While Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was dutifully fawning over the Malaysian Prime Minister on his recent visit to Canebrra, other Australians were producing commentary on the disappointing performance of Prime Minister Najib Razak. Hamish McDonald, Asia Pacific editor at the The Sydney Morning Herald, captures these disappointments. Below are key excerpts:
Australian visitors to Malaysia soon get the sense of a dumbed-down country, with insipid media controlled by UMNO or the government, a pervasive fear of the huge Special Branch, a debased judiciary, and mediocre universities where entry is by racial quota rather than by merit.
Hal Hill, an economist specialising in South-East Asia at the Australian National University, wrote this week that Malaysia was now struggling to lift its economy out of low-skill activities, with the difficulty worsened by the pro-Malay policies that have created a “culture of entitlement” and pervasive “institutionalised leakages”.
In Canberra Najib would have also been aware that 60 of our MPs signed a petition urging him to drop what they see as a fabricated sodomy charge against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, brought after his coalition sharply cut the UMNO-led government’s majority in 2008.
He would know, too, that Malaysian policies do not impress here. John Lee, at Sydney’s Centre for Independent Studies, has just written of the “enduring cancer” of the pro-Malay affirmative action instituted 30 years ago by Najib’s father, Abdul Razak, after race riots. While lessening the income gap with Chinese Malaysians (25 per cent of the population) and Indian Malaysians (10 per cent), it has created a rent-seeking Malay elite. Public sector jobs and subsidies for Malays add to persistently large budget deficits, funded from oil and gas reserves that will run out in 15 years.