Youth Leaders of Today, Nation Builders Tomorrow
Official AAYS coverage and outcome of the Summit - Nicholas Metherall
The First ASEAN-Australia Youth Summit (AAYS), held in Melbourne on the 28th of July, opened a new pathway for dialogue and collaboration between the many different student councils of Southeast Asia in Australia. The event involved raising awareness of ASEAN-Australia relations, the introduction of the ASEAN Student Council of Australia, thought-provoking discussion, cultural performances and the chance to meet many new friends from across the ASEAN region. Overall the AAYS can be seen as beginning a process of building a strong foundation of cooperation between the Southeast Asian student representative bodies in Victoria, and more widely throughout Australia. On the day 103 student delegates attended the event. There were large delegations from Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, each bringing more than 20 students from their respective student organisations. Medium sized delegations from Singapore (with 12 students), Thailand and the Philippines (6 and 7 students respectively) were also in attendance. The multicultural diversity of the summit was reinforced by modest delegations from Brunei. Australia was represented by the peak body of all tertiary students in Australia, the National Union of Students (NUS).
The organizers of the AAYS came primarily from the student representative councils of Southeast Asian Nations. The first rotational host of the AAYS was the Malaysian Student’s Council of Australia, Victoria (MASCA Victoria). The organizing team was also made up of the Indonesian Students Association of Australia, Victoria (PPIA Victoria), the Melbourne Overseas Vietnamese Student Association (MOVSA), Singaporeans of Victoria (SOV) and the Thai Students Association of Victoria (TSV). Alongside the AAYS Organizing Committee were a number of strategic partners who also made the event possible. These included the City of Melbourne, Contact Singapore and Brady Property Groups.
While in essence a youth summit run by students, the efforts invested in organising the event culminated in the presence of a number of distinguished guests ranging from high diplomatic officials and representatives from ASEAN Governments, to Academics from various educational institutions and student leaders. The list of attendees included the following guests and many more.
1. Australian Ambassador to ASEAN, H.E. Ms. Gillian Bird
2. Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, H.E. Mr. Primo A. Joelianto
3. Acting High Commissioner of Brunei Darussalam, Ms. Rohayaty Yassin
4. Third Secretary of Indonesian Embassy, Mr. Dhani Eko Wibowo
5. Minister Councillor of Vietnamese Embassy, Mr. Quang Trung Nguyen
6. Consul of Indonesia for Victoria & Tasmania, Mr. Irmawan Emir Wisnandar
7. Indonesian Vice Consul for Victoria & Tasmania, Mr. Vitrio Naldi
8. Consul of Malaysia for Victoria, Dr. Mohd. Rameez Yahya
9. Second Secretary (Political) of the Singapore High Commission, Ms. Fiona Zhang
10. Director of Education Malaysia Australia, Dr. Jumiati
11. Melbourne City Councillor, Mr. Ken Ong
12. ASEAN Secretariat Representative, Senior Officer Deborah Tomasowa
13. Director of the Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Melbourne, Dr. Max Richter
14. Manager, Applied Research and Analysis of Asialink University of Melbourne, Dr. Sally Percival Wood
15. National Union of Students (NUS) President, Donherra Walmsley
16. Council of International Students Council (CISA) President, Mr. Aleem Nizari
17. Council of International Students Council (CISA) Treasurer, Ms Charlotte Wong
18. Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) Secretary, Beryl Xu
The commonality found among all AAYS guests and delegates was a support for the ASEAN-Australia relationship. As Australia’s first Ambassador to ASEAN, Ms Bird emphasised the importance of the relationship. ASEAN’s “Emerging economies are predicted to experience a sustained long term growth.” As our immediate neighbour this makes ASEAN “enormously significant to our [Australia’s] economy…”
Many of those speakers at the event also emphasized the importance of connections at the ground level. According to Ambassador Bird, the importance of “people-to-people links” also becomes crucial in strengthening the relationship between Australia and ASEAN. This idea of people-to-people connections is becoming increasingly relevant amidst the growing numbers of international students coming from Southeast Asia to Australia.
ASEAN Secretariat Member, Ms Tomasowa spoke for the ASEAN member states when she said “We want to send our bright students here for a good education.” Indeed, Ms. Tomosowa emphasised the role of student exchanges as important in order to “establish a strong future relationship” between ASEAN and Australia. These ideas have already been clearly reflected by events such as the AAYS.
“The Youth summit is an excellent example of the power of education to bring people together.” stated Ms Bird. The ambassador expressed her hope that the AAYS would become an annual event.
The student representatives were also given voice throughout the day. There were a number of short introductions from some of the student councils represented within the organizing committee at the summit. There were a number of student bodies present at the AAYS:
1. The Malaysian Students’ Council of Australia, Victoria (MASCA Victoria),
2. The Indonesian Students Association of Australia, Victoria (PPIA Victoria),
3. The Melbourne Overseas Vietnamese Student Association (MOVSA),
4. The Singaporeans of Victoria (SOV)
5. The Thai Students Association of Victoria (TSV).
6. The Council of International Students (CISA).
7. The National Union of Students (NUS)
ASEAN STUDENTS’ COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA (ASCA)
After the introductions, Ashley Toh (chairperson of MASCA Victoria) proceeded to present the ideas and vision of the ASEAN Students’ Council Australia (ASCA). Some of the purposes of ASCA included helping other Southeast Asian-based student communities to establish state and national level councils. Through doing so, ASCA hopes to establish a strong community of Southeast Asian student leaders in Australia.
DISCUSSION AND EMERGING THEMES
To facilitate the discussion about education in ASEAN, the AAYS was privileged to have access to the insights of Dr Max Richter, Director of the Monash Asia Institute at Monash University.
Topics covered included current issues in education, how can these educational systems be improved and finally how can ASEAN students contribute toward building their own nations. After the cultural performances Dr Sally Percival Wood, Manager of Applied Research and Analysis at Asialink, University of Melbourne, led the next round of discussion. Some of the topics included Track II diplomacy, perceptions of Australia and ASEAN held at the ground level and also youth leadership. For some, the event represents the beginning of a significant “paradigm shift” in the words of project Team Leader, Afif Norzal. The shift can be seen as transforming the way in which international students in Australia interact and collaborate, especially those students coming from a Southeast Asian background.
OUTCOMES OF AAYS
- The ASEAN-Australia Agenda is now spread from the South-East Asian-based councils to the grass-roots level. This includes affiliated SEA-based university societies. ASCA will work closely with SEA-based councils to facilitate the communication between societies in different universities.
- Integration of the Bruneians and Filipino student communities. These groups were not the members of the ASEAN-Australia Agenda at the time of its founding due to the small number of students in Victoria. However, they have already taken the first steps towards integration. ASCA has been in close communication with these groups to assist the formation of state councils for these two ASEAN student communities.
- This has resulted in the establishment of Filipino Australian Student Council, Victoria (FAStCo Victoria) for the Filipino students in Victoria.
- The Summit also catalysed the enactment of a regular meeting of ASCA to be held on a fortnightly basis.
- Relationships were deepened not only between student groups but also between the ASEAN students and the respective ASEAN embassies and consulate general offices.
- The announcement of the 2nd ASEAN-Australia Youth Summit to be held in Melbourne in 2013. The 2nd AAYS will be opened up to all states to allow the ASEAN-Australia Agenda to spread more effectively across Australia.
While the next ASEAN Australia Youth Summit will not be held until 2013, the sense of ASEAN solidarity remains strong with a number of upcoming events.