ANU Malaysia Update 2023 - 25 years of Reformasi: A Critical Reflection

The 2022 Malaysian general election (GE15) saw long-time oppositional leader and reformist icon Anwar Ibrahim became Prime Minister of Malaysia, more than two decades after he initiated the Reformasi movement that created rippling effects throughout society. From prison to Putrajaya, is Anwar’s success a happy ending for Reformasi? 

Of course, the Reformasi ideals were always about more than just Anwar’s political ambitions. It is crucial and timely to conduct a critical reflection on the many aspects of reform agendas in Malaysia, not only politics but also economic, social, cultural and environmental developments since the late 1990s. For example, to what extent has Malaysia’s economic structure evolved since the 1998 Asian financial crisis? How have artists, cultural and media practitioners pushed for change and to what extent have they succeeded? How has Islam been a driver of change in Malaysia over the past 25 years? How has the notion of indigenous identity evolved? What is the state of civil society today after the height of anti-corruption social movements in the 2010s? Has Malaysia become more of a ‘leader’ in the Southeast Asian region and global affairs, or become more insular and domestic-focused? 

The ANU Malaysia Institute will hold the 2023 Malaysia Update conference (hybrid) in Canberra on Monday 20 March 9am-5pm, followed by a postgraduate symposium (in-person only) on Tuesday 21 March 9am-12.30pm.

The conference will feature leading academics of Malaysian Studies in Australia and Malaysia, as well as contributions from policymakers, students, and the general public.

Speakers on day one include: 

  • Sivarasa Rasiah, Former Deputy Minister of Rural Development, Malaysia
  • Azmil Tayeb, Universiti Sains Malaysia
  • James Chin, University of Tasmania
  • Masjaliza Hamzah, Sisters in Islam
  • Ross Tapsell, ANU
  • Faisal Tehrani, National University of Malaysia
  • Ying Xin Show, ANU
  • Björn Dressel, ANU
  • June Rubis, University of Sheffield
  • Nithiyananthan Muthusamy, Khazanah Research Institute
  • Teck Chi Wong, University of Queensland
  • Dian AH Shah, National University of Singapore
  • Robert Cribb, ANU
  • Hugh Robililard, A/g First Assistant Secretary, Southeast Asia Maritime Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The aim is to offer fresh perspectives on the study of Malaysia as well as to reflect on recent changes in Malaysia’s politics and society.

The conference is open to the general public, with in-person and online-attendance on Monday 20 March. 



Monday 20 March (9am-5pm, in-person: Barton Theatre, JG Crawford Building 132, ANU; online: Zoom)

8.30-9am Registration

Welcome and Introduction

  • Welcome - Professor Helen Sullivan, Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific
  • Introduction – Associate Professor Ross Tapsell, Director, ANU Malaysia Institute

9.15am Political Update

  • Political Update I : Dr Azmil Tayeb, Universiti Sains Malaysia
  • Political Update II: Professor James Chin, University of Tasmania
  • Q&A

10.15am Media and Civil Society Update

  • Media and Civil Society Update: Masjaliza Hamzah, Sisters in Islam
  • Discussant: Associate Professor Ross Tapsell , ANU
  • Q&A

11.05-11.25am Morning Tea
Cultural Update

  • Cultural Update: Dr Faisal Tehrani, National University of Malaysia
  • Discussant: Dr Ying Xin Show, ANU
  • Q&A

12.15pm Law and Judiciary Update

  • Law and Judiciary Update: Dr Dian AH Shah, National University of Singapore
  • Discussant: Associate Professor Björn Dressel, ANU
  • Q&A

1.05-2pm Lunch

2pm Keynote Speech

  • Keynote Speech: Sivarasa Rasiah, Former Deputy Minister of Rural Development
  • Q&A


2.40pm Environment and Indigenous Identity Update

  • Environment and Indigenous Identity Update: June Rubis, University of Sheffield
  • Discussant: Professor Robert Cribb, ANU
  • Q&A

3.30-3.50pm Afternoon Tea

3.50pm Economic Update

  • Economics Update: Nithiyananthan Muthusamy, Khazanah Research Institute
  • Discussant: Teck Chi Wong, University of Queensland
  • Q&A

4.40pm Concluding Remarks: Foreign policy/Australia-Malaysia relations

  • Hugh Robililard, A/g First Assistant Secretary, Southeast Asia Maritime Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


Tuesday 21 March (Postgraduate Symposium 9am-12.30pm, in-person, Barton Theatre, JG Crawford Building 132, ANU)

9am Panel 1 Politics and Economics 

  • Migration, foreign direct investment, associate policies and their influence on economic development in Malaysia - Stewart Nixon, ANU Crawford School of Public Policy
  • The politics of government-linked companies in Malaysia - Teck Chi Wong (UQ School of Political Science and International Studies) 
  • Competing for influence: The PRC and Taiwan in Kuching - Yun Seh Lee , College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University
  • Navigating Asian values within the press social responsibility context in Malaysian journalistic practices: a critical ethnography - Aisya Aymanee M Zaharin, UQ School of Social Science
  • Chair: Nicholas Chan, ANU


10.30-11am Morning Tea

11am: Panel 2 Law and Judiciary 

  • FELDA settlers and the elimination of discrimination in respect of occupation  - Renuka Balasubramaniam, Melbourne Law School
  • Arbitration agreements in Malaysia: post Tindak Murni - Abdul Muiz Abdul Razak, ANU College of Law
  • Court’s dynamic in a hybrid regime - Amalina Yasmin Mohd Sokri , ANU School of Politics and International Relations
  • The right to work for refugees in Malaysia: past, present, and future policies - Aslam Abd Jalil (UQ School of Social Science) 
  • Chair: Joshua Neoh, ANU


12.30 -1pm Lunch

Registration for day one Monday 20 March (9am-5pm) is via Zoom Events Page


The Zoom Events page (ZE) is also your program for day one, containing information on the sessions, speakers and fellow attendees (if you share your profile with us). Whether you are attending online or in-person, the ZE event lobby is your hub for all the information you’ll need.

If you have any queries, or need assistance to register in the ZE platform, please let us know. Email: 

Read our handy guide here for instructions. 

Registration for day two - postgraduate symposium (in-person only) on Tuesday 21 March (9am-12.30pm):

Please register via Eventbrite link.

From heart-to-heart chats to 'national conversations', dialogue is often held up as a model of responsible and productive interaction. Yet at times, calls for more dialogue seem to mask monological presuppositions that 'everyone' will end up agreeing to the same thing.

In this talk, Professor Matt Tomlinson examines the different meanings of monologue and dialogue and the ways they are related in political and religious speech. Drawing on detailed and long-term ethnographic research in Fiji, Samoa, and Australia, he describes the ways in which political and religious speakers make claims about what counts as dialogue, who gets to participate, and what happens when dialogue fails to take shape or falls apart. Examples come from diverse contexts ranging from casual kava-session conversations to formal chiefly oratory and from spirit mediums’ dialogues with the dead to preachers’ assertions of what they consider universal truths. In examining the relationship between monologue and dialogue, Matt explores themes of challenge, vulnerability, consensus, and commitment. Ultimately, monologue and dialogue can be seen as always co-present tendencies in particular political and religious speech genres.



6-7pm Academic Lecture

7-7.30pm Networking drinks & canapes


About the Speaker

Matt Tomlinson is Professor at the School of Culture, History and Language in the College of Asia and the Pacific.

He is a sociocultural anthropologist who studies the relationship between language, politics, and religious ritual. His work focuses on how people organise themselves to communicate with 'extrahuman' figures (including God, ancestors, and spirits) and what social effects such ritual communication has.

Matt's diverse research interests encompass various aspects of Oceania, including Fiji, Samoa, and Australia. He delves into language, culture, religion, ritual, theology, Christianity, and spiritualism.

Read more about Matt's profile here.


Professorial Lecture Series

This public lecture is the second in a series of four lectures that aim to celebrate our esteemed academics and showcase their areas of expertise in research and teaching.



Professorial Lecture Series

This public lecture is the third in a series of four lectures that aim to celebrate our esteemed academics and showcase their areas of expertise in research and teaching.

About the event

Intra-state conflicts have become ever-more common in the past forty years. Since WWII, more than half have recurred within five years of being resolved, usually by some form of agreement. Many such conflicts originate in disagreements about resource exploitation, and they tend to recur even more rapidly than others.

It is common for intra-state conflicts to initially involve, or give rise to, demands for territorial control of part of the country concerned and hence involve self-determination issues. In various parts of the Pacific and Asia, post-conflict constitution-making/constitution-building has seen movement away from the influence of colonial constitutional models and the development of some innovative approaches to conflict prevention and/or resolution.

In this presentation, drawing on over forty years of experience of involvement in efforts to use constitutions to prevent or resolve such conflicts in eight countries in Asia and the Pacific, as well as Uganda, Professor Anthony Regan considers what might be learnt about sustainable conflict prevention and resolution through choices not only of processes for constitution-making and amendment, but also the content of both new constitutions and constitutional amendments. In relation to process, the issue of broad-based inclusivity is of critical importance. In relation to constitutional content, he examines some possibilities for compromises on demands for ‘external’ self-determination; ‘creative’ possibilities for ‘internal’ self-determination; and approaches to resolution of resource exploitation-related conflicts.



6-7pm Academic lecture

7-7.30pm Networking drinks & canapes


About the speaker

Professor Anthony Regan is a constitutional lawyer, who has lived and worked in Papua New Guinea for 17 years, where he was a lawyer for various government bodies, and taught at the University of Papua New Guinea. He has undertaken constitutional advising work in Uganda (full-time for over three years, 1991–94), Timor L’Este, Fiji, Solomon Islands and India (in relation to resolution of the Naga secessionist conflict). He has been a long-term adviser to the Bougainville parties during the Bougainville peace process, and 2002–04 was an adviser to the Constitutional Commission and Constituent Assembly that developed the Constitution of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

Anthony's diverse research interests include constitution-making processes, constitutional design in conflict resolution, and conflict analysis and resolution, especially in conflicts involving identity, resources and self-determination issues.

Read more about Anthony's profile here.



Professorial Lecture Series

This public lecture marks the culmination of our Professorial Lecture Series this year, a captivating series of four presentations, all dedicated to honouring our distinguished academics while highlighting their profound contributions to research and education.


About the event

Ambitious claims are often made today for big data analytics as the preeminent tool for understanding and predicting human behaviour. In this talk, Professor Benjamin Penny will 'zoom in' to consider the value of a micro- rather than a macro-perspective, focusing on the utility of the specific, the local, and the individual for analysing human society.

A famous aphorism, variously attributed to Roman Jakobson and Nietzsche, has it that philology is the art of reading slowly. It was only after Benjamin had completed many years of his education in Chinese that he realised that reading slowly had been the foundation of his disciplinary practice.

The intense focus philology has on the specific ramifications of each word as we read has been a key methodological underpinning of Benjamin's work. While 'big data' analytics undoubtedly has its value taking the specific instance seriously - a single life, one group of religious practitioners, the small data - can still be beautiful.



6-7pm Academic lecture

7-7.30pm Networking drinks & canapes


About the speaker

Benjamin Penny is a professor of Chinese history and religion in the School of Culture, History and Language at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. His research examines religious and spiritual movements in modern and contemporary China as well as in medieval times; Taiwanese religion and society, and expatriate society in the treaty ports in the nineteenth century.

Read more about Benjamin's profile here.




During the violent early years of China’s Cultural Revolution, the province of Guangxi experienced by far the largest death toll of any comparable region. Why? One explanation posits a process of collective killings focused on rural households categorized as class enemies by the regime. This view draws parallels with genocidal intergroup violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, and similar settings. New evidence from classified investigations conducted in China in the 1980s reveals the extent to which the killings were part of a province-wide counter-insurgency campaign carried out by village militia. The unusually high death tolls were generated by an organized effort that resembled the massacres of communists and other leftists coordinated by Indonesia’s army in 1965.

Andrew G. Walder is the Denise O’Leary and Kent Thiry Professor in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University, where he is also a Senior Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. His recent publications include Agents of Disorder: Inside China’s Cultural Revolution (Harvard 2019) and (with Dong Guoqiang) A Decade of Upheaval: The Cultural Revolution in Rural China (Princeton, 2021). This talk is based on a book to be published by Stanford University Press in January 2023: Civil War in Guangxi: The Cultural Revolution in China’s Southern Periphery.


The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the Australian Centre on China in the World at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.