Dignitaries from the official ASEAN delegation were hosted by the ANU as part of their Parliamentary visit to Australia.
The delegation, comprised of one parliamentarian from each ASEAN Member State, attended a brief Q&A session with Professor John Blaxland, Director of the ANU Southeast Asia institute and Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, and Dr Sarah Milne from the Crawford School of Public Policy.
The session was an opportunity for the University to strengthen its ties with the Southeast Asian representatives. Professor Blaxland and Dr Milne stressed that engagement with Asia was a central pillar of the College of Asia and the Pacific.
“This isn’t a discipline-based college – it’s a regional-based college,” Professor Blaxland said.
But the University’s engagement with Asia extends beyond a mere academic context. Dr Milne stressed that the practical background of many of the College academics made them well-suited to facilitating development and innovation in the region. Dr Milne explained that many of her Masters students at the Crawford School came from diverse backgrounds
“Most of the students are international students, and many of them come from governmental departments in the region,” she said. “I really enjoy teaching [them] because I know they will go back and work as practitioners.”
Policy relevance is at the heart of the University’s mode of operation. Initially established as a research school, the ANU sought to provide support to the Australian government and assist in policy development. Today, the scope has greatly expanded – but forging connections with institutions of governance remains central to ANU.
“Our remit is very much to provide support to government, but of course over the years we’ve expanded – we now teach, we now research, [and] we now provide policy advice,” said Professor Blaxland.
“For example, we have been actively involved in confidential discussions in the lead up to the preparation of the Foreign Policy White Paper,” Professor Blaxland explained. “A number of the scholars here have written papers directly and specifically intended to improve the Foreign Policy White Paper,” he added.
Despite the University’s close involvement with the development of the White Paper in particular, Professor Blaxland expressed that greater engagement with ASEAN was needed in this Asian Century.
“There’s a lot of very enthusiastic and driven scholarship that takes place here at ANU, that’s hoping to make a positive contribution to Australia-ASEAN relations, and to the circumstances in the countries that we work in,” said Professor Blaxland.
But these relationships tend to revolve around individual personalities, rather than institutional ties.
“A lot of us have ties with individual universities across Southeast Asia, and various faculties within Universities. It’s very much a scholar-to-scholar type tie,” said Professor Blaxland.
Blaxland expressed his concern at the fact that a number of the ASEAN countries have been largely absent from the White Paper.
“ASEAN has been subject to some criticism in Australia for being a ‘broken reed’- in other words it’s not a very effective form of governance because of its internal disagreements and its very weak central secretariat,” he said.
“But I still think it’s a remarkably positive institution,” he encouraged. “And the White Paper makes that clear as well.”
By CAP student correspondent Dot Mason.