The Australian connection

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 19 May 2019

Connections: Goledzinowski with a photo taken in KL in 1984 showing a younger Mahathir (left) with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke (Hawke died on Thursday).

ANDREW Goledzinowski has been using a key diplomatic tool to bring people together since taking up his posting as Australia’s High Commissioner to Malaysia in January last year: food.

The career diplomat with over 30 years of international service noted soon after his arrival that, “Instead of asking ‘how are you?’ people here ask ‘have you eaten? or ‘sudah makan?’ each time we meet.”

He learned how Malaysians take pride in their food from the various cultures. “I knew the food was great here,” he adds.

He is often at the forefront of “taste of Australia” events. A batik lover, Goled-zinowski was in a custom-made silk batik shirt when he hosted the Australia Day 2019 reception in Kuala Lumpur earlier in the year. In fact, he’s often clad in vibrant colours of the Malaysian national dress shirt during events.

“I think batik is Malaysia’s gift to the world. It’s a shame it is not celebrated more in Malaysia,” he says.

The good-natured envoy often hosts dinners at his residence at Jalan Langgak Golf, KL, offering a ariety of dishes cooked with local ingredients, making every effort to make his guests feel at home.

On one occasion, he had Malaysia-born Australian MasterChef 2017 winner Diana Chan cook up delights for VIP guests who included Entrepreneur Development Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Yusof and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong.

Goledzinowski himself was born to parents who were WWII refugees. His father was in the Polish resistance during the war and later ended up in a German prison camp.

“If he’d returned to communist Poland he would never have been heard from again. So he went to Australia.

His mother’s family also ended up in Germany post-war. She couldn’t return to Poland because her dad had been a “White Russian” officer in the 1917 Russian revolution.

“So they also emigrated to Australia. They first met in Germany, were separated and then met again by accident in Sydney! The odds were astronomical. Destiny!’’ recalls Goledzinowski, who has led Australian emergency response teams to Syria and Iraq and a multinational observer group to Fiji to monitor its return to democracy.

In an interview with Sunday Star, Goledzinowski speaks of what’s on his plate here and on the thorny issue involving the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant located in the Gebeng Industrial Estate near Kuantan (in “His stand on the Lynas controversy” opposite).

It is almost a year-and-a-half since your posting to Malaysia. What’s been cooking?

Things have been fantastic. This is a highly sought-after posting, one of our top 10 missions.

It has always been an important post. But to come at such a historic time when Malaysia is undergoing this huge change, it’s really interesting.

Diplomats love to see things happening, to be at the pivot point of history. I was in South Africa when (Nelson) Mandela was released. Things like that make a career!

You were one of the first foreign heads of mission to call on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad after he was sworn in as Prime Minister. How did that feel?

It was a great honour. I’d seen him earlier when he was in the Opposition, in the lead up to the general election and during the campaign.

He was generous with his time then, and he honoured me by making my call on him one of the first in his Prime Ministership, which was really good because that was a recognition that we have a great deal to offer each other.

What specific areas of cooperation were discussed?

We talked about several things. He did most of the speaking, of course! Because I wanted to hear from him.

Having won the Prime Ministership and having changed the government, I wanted to know what his agenda was and his focus.

Not surprisingly, it was on the economy and fixing what he said was a terrible fiscal situation for Malaysia. And at that point, I think he didn’t even fully know what the situation was. But he knew it was very serious.

And he talked about bringing on the rule of law and rectifying the problems that he had identified. He said those were his two main priorities.

At that point, the only thing that he said in terms of the bilateral relationship and cooperation (with Australia) was education.

He said he wanted to be Prime Minister and the Education Minister, but his colleagues pointed out to him that the manifesto precluded that.

He was really sorry he couldn’t be the Education Minister, but he said education was one of his priorities and passions for Malaysia.

In particular, he asked if Australia could assist with providing an educational model for young Malaysians to learn English in the preschool period.

Goledzinowski (first row, right), his wife Lyn Allan (first row, left) flanking Chan at a dinner they hosted for Malaysian ministers, deputy ministers and other VIPs at the High Commissioner’s residence in KL.
Goledzinowski (first row, right), his wife Lyn Allan (first row, left) flanking Chan at a dinner they hosted for Malaysian ministers, deputy ministers and other VIPs at the High Commissioner’s residence in KL.

We have been working with Britain and the United States on improving the standard of English in schools, so it looks like we are now going for an Australian connection?

It’s extraordinary. I mean it’s almost impossible to meet a Malaysian who does not have some Australian connection, usually through education.

But in terms of cooperation, that was the only one that the PM specifically asked for.

In what other spheres is Australia cooperating with Malaysia?

We had the President of the Human Rights Commission here and our Race Discrimi-nation Commissioner. This was at the request of Foreign Minister (Datuk Seri) Saifuddin (Abdullah) who said, “Look, we know that you guys have been grappling with issues of harmony and national unity and you know discrimination, and it will be interesting to have an exchange on that.”

We also had our Public Service Commissioner over, and he had very interesting talks which we will be following up on in terms of public service.

We had a treasury team that came at the exclusive request of (Finance Minister) Lim Guan Eng.

He said it would be interesting to get some exchanges on particular points of budgeting that he is interested in where he thought we could contribute. And that went so well. I think both sides agreed that it should become a regular exchange.

We’ve also had exchanges on electoral reform, judicial training and Parliamentary practice.

You know, the first visit of the (Dewan Rakyat) Speaker was to Australia, and we had several visits back the other way.

And the changes to question time (in Parliament) were made according to what they saw in Australia. The clerk of the House (Dewan Rakyat) here, she’s very sweet and always points to the fact that the Australian Parliamentary procedure book is on her desk!

What specific changes were made to question time?

I think it was the duration of the answers. In the past, people could answer as long as they wanted to. In Australia, we have a time limit.

And there’s a target for how many questions to get through in one session. And they are now hitting the target.

The Speaker has said three minutes will be the limit for an answer. Is that the same in Australia?

Exactly. But you can have a follow-up, and that’s the practice in our Senate, but not in our House of Representatives. So Malaysia is picking and choosing the best of what they see around the world and in Australia.

That’s fantastic and that’s exactly how it should be done. I think (Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof) is doing a great job. He is very impressive, and genuinely humble.

What else is going on between Australia and Malaysia that you can share with us?

We had workshops here on maritime law, and a big gender policy roundtable which was at the request of the Deputy Prime Minister when (Australian Foreign Minister) Julie Bishop was here. So we are now delivering that.

There was also an exchange between experts from Australia and Malaysia around gender policy issues, as you know, which is topical in Malaysia.

We also had agricultural work. I’d say Australia is Malaysia’s No.1 partner in defence, education, intelligence, policing, border security and immigration and agriculture. That’s a good list.

Our institutions are almost mirror images of each other because they come from the same roots -- English speaking, Parliamentary democracy, Constitutional monarchy, common law system and we have a similar trading system.

We are both open trading countries and both geographically located between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. We are about the same size. We know each other, our people-to-people links go back a long way.

So it’s not surprising that when ministers and others are looking around for inspiration, they might think, “Let’s see what their strategies are up to.”

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