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Events 2016

2016 events archive

The Southeast Asia Centre runs a series of events throughout the year. Read through our listings of past events for an indication of the centre's interests.

Co-hosted by Sydney Ideas and The Chaser

We partnered with The Chaser to bring you Indonesia’s first female Muslim stand-up comedian and freedom of expression advocate, Sakdiyah Ma’ruf (winner of the 2015 Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent). Sakdiyah talked comedy, religion and where to draw the line with freedom of expression abuser Julian Morrow from The Chaser.

Book launch

Co-hosted by the Philippine Consulate General Sydney

As part of the celebration of the #First70Years of Philippines-Australia bilateral relations, the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre and the Philippine Consulate General (Sydney) hosted the launch of the book Re-imagining Australia: Voices of Indigenous Australians of Filipino Descent by Deborah Wall and Christine Choo. The book recounts the story of the 'Manila Men', the first migrant Filipinos to northern Australia in the late 1800's working in the pearling industry. A large number of Indigenous Australians are descendants of these 'Manila Men', and narrators of the book, representing the historical links and deep people-to-people ties between the Philippines and Australia.

Deborah Wall (PhD) is a Filipino-Australian journalist and researcher who specialised in Aboriginal Studies and oral history.


Co-hosted by the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science

The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre and the Unit for History and Philosophy of Science hosted a discussion with two visitors who are deeply involved in mental health care in Indonesia.

Anto Sg is a patient advocate. During a deep depressive episode (he suffers from bipolar disorder), he was placed in pasung (chains) by his parents after he ran away. After recovering, Anto travelled all over Indonesia to address patients and mental health professionals. He works with KPSI (Komunitas Peduli Skisofrenia Indonesia), the first patient and carer support group in Indonesia. Italian film-maker Erminia Colucci is currently finishing a documentary about his life. She has also produced a documentary about pasung in 'Indonesia: Breaking the Chains'. In June 2016, he was awarded the Jim Birley scholarship for his demonstrated commitment to human rights issues in mental health.

Hervita Diatri is a psychiatrist at the Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Central Jakarta and a staff member at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Indonesia, where she is head of the in-patient unit. She focuses on community psychiatry. Hervita’s PhD is from University of Melbourne, and she received an Australian Leadership Awards Fellowship for Strengthening and Facilitating the Development of Mental Health Workforce in Aceh, where she was active after the 2004 tsunami in setting up mental health services. Hervita has also been active in setting up programs to provide appropriate treatment for individuals with severe and persistent forms of mental illness who have been placed in pasung.

Seminar, presented by Dian Fiantis

How ashes turn into productive soils and support Indonesia's dense population

When we hear about volcanic ash in the news, we are mostly told how it has affected flights to Bali and how some Australians have had to cancel their holiday. Volcanic eruptions are a natural disaster with catastrophic consequences for humans and wildlife, but their aftermath leads to some of the most productive soils in the world with the capacity to sustain high human population densities. Volcanoes in Indonesia have an important role in sustaining the productivity of terrestrial ecosystems through soil rejuvenation. Volcanic ash deposits create fertile soils, in which we grow our food supplies, clothes, fibre and energy. Destroy the soil, and it destroys mankind. Without soil, there would be no life.

In this seminar, Dian Fiantis explored what volcanic ash is, how it can make fertile soil, and its role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Dian studies volcanic soils by collecting the ash after a volcano has erupted. She presented results of analysis of ashes from Anak Krakatao, a volcano that recently erupted in Sinabung in North Sumatra, as well as from Singgalang and Marapi in West Sumatra.

Book launch

Co-hosted by the Sydney Environment Institute

The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre and the Sydney Environment Institute launched the Routledge Handbook of the Environment in Southeast Asia (Routledge 2017, edited by Philip Hirsch).

Environmental questions are integral to the social, economic and political dynamics of Southeast Asia, and they are also therefore a key part of Australia's engagement with the region. There are many approaches to the study of environment, many applications of scholarly understanding in addressing key problems, and many different ways in which environment has emerged as an issue in various regional and country contexts.

In thirty chapters authored/co-authored by thirty-eight leading specialists, including the book's editor and another four from the University of Sydney, the Handbook covers theoretical, applied and country-specific approaches to understanding the environment in Southeast Asia. The chapters at once embed environmental questions in various dimensions of contemporary change, while also reflecting on Southeast Asia's past and revealing ways in which the region's future is imagined.


Co-hosted by the Electoral Integrity Project and the Department of Indonesian Studies

The Electoral Hostility Index (EHI) is used to map violence related to local elections across districts in 11 Indonesian provinces previously categorised as high conflict regions during the country’s democratic transition. Data covering the first two series of direct local elections in 2005-2008 and 2010-2013 indicate that electoral hostility in the second series was significantly higher than the first.

Higher poverty rates and lack of development seem to significantly correlate with higher electoral hostility validating the modernisation hypothesis. Further, the cases of very high electoral hostility are concentrated in the remote Papuan highland districts, although not all of these districts show high electoral hostility.

In order to understand variations in electoral hostility across Papuan districts, and the relatively peaceful local elections of 2015, this seminar looked at the district level, including high and low hostility districts, highland and coastal districts.

Seminar presented by Dr Laode M Syarif

Co-hosted by Sydney Ideas

Indonesia is blessed with very rich natural resources: gold, copper, nickel, coal, bauxite, oil and gas, geothermal, rain forest, various fish species and many others. But they fail to generate wealth for the welfare of the people and for many, have become a ‘curse’ to the nation as they leave irreversible damages to the environment and displace people and communities while channelling the revenues to only a small percentage of the population.

In the effort to address the situation, KPK launched the National Movement on Natural Resources and engaged relevant ministries, governors, and local governments to improve natural resources governance in Indonesia. Also as a result of continuing efforts, KPK recently prosecuted high ranking officials (minister, governors, heads of district/mayors) on natural resources-related cases, and at the same time has discovered a manipulation of multi-billion dollars by many different actors in the area of natural resources extraction.

Seminar, presented by Dan Slater

The presentation offered a new theorisation and categorisation of Southeast Asian polities that have pursued rapid development through integration with a regional economy jointly dominated by American, British, Chinese, and Japanese power and capital. Unlike the 'developmental statist' cases of Northeast Asia (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan), Southeast Asia’s developmental economies can usefully be divided into “developmental militarist” (Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand), “developmental socialist” (Cambodia and Vietnam), and 'developmental Britannia' (Malaysia and Singapore) clusters. This developmental clustering has had profound effects on prospects for Southeast Asian authoritarian regimes to pursue the kind of 'democracy through strength' witnessed in Northeast Asia’s leading developmental states. Of particular note is the pattern that only Southeast Asia’s militarist cases, and not its socialist or Britannia cases, have conceded democratic reforms in the expectation that conservative political elites could continue to thrive under competitive electoral politics.

Book launch

Co-hosted by the Malaysia and Singapore Society of Australia (MASSA)

The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre in collaboration with the Malaysia and Singapore Society of Australia (MASSA), presented a public seminar to mark the Sydney launch of Living in a Time of Deception by Dr Poh Soo Kai.

'Living in a Time of Deception' is a study of Singapore history from the post-war period to 1965. Dr Poh Soo Kai describes the book as a historical memoir. He was part of Singapore's agitation against colonial rule and remains one of the most respected former political prisoners in Singapore.


Co-hosted by Sydney Ideas, the Department of Linguistics and Macleay Museum

What is a low impact life? Can we live sustainably? How can we keep our minds on nature? One way to answer to these questions is to ask the people who know best. Many of the world’s indigenous groups live far from development, deep inside the tropical forests that circle the equator.

The panel discussed the case of an upland indigenous group of Laos, living deep inside the protected forest watershed of one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam projects. Just as Sydneysiders can reel off the names of hundreds of supermarket products, upland Lao can reel off the names of hundreds of tree and plant species. Like so many minority groups, in today’s world the Kri are a counterculture, whether by choice or not. In a consumer-dominated world urgently needing help, what can we learn from them?


Co-hosted by the Department of Indonesian Studies and Sastra Now

Writers and literary translators Eliza Vitri Handayani and Tiffany Tsao discussed their latest books, the challenges of translating between Indonesian and English, and the future of Southeast Asian literature.


Co-hosted by the Philippine Consulate General and the Australia Philippines Business Council, with Guest of Honour H.E. Minda Calaguian-Cruz, Philippine Ambassador to Australia

It has been 70 years since Australia and the Philippines formally established diplomatic relations. However, the Philippines and its people have been very much part of the life and times of Australia since the turn of the 20th century.

A panel of multi-disciplinary experts discussed the different ways in which unique Philippine contributions have been inextricably woven into the fabric of Australian society. These are significant and wide-ranging contributions in the area of industry, regulation on migration and women, and healthcare.


Up-and-coming early career researchers (excluding postgraduate students) from around Australia, who are focused on Southeast Asia, came together to discuss a range of professional development topics and network with peers from across the country. The workshop was an informal setting designed to share ideas (and possibly even frustrations!) with fellow academics and ask questions of those who have gone before.

The workshop was centred around three key topics, incorporating discussion with fellow academics on how to navigate the related systems and challenges to maximise benefits. These included:

  • professional associations
  • publishing strategically
  • collaborations

Book launch

The Indonesia Update 2015 series Land and Development in Indonesia: Searching for the People's Sovereignty, edited by John F McCarthy and Kathryn Robinson, was launched in discussion with Dr Jeff Neilson, Senior Lecturer in the School of Geosciences and author of the chapter Agrarian Transformations and Land Reform in Indonesia.

Indonesia was founded on the ideal of the 'Sovereignty of the People', which suggests the pre-eminence of people's rights to access, use and control land to support their livelihoods. Yet, many questions remain unresolved. How can the state ensure access to land for agriculture and housing while also supporting land acquisition for investment in industry and infrastructure? What is to be done about indigenous rights? Do registration and titling provide solutions? Is the land reform agenda - legislated but never implemented - still relevant? How should the land questions affecting Indonesia's disappearing forests be resolved?


  • How are activists challenging and/or engaging with policy-makers?
  • How have changes in political leadership influenced how activists work with government?
  • What are the prospects for activism over the coming years?

Research students from Sydney and other Australian universities participated in a one-day postgraduate workshop exploring these issues and more. Students discussed their relevant research and participated in discussions on how activists interface with the government, and the challenges faced in trying to influence government, particularly (but not limited to) countries in mainland Southeast Asia. The workshop also included professional development skills and networking opportunities.

Seminar, presented by Selvaraj Velayutham

Co-hosted by the Comparative and International Education Research Network of the Faculty of Education and Social Work

In Singapore, race has a prominent place in the city-state’s national policies. Its political ideology of multi-racialism proclaims racial equality and protection for minority groups from racial discrimination. However, despite official rhetoric and policies aimed at managing and integrating the different ethnic groups, some scholars have argued that institutional racism does exist in Singapore. While it is public knowledge, with few exceptions, racist provocations and experiences of racism are not publicly discussed. In recent years, the advent of social media has made it possible for Singaporeans to unwittingly to express racially derogatory remarks, highlighting that racism is much more deep rooted. Yet, it still remains the white elephant in the room. The seminar examined the socio-political context that has contributed to everyday racial discrimination and calls for a public acknowledgement of racism so as to combat racist practices. It argued that targeted measures such as anti-racism education in schools and public campaigns to raise awareness against racial discrimination are long overdue.


Co-hosted by Sydney Ideas and the Sydney Democracy Network

The panel discussion explored the implications of the 2016 Philippine elections on the changing political and democratic landscape in the Southeast Asian region. The Philippines is the third largest economy, and has the second largest population in the region. It has played a historic role in political leadership as one of the founding countries of ASEAN, and it is also highly regarded as a leader for democracy in the region with the success of its 1986 People Power Revolution. The Philippines is set to assume the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2017, at a critical time in the region's history. How will the outcome of the 2016 elections make an impact on political dynamics, the nature of democracy and overall stability both in the country and in Southeast Asia?

Chaired by Dr Sandra Seno-Alday, the University of Sydney Business School, the panellists included:

  • A/Prof Aries Arugay, University of the Philippines
  • Dr Nicole Curato, University of Canberra
  • Dr Aim Sinpeng, University of Sydney

Seminar, presented by Ly Tran

Co-hosted by the Comparative and International Education Research Network of the Faculty of Education and Social Work

Outbound student mobility has been promoted by universities worldwide as a strategic internationalisation initiative to enhance students’ intercultural skills, global outlooks, international experience and employability. The New Colombo Plan program established in 2014 is a major mobility initiative of the government, contributing to the recent remarkable growth of Australia’s outbound mobility. It is expected that by the end of 2016, the New Colombo Plan supports more than 10,000 Australian students to study and undertake work placements in the Indo Pacific region (DFAT, 2016). The New Colombo Plan plays a crucial role in shifting Asia from being a non-traditional to an emergent major destination for Australian students. The seminar, presented by Ly Tran, Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Deakin University, focused on how Asia represents not only as an opportunity for Australian students to engage in response to a temporal need with regard to their program of study but importantly as a potential space for them to transform their present and future beings.

Seminar, presented by James Hoesterey

In the wake of 9/11 and the Arab Spring, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been keen to promote Indonesia as the model for “moderate Islam.” In his 2009 speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Hasan Wirajuda touted Indonesia as evidence of the compatibility of Islam and democracy. More recently several Indonesian ministries, along with religious leaders and Islamic organisations, have worked together to promote 'moderate Islam' as part of their domestic efforts to counter domestic terrorism and ISIS ideology. A/Prof James Hoesterey from Emory University examined the development of such programs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Religion, as well as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, paying particular attention to how concepts (such as Islam Nusantara, Islam Berkemajuan, and Islam Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin) are constituted and contested through religious outreach and public diplomacy.