity to put together a coherent message about Labor’s priorities in the run-up to and beyond the next election, even if much of the contents of the strategy have only tangential relevance to Asia.

It’s thus a reheat of the Keating years; but whereas Keating, building on the achievements of Bob Hawke (APEC, relationships with China until 1989), had arrived at a complete world view that coherently linked an Asia-centric economic agenda with multiple strands of economic, constitutional, social and cultural policy over the course of decades, this government has produced a similar strategy (guided by one of Keating’s key advisers, Ken Henry) as a broad heading under which pretty much anything on its policy agenda can be shoehorned.

That’s not to deny the merit of the policy objectives in and of themselves. Henry has used the white paper process to continue to press the same sorts of issues that he long pushed as Treasury secretary — productivity and participation, tax reform. But there’s little of the organic politics of conviction that Keating brought to his Asia-focused agenda. History is repeating itself — the first time as passion and belief, the second as rote delivery and press releases about sports.

The other virtue of Keating’s agenda — until the very “big picture” essence of his approach to politics began to grate with voters, who preferred the domestic simplicity of John Howard — was the implied contrast with the visionless, backward-looking Coalition, particularly the Howard model, given Howard’s criticism of Asian immigration in the 1980s and his monarchism. “Asian leaders won’t deal with him,” Keating predicted of Howard before the 1996 election, a prediction that turned out to be more than a little askew, although deputy sheriff Howard never quite managed the feat of getting a birthday cake presented by the Singaporean PM as Keating did.

Undoubtedly Labor is working on the same approach this time around, and probably feels in Tony Abbott it can have more luck. Abbott looks even more of a foreign policy neophyte than Gillard, and his bizarre discussion of what passes for foreign policy in Battlelines will doubtless be read with hilarity and puzzlement across the region. Especially in Beijing, given Abbott not-so-subtly suggests China will give way in the longer-term to India because, well, they speak English in India. And then there’s the ongoing problem of the National Party’s deep xenophobia about foreign investment, which Abbott believes is either politically opportune or is simply too weak to combat in the way Joe Hockey is prepared to.

The other Abbott weak point on this issue is that he has failed to use his extended period of polling strength to articulate a positive agenda, while the government has busied itself putting out the NDIS, Gonski and continuing to roll out the NBN. At the moment Labor, unusually, looks like the party with some vision of where it wants to go. The only thing voters know about the Coalition is where they don’t want to go. However artificial, the Asian Century white paper won’t do anything to harm that.



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41 thoughts on “Here’s one we prepared earlier: Labor goes back to Asia

  1. Jimmy

    Another day another aritcle where BK strives to find the negatives in an otherwise positive policy (or vision) from the govt.
    That siad it is becoming increasingly clear that Abbott is no longer playing in the main game but he has failed to realise it. He is out there still swinging at the Carbon tax and MRRT while the electorate and govt has moved on to things like Gonski, NDIS and exploiting the foothold Australia has gained in Asia.
    If the libs don’t wake up soon they will find out they have lost the unlosable election.

    Oh and if Geewizz is out there strange that the one true poll (newspoll) has the govt level peggin wth the libs (not 44-56) which is much better than that union biased Essential had them last time out at 47-53 – isn’t abouttime to admit you have no idea what you are talking about?

  2. s.applin

    I wholeheartedly agree with objective of the National Languages Policy to have all students; however I feel very strongly that it needs to be one language continuously; “preferably continuously” is nowhere near good enough.

    I studied languages at primary school from years 3 – 7 (1990 – 1994) and in that time had the misfortune to cover 4 languages – a disgraceful waste of resources that resulted in a near net zero benefit to my education and a determination not to specialise in a language when I had the opportunity to do so in high school.

    If, as I think we should, students are to learn a language, it needs to be one language done continuously from whatever age is considered suitable to the end of high school. Learning a language is difficult enough when you are dedicated to it for years. Further, young children and teenagers difficult enough to motivate without them being disillusioned by the knowledge that the effort they’ve put into a language this year will be for nothing and they’ll have to start again on another language.

    Somebody needs to make a decision as to which language will be taught and then see it through.

  3. Damien

    The study of languages in schools is a joke. Not only the waste of resources that defines language teaching in primary school, but in secondary school as well. Most HSC type end of school credentials actually punish language students in the ways results are scaled, or manipulated, to reflect the relative abilities of various subject cohorts. Languages are difficult subjects and it is simply too easy to miss university entry if languages are chosen – unless the student absolutely blitzes the exam. Fixing the problem entails a bit of fundamental reform, associated with the traditional curriculum, elite schools and competitive, high stakes final year credentialling. I don’t see any discussion of those issues from the powers that be.

  4. Jimmy

    Damien – The grading of subjects in year 12 for what used to be an ENTER score does result in some weird things as people are encouraged to maths & science and get c’s than do what they are actually good at (and plan to study at uni) and get A’s.
    In most courses this imbalance is rectified to some degree by the lowering of the required ENTER score for the uni course however Language is a tricky one, being a bi-lingual Engineer could be very handy in the not so distant future but doing a language under the current system may make it difficult get into the engineering degree – this is where Uni’s need to look beyond the score and give bonuses for having a second language.

  5. Frank Campbell

    Everything Bernard Keane says about the reheated leftovers of the “Asian Century” (cringe…) is correct. Only thing different this time round is Gillard’s inimitable banality.

    “Asian century”-it’s all so…provincial, innit?

  6. Clytie

    In the early 70s, the Whitlam government was talking up engagement with Asia. I remember, because I was at school, and one of my prize books was about engaging with Asia, because it was a hot topic at the time.

    However, starting the pattern shown in the article above, we got one term of Indonesian, then it was cancelled. Pity: it’s a very easy language to learn.

    Since then, we have watched the Asian language/culture programs come and go at the whim of government. As with much education/training policy, it’s been an egregious waste of opportunity.

  7. Geoffrey Walker

    Deja vu all over again. After spending 45 years in Asia and now living back in Australia, I can say with some conviction that ‘Asia, your chicken is ready’.

  8. Clytie

    S.applin has a good point. My generation didn’t get any second-language teaching until high school, and then precious little of it. My youngest studied Turkish in kindy, Greek in junior primary school, Spanish in upper primary school and French at high school, all the while speaking English and Vietnamese at home and teaching herself Japanese. She has excellent cultural awareness, but little coherent capacity in non-English languages. As a linguist, I know she would pick up any of these languages quickly once immersed in them (due to her earlier exposure), but effective bilingualism would have been more useful to her, and to prospective employers.

  9. Damien

    Jimmy – agreed.Unfortunately, the culture of school education, and the rewards that accrue to education ministers, bureaucrats, private school administrators and the socio-economically advantaged from current arrangewments all mitigate against change. It’s the elephant in the room that no-one wants to address and which dooms announcements like this one just like all the previous announcements like this one.

  10. Geoffrey Walker

    I did Latin and French at high school and if nothing else it improved my knowledge and usage of English. I picked up some Cantonese as a child in HK and also studied Japanese intensively at university for 2 years in OZ and a year in Japan. I think to effectively use a second language you have to be immersed in it for some time. I have lived in Japan for more than 30 years and whilst considered fluent, I know that I am not there yet.There are freakish exceptions of course but in my experience different types of people learn languages in different ways. Some via musical instincts and talents and some by rote learning. Half baked teaching systems and lack of immersion opportunities tend to turn out people who are simply illiterate in more than one language .

  11. Jimmy

    There seems to be a theme developing here that this idea is doomed to fail because it hasn’t worked before and people need to be “immersed in it for some time”. But regardless of whether it has failed before or the logistics of sending primary school children off to live in Indonesia shouldn’t we be attempting to be bi-lingual and focused on Asia?

    Instead of just dismissing this shouldn’t we be finding ways to make it work?

    And given that in previous years when this was attempted the internet was not available are we not better equipped to achieve this time as Australian school kids can talk to Asian School kids at a click of a button.

  12. shepherdmarilyn

    But it is all about us exploiting foreign students, flogging our dirt and using the neighbourhood as our own play ground.

    Just another load of racist old cobblers.

  13. Jimmy

    Marilyn – I wouldn’t say providing higher education is exploiting anyone and it’s about more than “flogging our dirt and using the neighbourhood as our own play ground.” It’s about getting our neighbours to use us as their playground and flogging them our food, manufactured goods, skills and anything else we can.

    I would say it is about mutual exploitation for mutual benefit.
    But it’s not about asylum seekers so you don’t care.

  14. Norman Hanscombe

    If language teaching is to be taken seriously we need to acknowledge that most students can’t handle the high level requirements to become genuinely proficient, so resources need to be put into such students or teacher quality has to be lowered with no guarantee competent students will have the competent teachers.
    When demanding subjects are watered down for Mickey Mouse or ‘veggie’ courses as students call them they actually harm less academic students unfortunate enough to be in them rather than in course which raise the basic skills which improve their work opportunities.

    s.applin (whatever his/her background is) shows a far better grasp of what’s involved than the bureaucrats designing courses our students in a range of subjects have the misfortune to study.
    Damien, in NSW there was a system which reduced the disadvantages suffered by those from less fortunate backgrounds; but the ‘progressives’ (perhaps with good intentions) introduced changes which have increasingly widened it. To distract attention or look ‘innovative’ new schemes pop up like weeds after the soil is turned.
    Jimmy, trying ideas is an obsession in education but in too many cases not a very rewarding one. Trying already failed ideas is even worse. As for the internet, would you suggest it’s aided student ability in higher level English?

  15. shepherdmarilyn

    Jimmy, we exploit students to an appalling degree, we use Asia as a dumping ground for our dirt and that is all we want them for.

    You need to get over yourself.

  16. shepherdmarilyn

    Jimmy, how many white papers about Australia do you think the neighbours write?

  17. Jimmy

    Norman – “Jimmy, trying ideas is an obsession in education but in too many cases not a very rewarding one. Trying already failed ideas is even worse. As for the internet, would you suggest it’s aided student ability in higher level English?” So no if at first you don’t succeed for you then, try it once if it doesn’t work then don’t bother again?

    And are you saying that having an Asian language isn’t going to be important going forward? Should we just wait until they all learn English?

    And as for the internet, I don’t see it having a negative impact on English, texting (which is different) yes but the internet in general not so much. And do you really think that being able to talk directly to Asian students (as is already happening in some schools will be a negative?

    And you point to a lack of teaching abilities, well the internet will enable the best teachers to talk directly to students hundreds of kilometres away.

    The future is here Norman move into it.

  18. Jimmy

    Marilyn – “we exploit students to an appalling degree” Explain how on a governmental level.
    “we use Asia as a dumping ground for our dirt and that is all we want them for.” Dumping ground? So they don’t actually want it or pay high prices for it, we just take it over and dump it?
    And read the white paper Marilyn, there is a massive opportunity for us to export much more than dirt as the asian middle class rises – agricultural produce and knowledge for one.
    And who cares who many white papers they write about us, it is us who has the opportunity.

  19. Wang Chung

    “..And are you saying that having an Asian language isn’t going to be important going forward?..”

    every time I see someone use phrase “going forward” i think we go bacvkwards.

    why previous comment of mine not up? what matter with you all?-? no saense of humour? you all need get out more.

  20. Jimmy

    Sorry Wang Chung but how about you discuss the point rather than the phrasing.

  21. Bill Williams

    Isn’t it great to be lead by such great leaders, with such a far sighted view of the future that they can see the coming development of Asia? Its enough to generate a warm inner glow of satisfaction and comfort in the knowledge that our government can see what everyone else cannot and is making preparations now.

    Next thing we’ll be hearing that our children are the future of Australia…..and that the government’s “good breast” will be supplying milk in schools to take care of their nutritional needs.

    Bernard at least points out that we have heard it all before…..but surely some of Crikey’s readers and contributors can see this focus group lead (time for a vision statement, Labor) stating of the bleeding obvious for the corny, patronising tripe that it is?

    If the Asian Century is now, Gillard and Labor would do far better to initiate practical action to improve Australia’s ability to trade with Asia……like lowering the value of the Australian dollar…..or perhaps preparing for the coming global economic depression.

  22. Craig Lanlis

    (there is a massive opportunity for us to export much more than dirt as the asian middle class rises – agricultural produce and knowledge for one.) Jimmy

    Well, if you want to get involved in export you better hurry up Jimmy. With all sales of farming and agricultural land up to the value of $277 million not having to be reported to the Foreign Investment Review Board anything under that value may disappear pretty quick.

  23. Wang Chung


    I think the “phrasing”..was the point. If you don’t get that then maybe you should.

  24. Jimmy

    Craig Lanlis – First off three is no forced sales, farmers have to want to sell and secondly why don’t you look at the proportion of farm land that is foreign owned now and compare it to 30 years ago and see how big the threat is.

    There will be plenty of time for us to export plenty of agricultural produce.

  25. Jimmy

    Wang Chung – “I think the “phrasing”..was the point. If you don’t get that then maybe you should.” While you were laughing yourself silly at you clever use of mis-spelling I was talking about the importance of knowing an Asian Language in the future – that is the point.

  26. Craig Lanlis


    You would make a lousy poker player, you show your hand too quick my friend.

    I mentioned nothing about a threat and I knew you would mention the percentage of OZ farming land currently held by foreign interests, which is not much in real terms.

    I merely brought focus to a truly disgraceful issue regarding Australian foreign investment reporting laws. Sorry to p-ss on your parade Jimmy, but oils aint oils.

    With the reporting level of $277M presents an open opportunity for carpet-bagging. The line is drawn.

  27. Jimmy

    Craig Lanlis – “Well, if you want to get involved in export you better hurry up Jimmy. With all sales of farming and agricultural land up to the value of $277 million not having to be reported to the Foreign Investment Review Board anything under that value may disappear pretty quick.” So givne the vast amount of farms are valued below that level them “disappearing pretty quick” isn’t you mentioning a threat of land disappearing pretty quick?

    Maybe you should decide what you are trying to say before you say it.

    And if you aren’t happy with my percentage what is yours?

  28. Craig Lanlis

    Did you have a big one on the weekend or something?

    What’s hard to understand about farming land under the value of $277m disappearing pretty quick?

    The $277m is the ceiling with anything below that not having to be reported to the FIRB and it’s a small figure for foreign interests to consider, but the actual value in real terms presents a rather large agricultural operation which could produce a sizeable enough return to attract them in the first place…agghh. Jimmy is spelt J.I.M.M.Y.

  29. Smart Arts

    “..First off three is no forced sales, farmers have to want to sell..”Jimmy.

    Typical real estate agent, can’t even spell.

  30. fred

    So very remiss of all governments that little has been done to eliminate the overt racism and xenophobia which rules in certain community sectors and electorates and will derail our success in the “Asian century”.

    Our cultural diversity and high rate of ethnic/cultural intermarriage should be an enormous strength, but without language skills and tolerance of difference,we remain compromised as Asians.

    The racism which fuels the disgusting asylum seeker policy and mistreatment of worthy human beings is a millstone around the national neck.

    Asian looking Hazara Afghans and suntanned cricket playing Tamils from Sri Lanka could be integrated into our strong economy and cultural life, and where are they? Demonised, deprived of their freedom on an island on the equator, separated from family and community, stressed out of their brains, going crazy. There are detained asylum seekers with professional skils and experience in demand in our detention centres. Crazy .


  31. Craig Lanlis

    fred – “The racism which fuels the disgusting asylum seeker policy and mistreatment of worthy human beings is a millstone around the national neck”

    On this point I could n’t agree more with you, but you are trying to grab the moral high ground to win an unrelated issue.

    I hope you realize fred, that one can wish for a better deal for his or her own citizens without being a racist. You do realize that fred, don’t you? It’s not a nuance!

  32. Gocomsys

    Fact 1. The Opposition is not only weak on this issue. No vision, no viable policies. Stuck in the last century Howard/Costello policy vacuum.
    Fact 2. The Government again proved that it has the vision required with many policies already implemented as foreshadowed.
    Isn’t it time finally for our mediocre MSM to acknowledge these facts? Someone mentioned,stop publishing “cr*p! Who was that, I wonder?

  33. Norman Hanscombe

    Jimmy (and I hope this may help you see the point?) if jumping off a cliff using a wishing wand doesn’t lead to an ability to fly, perhaps it’s not a bad idea for the next person to try something different.
    I did NOT say learning languages was a bad thing per se; but it IS a farce to have low levels of language consuming resources which could be better spent on having some students excelling in other languages.
    Some might feel your interesting interpretations of what I said, highlights the argument for us concentrating on improving English levels in our system?
    I’m in your “future”, Jim, but fortunate enough to have been through an education system which gave us skills less readily available now.
    As for your request that Wang Chung “discuss the point”, isn’t that a tad rich coming from you?

  34. GeeWizz

    Jimmy this is great news for the Coalition… it means a leadership challenge won’t be on for a Labor leader and Dillard will be run all the way up to the election(good luck)

  35. Gocomsys

    Had a quick look at Cr*key. Unfortunately nothing’s changed! Keane is still sitting on the fence, Jimmy trying hard. Geewizz still doesn’t make any sense and Frank Campbell keeps on knocking (it’s all so…provincial, innit?).

    Better get back to sites such as
    Global Mail,
    The Conversation,
    Independent Australia.

    It is great to see the quality improvement in online content overall!

  36. Frank Campbell

    Gocomsys: You’re so transparent, aren’t you? Keane sitting on the fence? What fence would that be, Geo? What you really mean is that Keane doesn’t do all in his tiny power to preserve the Labour Govt….

    Why don’t you just say explicitly that you can’t feel secure/content/tucked in unless you’re behind a sectarian wall? Like the abysmal “Global Mail” you mention, which consists of Mr and Mrs Seccombe filling in time before departure for the nursing home…

  37. Jimmy

    Craig Lanlis – “What’s hard to understand about farming land under the value of $277m disappearing pretty quick?” Well for a start you have to demonstrate that it is actually disappearing quick and second you claim it will disappear quick but then say “I mentioned nothing about a threat” – if its disappearing quick isn’t a threat why are you worried?

    Smart Arts – “Typical real estate agent, can’t even spell.” In fact I am an accountant in rural Victoria and all my in laws are farmers.

    Geewizz – “Jimmy this is great news for the Coalition” Not even the slightest admission you were completely wrong? And if the ALP start to lead will it still be great news for the libs? And Gillard will be the leader at the next election, the question now is will Abbott?!

    Norman Hanscombe – “I did NOT say learning languages was a bad thing per se; but it IS a farce to have low levels of language consuming resources which could be better spent on having some students excelling in other languages.” Which other languages would you have people learn – French?. Asian economies are the future of this country and learning their languages is critical to our success.

  38. Zodzt TMTR


    Have to agree with Frank Campbell.

    I have been a regular commenter on over 40 discussion forums around the globe. Many of these can be more like a CWA meeting than a determined point of view discussion. Even the Conversation can be boring and go that way at times, too much of niceties and not enough objective straight to the point clout.

    The beauty of Cr-key and it’s commenters is that it possesses a rare combination of information and entertainment.People don’t want to be bored to death with facts in a regimented way, but they love being informed in an entertaining way.

    A rare combination indeed and it flows almost like slap-stick at times, but that’s it attraction and none of the most pertinent essential points are ever lost.

    In short Gocosmys,I don’t think you realize what you have.The only issue with Cr-key is the moderation process. Much work needed this area, I wonder if it takes bribes.

  39. GeeWizz

    Jimmy Australians won’t elect another hung Gillard parliament.

    They are sick of the fibbie fibs and greens running the agenda.

  40. Jimmy

    Geewizz – “Jimmy Australians won’t elect another hung Gillard parliament.” For once you are right – the chances of it being a hung parliament next time are remote, but that doesn’t mean the ALP won’t have a majority.

    And once again you are back to making unsubstantiated claims and just expecting us to beli eve you despite the fact that every prediction you have made on this ite has been completely wrong.

    Based on recent polls it isn’t Gillard that Australians won’t elect but Abbott – he is polling around 34% as preferred PM and his dis-satisfaction is almost double his satisfaction rating. And with the poll you yourself rate as the only true indicator (Newspoll) showing 50-50 for the second time in 6 weeks I think your assertion lacks credibility.

  41. AJH

    Tonal languages have to be learned as a child. Trying to get an adult brain to process tones is a difficult process. I spent a year just learning to recognise them, kids I now give lessons to can pick it up in a week or two.

    Mandarin teaching needs to begin in primary school. Once the kids pick up the basics, learning other tonal languages is much, much simpler.

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