Speech Given at the
Ceremony to Confer Awards of the College of Business and Economics
Australian National University
December 17, 2013
Honourable Chancellor Professor Gareth Evans
Vice Chancellor Professor Young
Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Margaret Harding
Dean of College of Business and Economics, Jane Godfrey
Graduates of the College of Business and Economics 2013 and their proud parents
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am extremely proud of the honor bestowed upon me today with the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa. I am also greatly honored to be addressing the 2013 Conferring of Awards of the College of Business and Economics, of this esteemed institution – the Australian National University.
Some 33 years ago I stood on a similar stage getting my Masters of Economics degree from the Chancellor of ANU at the time, Sir John Crawford. The feelings of pride and sense of achievement to have completed the five-year journey from Bachelor to Masters at the ANU are still fresh in mymemory.
I sense the same sense of achievement in this room. Congratulations, you have all made it! As Einstein said, “genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration”. All of you who are graduating today have done so through sheer hard work, motivation and determination to see it to the end.
It’s hard to believe. The long nights to study for exams, finishing papers and projects are now over. The long frustrating months of writing thesis proposals, the anxious days when you have writers block or you can’t get to see your supervisor, and dreaded days when you don’t want to hear the question “how’s your thesis going?” are over. These memories will fade and you will look back at them with humor. You will remember the good times, the good friends and the Professors who have taught and inspired you.
I also recall vividly that my proud moment was also a proud moment for my parents. They always stressed upon us the value of education and how fortunate we were to have this opportunity. Therefore we were always told to study hard, do our best and to take every opportunity to get the best possible education. My parents came from the war time generation of being impoverished and not being able to afford a good education until a much later stage in their lives. My father (J. Panglaykim) had to struggle with being poor and not educated, working and doing business as he was putting himself through school. He succeeded, ended up being an economist and in fact also spent time as a research fellow at the Research School of Pacific Studies, ANU. Thus that day was also a proud moment for my parents, especially my father who I think secretly hoped and wished that one of his children wouldstudy his field of economics.
My father also always told me that education was the best thing he could pass down to his children because you can lose money and wealth, but you cannot lose knowledge. To all the parents out there – you have also a sense of achievement that you have guided your children to the next phase in their lives and they are about to embark on the next phase.
I also wanted to deliver a special message to all the young women graduates out there. You can see that the Dean of CBE, the Deputy Vice Chancellor, many of the graduates, the student speaker and the graduation speaker have one thing in common – yes they are women. They have all reached there through merit, hard work and because they could. Times have changed since my time and times have changed for someone like Lina Tan the student speaker today.
In our time we still had to be given the equal access. I was fortunate enough that I was given that opportunity. My father despite being a traditional Asian parent gave equal opportunity for education to his sons and daughter. My mother despite her concerns that if I was too smart I would not get married, continued to support me. And here I am. I was the first Indonesian woman to get a Ph.D in economics and the first woman of Chinese descent to be in the cabinet. For the last opportunity I have President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to thank.
I did not set out to be the “first” in anything. However, I did set out to do my best, to excel and to work hard. Much of these values were instilled from young and reinforced in this esteemed educational institution, the ANU. I believe success of women in leadership positions is about ensuring equal opportunity, but based on merit and capability. Ultimately we should also serve as a positive role model for other young women to show what is possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen, and CBE 2013 graduates
What can I share with you about the economics degree at this institution? And how it has contributed to where I am today. I can attest that the degree from this institution and the networks build from being in this institution have lifelong benefits for myself and other graduates. As living proof of this is the fact that three of the current Indonesian cabinet are ANU graduates.
The value of the education in economics and the professors you have from the College of Business and Economics are one of the best if not the best. Despite doing my Ph.D in the US, I look back and feel that I received my strongest grounding in economics from ANU.
I started out with Economic and Accounting at the time it was the School of General Studies. I can still remember clearly the advice of my first year tutor in micro-economics Ross McLeod who encouraged me to take the economics major and honors courses, and the economics tutor at Burgman College where I stayed in my first year, Howard Dick, who helped us a lot as we were adjusting to university life.
I am sure that I got the best basics in economics from some of the best teachers which put be in good shape for thesubsequent steps that I took. The introductory courses in my time were taught by Professor Cameron, who also wrote the textbook. The best of neo classical economic theory we got from Ted Sieper, Professor Pitchford (Senior) and Professor Richard Cornes (who I note is still in the School, as Emeritus Professor). We also had rigorous courses in statistics and econometrics. I did not appreciate the strong basics until I continued my Ph.D in the US and found that I was in really good shape for the Ph.D courses.
I started out with accounting and career plans to be a CPA or working in the financial sector, partly based of the rational expectations of an economic animal. That is, salaries in the financial sector were higher! I changed my mind into my third year, after I did an internship at Coopers Lybrand in Sydney and tookcourses in development economics from Clive Edwards and international economics from Peter Drysdale.
ANU is also a university with a lot of schools focusing on different research areas and regions, and with different visiting professors. I was fortunate enough to have had interactions with the international trade guru Max Corden and Heinz Arndt, Ross Garnaut, Peter McCawley, Hal Hill, Chris Manning and others at the Indonesia Project and Research School of Pacific Studies. Their research interest and outlook towards Indonesia, Asia and Asia Pacific arose out of the visionary leadership of the likes of Professor John Crawfod and Professor Heinz Arndt. My early interactions with these set of professors also steered my interest in international trade and development. Peter McCawley supervised my honors thesis on “Unemployment in Indonesia” and I worked under Peter Drysdale on my Masters Thesis which was on “Foreign Direct Investment in ASEAN”.
I was hooked. So the message is we are not always driven by higher returns, the intangible returns of doing what you believe in or passionate about are also equally if not more important – be daring and willing to try, and find out what you are passionate about.
I also wanted to share with you that, despite doing my Ph.D in the US, my closest relations remain with ANU till today, especially with former professors who initially guided us then, and have now become close friends and colleagues.
I can still recall the advice from Professor Heinz Arndt the founder of the Indonesia Project who advised me to continue my Ph.D in the US rather than stay on in ANU as he said it would enrich my education experience. He was right.
During and after my Ph.D I continued to be in contact with ANU, attending conferences, participating in research projects and region based networks, co-authoring papers and editing books. What I have found is that the professors remain to look out for you, continuing to be there for advice, sending references for papers or even work opportunities and as colleagues and friends at the end of the day.
In fact I was in ANU attending a seminar on China and the region organized by Ross Garnaut when I got “the” phone call to become Minister of Trade in the Indonesian cabinet in 2004. I asked him and Peter Drysdale at the time – what is your advice and what is going to be my main challenge? I can recall what they said. Professionally you are well qualified, but your main challenge will be public education and getting political support on globalization and reforms. They were right.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished guests and CBE 2013 Graduates
This brings me to the second thing I wanted to share with you. How does what we learn about neo classical economics theory and first best solutions translate into the real world? How do we implement policy changes and reforms, how do we deal with the political challenges?
We develop different skills and learn at different points in our career development. If I could advise you, I would say that the next phase in your life should be about consolidating and applying your knowledge and technical competence.
In the academic path this would mean consolidating your academic research, making a name for yourself and attending conferences and seminars. In the professional world it would mean focusing as much as possible in developing your competence in the various areas. Another thing that I have found is that education and learning are different processes, one never stops learning and it is a lifelong process. In the academic world teaching and continuing to do research is part of the way we keep up, and in the professional world its about continuing to upgrade one self.
That is why, I am glad that in the first phase of my career before entering into public policy service, I had a strong grounding in economics, research and empirical work, and policy work as well as public policy advocacy and debate. All this during a very important period of transformation of Indonesia.
In the late 1980s to mid 1990s when I first came back to Indonesia it was at the beginning of Indonesia’s process of opening up and deregulations as the riches from the oil boom petered out. This is a similar experience of resource boom and bust of Australia. In the lead up to the financial crisis and dramatic process to democracy of Indonesia in 1998, I also became involved with the pro reform movement. All throughout this period my economics training and network, including with ANU, gave me a solid basis.
During this period, I spent most of my academic career doing research on deregulation, analyzing first best policy options and the importance of removing distortions, undertaking empirical work to show the benefits as well as the costs, and looked into the political economy aspects. We used this research to advocate for good policy and as a basis for public discourse. Recall that this took place during pre democracy days, so that speaking out is not what it is like today. We were considered brave then, to speak out for good policy – but it was always based on sound research that I believe put us in good shape to advocate for change, reforms and greater transparency.
I was also fortunate enough to do a lot of work and attended many academic and second track meetings (academics, stakeholders and government) in laying the foundations for Indonesia’s role in ASEAN, APEC and regional and global fora. This gave me invaluable experience and knowledge later on when I resumed the Ministry of Trade position.
Many of these meetings had involvement from Australia and ANU contacts and networks. One of the forefathers of APEC is of course our Chancellor, Professor Gareth Evans who laid out the “three layer wedding cake of APEC analogy and that the strength of APEC lay in the three pillars of liberalization, facilitation and economic and technical cooperation” which lives on till today as the framework for regional cooperation in general.
Of course once you are in office – it’s not as easy as it sounds. I was fortunate to have thought a lot about policy reforms and then be put in a position to implement them! And of course learning quickly to be realistic, that is we are lucky if we are able to implement a portion of what is ideal.
With hindsight there are many important lessons learned and today I would like to just share two of the most important ones as they relate to the transition with what we learned in school and what we have to implement on the ground.
First that it is important to institutionalize reforms. A few of us who came from the pro reform movement, were successful in introducing a series of economic reforms in investment, tax, customs and trade in first few years of the first Cabinet. We were focused on institutionalizing reforms through changing laws, introducing new laws, setting up of institutions and bureaucratic reforms.
It turns out that changing laws and regulations was the easy part. The hardest part was implementation since it required bureaucratic reforms and mind set change within Ministries, and because of decentralization, capacity and mind set change in regional governments.
This takes time and one can only do in stages, and it was not possible to do it immediately for the whole ministry or nation at the same time. That is why the approach was to set up islands of excellence within a Ministry, find quick wins to get buy in and provide a demonstration effect,undertake bureaucratic reforms in the institutions which served the public first and provide them with sufficient renumeration, and a system of reward and punishment for performance of regional governments. We were not always successful and one can only be satisfied with partial successes and hope that sufficient critical mass to support continued change is there and will live on beyond our tenures.
Second the concerns of globalization whether real or in political rhetoric remain till today. The advice from my two professors in 2004, ring true. We worked on public education but the job of convincing the wider public, policy makers and politicians was not an easy one.
We found that it was not enough to talk about the benefits of opening up for trade and investment, and how it benefits the country and the world as our neoclassical theory tells us. After all theory has also told us that there are losers and gainers, and we are supposed to compensate losers – and all would be happy. If only it was that easy. Post financial crisis it was much too easy to blame opening up as the cause of many economic woes and downturns. So in order to get support for changes and WTOinternational negotiations, regional cooperation or national level policies, one needs to be able to articulate what the concrete benefits are and to whom, and to understand how to deal with the real costs. Economic analysis on this count helped a lot, but needed to be undertaken with real and concrete examples and articulated in a way which the wider society could see the benefit or impact on them.
Good economic policy thinking to articulate that the objective is not opening up for the sake of opening up, but as a means for economic development also turned out to be important. That is, complementary policies to ensure competitiveness such as infrastructure and human resource development, institutional and financial sector readiness and compensation mechanisms for sectors, regions or groups of people, which will lose out are set up.
We did all that but yet the ideal setting is never all there or perfectly sequenced, or able to be explained and accepted by the political setting we are in. So on the ground – one does end up with second and sometimes third best policy options and outcomes. However, I have not lost my idealism for the need for good policy analysis and I have found that my inherent economic training and knowledge to present and articulate the case is still important.
We sometimes won the arguments based on sound analysis, facts and empirics, sometimes belatedly. But we did not always win, despite having the good analysis. Then you retreat and just minimize damage – to return to the discussion for another day, the right timing and circumstances.
In terms of negotiations – I have found the three pillars of APEC as useful guidance. Liberalization and facilitation are not enough when we are negotiating – we must ensure capacity building is part of the package. Without capacity building and the necessary confidence and support to continue the liberalization andfacilitation pillars will not be forthcoming. Therefore we need to built in, time needed and in that time capacity building. We have done that with our FTA, EPA and WTO negotiations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests and CBE 2013 Graduates
You will be glad to know I have come to the end of my remarks.
Inherently my training as an economist at ANU has helped me transition into many phases in my career – from an academic researcher, to a policy researcher, to sitting on company boards, to making sensible comments on economic policy and finally to the policy makers hot seat and having to deal with various challenges.
So you could become a banker, financial analyst, economic consultant, economist at a corporation or within government doing economic analysis from macro to micro, a policy maker at regional, national to international level, and god forbid, be a politician. Remember to adapt, adjust, do your best and continue your learning process – but never lose sight of the end goal and core values.
I would like to close with the following remarks. Despite being lucky enough to have had the good basis of economics education, network and support from this estemmed institution as I have shared with you, success also comes because of the support we receive from those closest to us. So I would like to thank my family, my husband and two sons, for coming on this long journey. I would also like to thank my supporting staff, some of whom are in the room today. So Graduates please don’t forget to thank those closest to you and give them a big hug.
Finally to all graduates, we have thanked our parents, our family, our professors, our school ANU, don’t forget to pat yourselves on the back, you deserve it.
Now go out and venture with confidence and optimism. Good luck, and never lose that passion and excitement of today, the fire in yourbelly because it will carry you through thick and thin.
I thank you.