Despite losing an hour of sleep due to daylight savings in Melbourne, the venue for the annual Malaysian Aspiration Summit (MAS) on Sunday was abuzz with eager young Malaysians. Eight prominent leaders flew all the way from Malaysia to engage with overseas Malaysians and to talk about a wide range of issues pertaining to Malaysia.
The Summit, organised by the Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia Victoria Chapter and attended by about 150 people, was structured around two major arcs; economics and politics. The first session focused on Malaysia’s economic competitiveness, centering on the theme “The importance of quality and diverse talent in transforming Malaysia into a high-income nation”, while the second was titled “Upholding inclusivity and integrity in governance and political practice”. These sessions were tied together with a common narrative, “Turning the tide” against the brain drain in Malaysia.
The summit did not follow a typical “I talk, you listen” pattern. Many hands were raised up during Q&A sessions, and the speakers were generous in answering the questions. Partnering with OurSay Malaysia, the most voted questions on the OurSay website in the past weeks were asked and addressed as well.
“This is a great thing to have because it gives more opportunities to explore Malaysian issues as an international student. I believe that we have a very unique perspective as we can give insight into these issues from a first party to third party perspective,” said Bernard Sam, moderator for the event and also one of the pioneers of OurSay Malaysia .
“It is an interesting forum where Malaysians can come together and talk about Malaysia in a positive and constructive manner,” said Y. Bhg. Dato’ Abdul Rauf Rashid, EY Malaysia’s Managing Partner. He was at the Summit that day to speak on the topic, “Strategies to Support Malaysia’s Quest for Growth”.
The economics session was kicked off with charismatic and vibrant speakers who shared why they decided to return to Malaysia and how Malaysia is taking steps towards becoming a developed nation. Far from the usual reasons of patriotism and the same age-old stories, the content was kept engaging and refreshing, sometimes deeply resonating with the floor. The speakers even poked fun at each other, calling themselves “grandpas” and “fathers” due to their perspective of Gen Y. Meanwhile, the audience kept the speakers on their toes during the Q&A session, with questions like, “Do you think Malaysia can achieve the high-income status by 2020?”
After lunch, audiences eagerly listened and interacted with the likes of Y. Bhg. Dato’ Mohd Zaid Ibrahim, political critic and lawyer, Y.B. Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, PAS Strategy Director, Y. Bhg. Dato’ Ti Lian Ker, MCA Central Committee member, and Deputy Commissioner Han Chee Rull, MACC Senior Deputy Director of Investigations, as they shared their take on race based politics. Debate was alive with the MCA and PAS representatives taking jabs at each other, but some participants found it hard to discern who was right and who to trust.
“There was definitely a lot of mud slinging between the PAS and the MCA politicians,” Jessica Loh, a first year Monash postgraduate student said.
In addition, some students felt that some discussions during the political session were less than satisfactory.
“I think the Summit today stirred up some issues, but I went away feeling like some of them were half addressed by the speakers,” remarked Julianne Ting (not her real name), a final year medical student. “I would have liked to hear a wider range of content, besides race based politics in the Q&A, but guess it was not possible due to the time constraints.”
Min-Onn Tan, her fellow coursemate, also concurred “While I thought that the Economics session was good, the political session tended to be a bit long-winded. I felt like it was not relevant to me.”
However, there were some participants who also went away from the Summit with a changed perspective. Joanne Yu, who is a Permanent Resident here in Australia, was one such person.
“Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was going back to Malaysia since I am a PR here. But after today, the Summit has opened my eyes to the filter that my parents had placed in me,” she said. “I had previously written Malaysia off, but I would like to give Malaysia a chance.”
“Hopefully our Summit has motivated [the youth] to join our ‘Anti-Tidak Apa’ (Anti-Don’t-Care)movement, and ‘turn the tide’ for Malaysia. We believe that each of [them] will be a force for good in [their] own ways,” said Joanna Loh, Project Director for MAS 2013.
“We videotaped the discussions and plan to compile notes after the summit,” Joanna said. “We need to take the information that we have gained by our speakers and better ourselves. Only then can we better contribute to Malaysia.” Joanna added.
However, many of those in the planning committee this year will not continue on next year.
“I hope to hand it over to someone next year, and that they can do a better job,” said Joanna. “We hope to have more eager Malaysians in Melbourne join the Malaysian Aspiration Program next year, to continue the work that has been done.”
Apart from the Malaysia Aspiration Summit, the arm called Malaysian Aspiration Program under the Malaysian Students’ Council of Victoria also organises other events throughout the year such as “Aspirasi Rakyat Malaysia” roundtable discussions, which aims to promote political and intellectual discourse among Malaysian students in Australia. The Malaysian Aspiration Summit is the flagship event of Malaysian Aspiration Program, and was first held in 2010.