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Australian Current Affairs

Australian government allows Malaysia to prevent free speech on Australian soil


Anwar Ibrahim

Anwar Ibrahim

Imagine this: Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is visiting Malaysia to speak to Australian students studying at Malaysian universities.

The Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur then issues a written threat to all Australian students, saying that if they hear Mr Shorten speak they will lose any government-funded scholarships.

Such an action would be met with outrage by any Malaysian government as being an act of foreign interference, and an unwarranted intrusion in Malaysia’s domestic affairs.

Yet something very similar occurred in Australia in the past few days.

An official of the Malaysian consulate in Sydney warned Malaysian scholarship students not to attend the talk I gave last weekend at Adelaide’s Festival of Ideas. The email stated he “wouldn’t hesitate to take stern action to those involved”.

Australia rightly prides itself as a bastion of free speech and democratic ideals.

As a liberal democracy, the ability to be able to express views freely in a peaceful manner is a cornerstone of your society.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, after independent senator Nick Xenophon and I called on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to condemn the threat and to protect students attending my talk, the response was so weak.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade merely responded with a statement, saying: “All students residing in Australia, including Malaysian students, enjoy all rights and liberties available under the Australian law, including the ability to attend a wide variety of legitimate events taking place in Australia. The Festival of Ideas in Adelaide is one such event.”

Contrast this with the US State Department telling the Malaysian embassy in Washington to back off when it made similar threats there.

My talk highlighted the tragic state of democracy in Malaysia, conveniently ignored by this and the previous Australian governments.

The grave flaws of Malaysia’s election system were highlighted last year by an independent, international fact-finding mission, of which Senator Xenophon was a member.

The mission flagged grave concerns about the integrity of the electoral roll, phantom voters, voter intimidation, a corruption-prone postal-voting system and, overall, the potential for massive electoral fraud.

There is also a severe gerrymander favouring the government. The Secretary General of the ruling party, for example, has only 7000 voters in his electorate. The deputy leader of the opposition has 100,000 voters in his electorate.

And major television stations and newspapers are owned by allies of the government with no airtime or space given for the opposition’s views, apart from outright vilification.

The international fact-finding mission concluded that these restrictions were draconian, because they prevented alternative views being heard.

Little wonder that the ruling coalition has never been out of power in the past 56 years.

The mission’s fears proved well founded at May’s general elections. Despite widespread voter fraud and irregularities, and the official result of almost 52 per cent for the opposition and 47 per cent for the government, the gerrymander still meant the ruling party holds 60 per cent of the seats.

As for me, I am banned from entering any university campus in Malaysia. It seems my time as a professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC doesn’t qualify me to set foot on campuses in my own country!

I was overwhelmed by the response I received from the Australian public and Malaysian students in Adelaide.

Successive Australian governments have been rightly concerned when such anti-democratic processes prevailed in Myanmar. But their silence at this travesty in Malaysia is deeply saddening. And the response of Ms Bishop to threats made against Malaysian students on Australian soil truly shocks me.

Anwar Ibrahim is the leader of the opposition in Malaysia
 
Source: The Australian – Bishop’s silence on talk a shock
 

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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