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🎙️ | 35 | Murray Hunter
The Dark Forces Changing Malaysian Society
Hey hey! My guest today is Murray Hunter. Murray has been involved in the Asia-Pacific business scene for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. Murray was named one of Asian Correspondent’s thirty-five selected bloggers in the region’s blogosphere based on quality of reporting, relevance and popularity, and is also the author of multiple books.
In this conversation, we discuss his new book with Lim Teck Ghee, Dark Forces Changing Malaysia. So we go deep into the dark forces changing Malaysian society today, and what the future may look like for Malaysia.
Incredibly knowledgable about the region, I came away with so much info that I’m still thinking about it. So please enjoy!
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favourite podcast platform.
My takeaways and lessons:
Beware the Brain Drain
“it's not just a brain drain in people, it's a drain of innovation. So Grab is an innovation. There's a lot of other companies that are Malaysian nationals that have chosen to do their startups in out places outside of Malaysia. And a lot of Malaysian executives were CEOs and high managers in Hong Kong and Taiwan from the 1980s onwards. So there's been a brain drain in Malaysia for decades. And now we see Malay's themselves going to other countries in search of better economic and social opportunities. To reverse that, […] you have to get into multiracial or non-race politics and create a society that has a quality of opportunity for all. so we, we argue that you need a multiracial party to represent the citizens against the Malay centric people who now control and, and hold power.”
There are bright spots for Malaysia!
“when I arrived in Phnom Pnom Penh at the airport, I saw the Maybank ATM, and then I saw Malaysia influence in the local economy. And I’ve seen that in Thailand, I’ve seen that in Indonesia. So I see Malaysia’s business expansion into the region. and I look at it through the lens of being in Australian, who in my heart wish that we as Australians had have had the influence that we should have had in Southeast Asia, […] So seeing Malaysia’s taking the opportunity that we missed out on it’s positive for Malaysia, but as an Australian, I’m sad that we missed that opportunity.”
[00:00:31] - [First question] - Background
[00:04:13] - Why write a book on Malaysia’s Dark Forces?
[00:17:18] - Who are the Malay Elite?
[00:22:16] - Corruption in Malaysia
[00:24:00] - Malaysia's race-based political system
[00:26:35] - Malaysia's brain drain and demographic change
[00:30:13] - Bright spots for Malaysia
[00:31:55] - The political scene in Malaysia
[00:38:42] - Blowback to Murray’s work?
[00:41:11] - Most undervalued life experience?
[00:42:47] - Influential books or people
[00:46:22] - Future Plans and wrapping up
Connect with Murray:
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Kalani Scarrott (00:31): My guest today is Murray Hunter. Murray has been involved in the Asia Pacific business scene for the last 40 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. Murray was named one of Asia Correspondent’s 35 selected bloggers in the region's Bloggersphere, based on quality of reporting, relevance, and popularity, and has also authored multiple books. In today's conversation, we discuss his new book with Lim Teck Ghee, Dark Forces Changing Malaysia. So we go deep on the Dark forces changing Malaysia society today and what the future may look like, for Malaysia. So I had a blast with this one, so please enjoy my conversation with Murray Hunter. So Murray, honored to have you on the podcast today as yeah, you're a titan of the Asian Pacific bloggersphere and someone I look up to immensely. But for someone who might not know you yet, could you just give a brief introduction of who you are and what you do?
Murray Hunter (01:20): Okay. Well, I came to Asia on business back in the 1980s and the 1990s had a company in Indonesia for the family business. Then I sprung out on my own in the, just before the Asian economic crisis in 1996. So I went through Malaysia through that crisis with a startup company having bad debts around 60% at that time. And learned all sorts of ways about how Asians go through that cycle is you just have enough money to eat, and that's very good already. Then I became a farmer. I wanted to make raw materials for some of the products I make, and I started a tea tree plantation with the state and the federal government in the northern part of Malaysia, Perlis. Did that for a number of years, and then I got invited to be a professor at the local university, which was just formed. So I became an academic and helped build a couple of faculties there, the bio process engineering, and then the business faculty. And then I was lucky to get seconded around government departments on, on the ninth Malaysia plan. So I really learned about Malaysian bureaucracy, Government, worked at the top where the ministers are, at the bottom, where the people are and got a lot of impressions and information, and was able to reflect upon what Malaysia life is really like economically, socially, and politically.
Kalani Scarrott (03:10): So is it fair to say as well that there was no real plan before heading to Malaysia? Like was it always a long-term goal to stay in Malaysia, or you just fell in love as you went along, I guess?
Murray Hunter (03:18): No actually I got invited by Rafidah Aziz when she came to Melbourne and we had afternoon tea at Malaysia Hall, and she said, Come, welcome. We want all people to return and contribute to the country. So all these romantic ideas about helping to build the country I fell for and came, and it was a one way trip. I didn't have any intention of going back because going back was failure because if you're starting a new business and a new life and you have to return back to Australia, then obviously what you are attempting to do didn't work. So now we're from 1996 to 2022. I'm still here.
Kalani Scarrott (04:05): I was gonna say, it's been a journey almost. I'm kind of jealous, like you kind of living in my dream, I guess.
Murray Hunter (04:09): Yeah, no, you'd be careful what you wish for, though.
Kalani Scarrott (04:13): That's true. So you've written books before as well, and there was a 700-page monster on essential oils, but what made you want to write this one on Malaysia's Dark Forces?
Murray Hunter (04:21): Well, actually there was, there was another couple of books between that the first book on essential oils. A lot of people said to me, oh, you, you have to write a story about your life, and that's a bit egocentric. So I thought I'd better write about the essential oil industry because there was never a guide that mixed chemistry, agriculture, and business together. And I thought that was going to be a real interesting thing to go into. So I sat down to write it and found that this was a massive exercise. It was I think 700 pages that equated to about 400,000 words. And there were times that I thought that two and a half years it took. So after I finished that book, I was emotionally exhausted, so I didn't go on the trail. I, I went to a couple of conferences and spoke as an author and, and found what it's like to be an author.
You, you actually do get groupies and people that want to come and get autographs and admire. but personally I found I didn't want to talk about essential oils. I wanted to talk about entrepreneurship. So I went for a run one morning and within a split second, a whole meta theory of what entrepreneurship should be came to my head. And then I spent four years writing out that idea that came in a split second. And that was, that was massive. It actually had to be published in two volumes. and there were times I thought I could never finish it is, is like building something that you could never, and you just had to keep plowing away and plowing away knowing that you're probably only 20, 30, 40, 50% away. And it actually ended up being more than 575,000 words, but it wasn't the best seller.
It was the type of book that went to universities. And you could walk down the street, and nobody would know who you are for the rest of your life. But it made a contribution and got me to places like Deakin in Melbourne to Cremes University in outside of Vienna, speaking with all the, the top academics. and then when that was over I kept writing because I enjoyed the writing. What I love was the research and then putting it down on, on paper and going through it and cutting new areas. So I was living in the north of Malaysia and going to Thailand every day. So I started writing metaphysics and using, using experiences in temples to explore cognitive issues and all that sort of stuff. And then I stopped in 2015 when I stopped at university.
I went back to Thailand, and I had a, I had a retirement house built in Rayong, and for four years I pursued a completely different thing. I became a cyclist, and I cycled over a hundred kilometers a day for four years. And then I do, I found out that physically I was, oh, I was like a 30-year-old, and mentally I started to actually feel I was becoming slow and, and couldn't remember. I lost that sharpness, and I remember going down to Brisbane for a holiday and the mind wasn't that good. So I, I was thinking, oh, maybe I should, you know, research on the internet and write something, you know, just an hour or two a day just, just to bring that, just, just to bring that edge back. So I actually found one issue about that Cardinal Pell issue.
And I, and, and I looked at the evidence. I'm, I'm not a Christian myself, but I just looked at the evidence and something was not right. So I wrote about that, and then I looked at the Assange issue, and I found that at Travesty of Justice. So I wrote an article on that, and I sent them to the Asia Sentinel, who knew me for a number of years. And then a friend of mine in Columbia University, Azly Rahman, asked me to write the for, for his coming book. And that sort of took me back that was like, oh, that's gonna be hard. So I refocused on Malaysian politics where the Pakatan Rakyat had defeated UMNO. And everybody, I, I thought the country was back on the track. The new government would do all the reforms they did.
And I found out that no, it's, it's not like that. so a whole lot of things are going on, and then I started getting my passion back, and I just started doing articles on Malaysia politics again. Then Covid came. There was nothing else to do. So writing was the only way to sit in a house where there was a curfew at night, there was restrictive travel, and I just kept writing. So I ran in the morning, I always do my 15 or 20 kilometer run in the morning, and that gives me an hour and a half to two hours of a completely clear mind. And suddenly you get these glimpses of what you feel passionate about. And I would write according to what I felt important and what I felt passionate about. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for the writing, not, not for any notarity or anything else.
I did it purely because I just enjoyed it. So then Dr. Lim Teck Ghee contacted me through social media because we were in the same WhatsApp chat groups, and I didn't know who he was. I thought he was some old crazy man, because we get a lot of crazy people on check groups. And he started probing, asking probing questions, and I thought, this guy is not the usual rat bag. And even, and he started sending me links, and suddenly I, I realized these are his articles. So then you Google who the man is. And I said, Oh, okay. So we, we developed a good relationship, and we actually wrote a couple of articles together on a budget, and then he invited me to write a set of articles and put it into two book volumes for the coming election.
And the book was not the end in itself. The book was a means to put ideas across to the people and continue. And that hasn't finished. I, we are donating or we're using all the funds we get from the book commission to originally it was going to be for people who were arrested for political writing and not given a fair trial, but nobody wanted to run this foundation. So now we've decided that we're gonna use some money to have a seminar to, on a multi multiracial party to oppose a government. So I'm happy with that. So the books have actually got this purpose. So that's a new thing about writing, is writing to achieve objectives rather than writing for the sense of, oh, you know, I'm, I'm a superstar and, and ego. So when I was in KL last week, I met all these comrades and people, and I found out that two years in by myself in complete isolation the writing actually had impact that I never, never, never thought had.
And I also found on my Substack that it's just been climbing over the last few months to areas that I did not envisage when I started it. the subs project for me was simply a website because I couldn't use WordPress. It was to and then I liked the idea that it sends emails. So I, it took me one year to collate all my old writing with some new writing, and it's all there in one collection. So I thought maybe somebody in 10 or 20- or 30-years’ time can go and access that as a resource. And I'm actually finding articles that are 10 years old, like how Australia spies on its own citizens has gone from having two or three hits. I think it's up at seven, 8,000 now, and it was, it, it's an article that's a decade old, but it, it grabbed traction somewhere in Austria and check groups.
so I've got this resource that I actually don't know where I'm gonna go with it, whether I should keep it as just a repository or I should make it popular, and write all these penny dread dreadful about Malaysia politics. So I've learned a lot too, targeting audience audiences because about 80% of the audience is Malaysia. So it's actually restrictive because I wanna write more on geopolitics in Australia, but when I write about a different subject, you start losing people and you get these unsubscribe coming through. when you go back to Malaysian politics, you get a whole new cohort coming in. So it's just an interesting journey, which I'm enjoying.
Kalani Scarrott (14:57): No, it's interesting as well, and it's awesome to see because Yeah, it's such a great resource and for the book as well. How different did you find the process co-authoring a book? And what does that process look like?
Murray Hunter (15:05): Okay, yeah. Well, I've co-authored stuff with four or five people and I, I've written some deep metaphysical stuff with Azly Rahman at Columbia University. And I enjoyed it because we could go beyond our own intellectual capabilities. So it was a very, very good experience with some other people. They wanna be lead author, they, they're pedantic on the semantics in the article, and it just gives me a headache. And even though some of these people are brilliant, it's just not worth going through. But with Dr. Lim Teck Ghee I just found it so easy and we thought the same way. And when I went down to KL on the 14th of this month he, he invited me to stay with him, and I found out that he's whole daily routine. He wakes up the same time as me. He goes to bed the same time as me, he eats the same time as me. He researches on his computer the same time as me, and he writes the same time as me, and he moves around his apartment and house not working in one place. And I thought, this is just so uncanny. so I think we developed this very close relationship now, which is gonna go on to other things, I hope.
Kalani Scarrott (16:38): Perfect. To bring this back to Malaysia, just for the book, overall writing it, did your opinion of Malaysia change during the course of writing the book?
Murray Hunter (16:45): no, because what we are writing is, is the oppression of what we see. And we both wanted to reflect that and put that out and offer alternatives. So there was, there was a, there was an objective behind the book, and, and in some way it was an analysis. And in the end, the last chapter that we quickly rope was sort of a manifesto.
Kalani Scarrott (17:18): And yeah. If we could dive into the nitty gritty of Malaysia Dark Forces, could we maybe start with the Malay Elite and who they are? What are their goals and why they're maybe hindering a vision of a better Malaysia?
Murray Hunter (17:28): The Malay, the Malay Elite some people call it the deep state. And I, I did a series of deep state articles, which they couldn't put in the book because I don't think it would've got through the home ministry. they, they were, were, they were good, real good articles. It took a long time to write, and they were very reflective about what I found out, and I knew personally. So it comprises, oh, a few different groups. So the first, the first part of the Elite, of course, is a monarchy, which is nine royal households, because each date has their own monarchy and they have a lot of constitutional powers which haven't been tested. They can actually select the chief minister in a way different from Australia, where you have to put up three candidates and they can select from one of the three.
And they have a lot, They have, they call the state councils or the state cabinets in for pre cabinet meetings to talk about what they're going to discuss in the cabinet meeting and what the view of the palace is. And they're not a unified group of people because over the nudge issue of getting a pardon, half of the families want to give him a pardon, and the other half are terribly opposed to it. So it's not unified, there, not homogenous. Then you've got the, the Malay centric politicians themselves, and those names have been there for 40 years. You know, you can look at Muhyiddin, Mahathir, Hishammuddin they've been there a long time, and, and the younger generation is saying, Hey, you know, we want our chance and they won't move aside.
So this election has got the old guard although Lim Kit Siang on the opposition is not running next election, Anwar said that if he, this is his last chance, if he, if he wins and becomes Prime Minister, it's one term only he'll be a, he, he said a transitional Prime minister. so the on, but the elite on the Malay centric side, they're the ones that make the decisions and have for many years. Then you've got the Islamist, which is also another divided group, and, and you have JAKIM, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department which has tentacles into all aspects of Malaysian society. And, and Malaysia itself through the civil service has become much more Islamic. And then you have the civil service themselves who really run, run the government, and it's like, yes, minister but in Malaysia it really happens Malaysia style.
So these groups interact rub up against each other and they're, they're the forces that are really running the country. so some people call it the deep state now people I see have been calling it the Dark Forces. but that, that's, that's who's really holding the power in, in Malaysia. And, and it's not, you can look at other countries, you can look at Thailand you can look at where I am now. to a lesser extent, you can look at Australia. I've actually written a long article about who rules Australia. It's fascinating. I did it on Singapore of, of actually who rules the country and who holds a power and the influence. Very interesting subject.
Kalani Scarrott (21:30): Yeah. And it's amazing how anything gets done in Malaysia with all these groups robbing off against each other.
Murray Hunter (21:34): But same thing's happening everywhere else. And, and, and that, that was the paradox when I was in KL and Penang and Malacca last week. There's a reality check, you know, the place is vibrant. The people are, are vibrant. You see all the skyscrapers going up, I think the world's tallest buildings just being completed, and the lights are on there and you see all these things and it's so paradoxical to you know, what actually happens.
Kalani Scarrott (22:05): Yeah. Nah we, we literally stayed across from, is it PNB 118?
Murray Hunter (22:08): Yep. Yep. That's it
Kalani Scarrott (22:09): Yeah, we, we stayed across from it, and yeah, it's amazing how quick it's gone up and nearly done. Yeah.
Murray Hunter (22:14): Yeah. It's very thin, though. It might fall over.
Kalani Scarrott (22:16): We'll see. and a good point, rolling to the next one. We've mentioned Najib, but corruption. So you've written before that corruption is a problem, but that 1MDB was only the tip of the iceberg there. So how, and maybe why has corruption taken a foothold in Malaysia?
Murray Hunter (22:29): That was something that was widely discussed last week. Musa Hitam, who was a politician of the eighties and the nineties, and, and he split from Mahathir. he said, when the NEP, the new economic policy, which positively discriminated towards the Malay and Bumiputra citizens of the country created materialism in the Malay culture. You know, Malays lived in the kampung and they were happy, and they were very nice content people, but suddenly having the opportunity to acquire money and, and wealth through debt in some cases, because that's what they did control the people through debt created this grid. And making money became you know, one of the priorities of somebody during their career. And you can see it now in endemic through all parts of the bureaucracy at the university I worked out, I saw even the you know, the, the supervisors and mechanics would work out ways of how they could rip off the bills, you know, when university cars were serviced, and it just went everywhere. And sadly that's an aspect of Malaysia society and ugly aspect.
Kalani Scarrott (24:00): Yeah. So yeah, to touch on Malaysia's race based political system, what are the downsides there? Are there any upsides to it? And how could this be improved?
Murray Hunter (24:08): I can't see any upsides, but there was, when Malaysia was formed and Malaya was formed first, the British asked UMNO, which were the first group representing in interest to become independent. The British said, You must have representatives from the other major communities. So the Chinese were co-opted and formed the MCA and the Indians were co-opted and formed the MIC, the Malaysian Indian Congress, and Independence was given to all these groups who collaborated and acted with consensus, probably in the 1955 to '65 to '69 as a collaborative cabinet. And it really didn't matter that the, this party represented this race and looked after their interest, and that party represented another race, and it, it seemed to work. But after May '69 when there were race riots and, and many people died, there became this hate and envy between all the different ethnic groups. And that's been used to benefit parties electorally has used at race card on and on again. And it's become very destructive on Malaysia society.
Kalani Scarrott (25:40): So if we look to that Malaysia's neighbour Singapore, are they a good example of how they've managed and integrated their demographics despite having a different mix?
Murray Hunter (25:47): Oh, Singapore is another example of, a smaller elite controlling their society. And I've had friends write about Chinese privilege. I, I wrote about Singapore's Malay dilemma where Malays a discriminated against, where Malay's can't become fighter pilots can't get the top positions in the armed forces, and this type of discrimination, but yet having an elite group of Malay's that collaborate with the inner circles that get promotions. So there's a whole lot of idiosyncrasies in Singapore society where it's not really what they purport and represent themselves to be. But you can read about that. I've written a lot of stuff there.
Kalani Scarrott (26:35): Yeah. And so all these problems in Malaysia or Dark Forces, it's kind of led to a bit of a worrying brain drain, which like also includes corporations like Grab, it's not just people, but is this reversible and how would you go about fixing it?
Murray Hunter (26:48): Well, it's not just a brain drain in people, it's a brain drain in, or it's a drain of innovation. So Grab is an innovation. There's a lot of other companies that are Malaysia nationals that have chosen to do their startups in out places outside of Malaysia. And a lot of Malaysian executives were CEOs and high managers in Hong Kong and Taiwan from the 1980s onwards. So there's been a brain drain in Malaysia for decades. And now we see Malay's themselves going to other countries in search of better economic and social opportunities. To reverse that, Dr. Lim and I purport that you have to get into multiracial or non race politics and create a society that has a quality of opportunity for all. so we, we argue that you need a multiracial party to represent the citizens against the Malay centric people who now control and, and hold power.
Kalani Scarrott (28:04): And you've written before that as demographics change, it allows for certain narratives to change. So could you just talk about what are those narratives?
Murray Hunter (28:12): Okay, well, we have what we called in Malaysia, Ketuanan Melayu or Malay superiority, or Malay privilege or the spec, or is it Malay special position. And now the, the Malay population is 51% of the whole population of Malaysia and Islam has been pushed through the education system and through the social system where Muslims and particularly Malay Muslims see them, see Malay as an important Islam as an important characteristic of their identity from that, which I empathize because I lived in that community. And, and I can see if, if, if you are a Muslim and a Malay and you're the majority population, why can't you have a Malay country? I understand that. But for the other 49%, is it fair that they should also be forced to live in that sort of society when independence and Merdeka and the formation of Malaysia itself was suburb and Sarawak, and, and then Singapore came in purported and promised to be a multiracial and multicultural society. So this is a dilemma now. so there's that strong narrative coming out that Malaysia should be for Malay's where history started Malaysia as a country that was going to be a multiracial success. So this is a paradox now, and this is the fight, and this is what's gonna happen in the coming election.
Kalani Scarrott (29:49): Yeah. Cause what happens to the other 49%, like
Murray Hunter (29:52): This is the issue. This is a big issue. And they, they, the government is blatantly saying, some politicians are saying, Go, We don't want you. So that adds fuel to the fire.
Kalani Scarrott (30:03): Is there any, are there any positive forces? We covered some of the dark forces. Are there any bright spots that Malaysia has?
Murray Hunter (30:08): I was at the airport writing some responses to your question, and I was thinking in my head, What's the next question? But when I arrived in Phnom Pnom Penh at the airport, I saw the Maybank atm, and then I saw Malaysia influence in the local economy. And I've seen that in Thailand, I've seen that in Indonesia. So I see Malaysia's business expansion into the region. and I look at it through the lens of being in Australian, who in my heart wish that we as Australians had have had the influence that we should have had in Southeast Asia, You know, from after World War II, we, we, we saved you know, parts of Borneo. You know, we were the forces that came and pushed the Japanese out. And we were in SEATO. We had a jet squadron in Penang, and we had troops in Singapore. And you know, where are all the Australian companies? We built the friendship bridge in the mortar between Laos and, and Thailand. So as an Australian, I'm very sad that we're not here in force and, and, and have influence and good relationships with the, the, the governments here. So seeing Malaysia's taking the opportunity that we missed out on it's positive for Malaysia, but as an Australian, I, I'm sad that we miss that opportunity.
Kalani Scarrott (31:39): Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And for lack of a better word, it shits me to tears that, yeah, we have no real ties, influence, like when we could be, Yeah, even culturally, my mates look like, like they think I'm a weirdo because I'm so interested in ASEAN. And yeah.
Murray Hunter (31:53): So that's something to write about and keep pushing
Kalani Scarrott (31:55): For the state of political analysis in Malaysia that you've meant written before, that there's now more political analysts than politicians themselves. So like, what does this all mean going forward, I guess?
Murray Hunter (32:05): probably they don't have enough story books, but what happened in the nineties when the internet first started the media was controlled by the state, and then the internet brought when Anwar was arrested the reformasi website. And that was a beacon of free speech. And, and, you know, you'd read all these things that Mahathir had a tunnel from his office in Putrajaya to the airport so he could make a quick escape if he had to. And Malaysians became captivated from you know, he's got an island with Samy Vellu, who was a minister for works in Indian off the coast of India. And one day they were gonna jet off and, and, and squander all their billions, so these stories came. So now I, I actually did an article, there's 35 major blogs that people tune to, plus there's another probably 15 or 20 news portals which are all giving political news.
And there are some really good analysts there. but there are people that like to write really gripping articles on what such and such is going to do assuming that this is in his head and how, how such and such is going to retaliate. And some of them write it, that is actually really good reading. And some of it's true, some of it's not true, but people are thriving on it. And I've seen, I use the some of the web-based software to see how many hits they get a month, and you know, people read it. So that's what's making Malaysia politics very interesting because of the slant different people are putting on it. And all we are doing is telling stories about what we believe the future is going to be. So as a writer, it's very interesting.
Kalani Scarrott (34:09): I love it. And back to Malaysian politics, I had this one last minute, but if you were Prime Minister of Malaysia, how would you approach policy in a pragmatic manner?
Murray Hunter (34:17): Oh, many things to do. and, and, and this is a question without warning, I, I would dismantle the Islamization within government and, and go back to secular government that's not being anti-Muslim. that's just saying that there's no place for religion in government. then, then I would reform the education system to bring back critical thinking and teach creativity. I would really do away with a lot of the tertiary institutions that teach degrees and bring back more vocational TVI education where you can teach people to be car mechanics, teach people to be plumbers, teach people to be electricians, teach people to make shoes again, and turn handicraft into art and actually create economic movement down at the micro SME and individual limit rather than at these government-linked and own social corporate socialist companies. So that would take years there, there would be all these dark forces that would stop you from doing it.
Kalani Scarrott (35:29): And before I get into my closing round of questions, is there anything we haven't talked about that's consequential about the future of Malaysia?
Murray Hunter (35:35): yes. we, we are looking at the rise of Indonesia. I believe Indonesia is going to be a major power. I think the voice of Indonesia is actually going to be much more influential than the influential than the voice of countries like Australia. And you're seeing that now, you, you are seeing the diplomacy. And when SBJ was president, he had a policy that of mutual existence and corporation so they could very easily live with the Chinese and, and the us military presence in the South China Sea and subscribe to coexistence. And what are we doing? We're talking about these agreements like AUKUS, which is about buying some nuclear submarine with firecrackers 30 years in the future. You know, if there's going to be any conflict in the South China Sea, by the time we get these submarines, everything's over.
so I think Malaysia has to face that the, the city of Nusantara, the new capital is going to be on Borneo. So Sarawak and Sabah have another place to look to and, and, and other than Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. So that's going to open up the whole region. You've got the rise of India and the influence of that it's going to have in the region because it's going to push back on China and you, you have to live with this rising China without paranoia that you know, they want to you know, take over the countries. I find it very funny that we have a million Chinese ethnic Chinese people living in Australia. And people are scared that China's going to invade Australia. They've already have, you know, they're there, they're not going to go and invade when they've already done the job.
And there's so many things that I see positive because I'm helping somebody in trade. The Belt and Road Initiative is actually a brilliant logistical you know, system of getting goods around the world. And actually rather than oppose what China's doing, every country should have joined and, and played a role in, in this Silk Road Belt and Road initiative. So there's no doubt that Chinese influence, and I see it here today in Phnom Penh, you know, I'm, I'm staggered and, and I saw it in Malaysia last week, and, and I'm in Thailand, I see it in Thailand. There's whole cities behind my house Rayong that Chinese cities. I ride on my bike past the Chinese flag, and I'm in Thailand. so, you know, how are you gonna push back on that? You're not, you have to live with it and, and actually co prosper. But I think in Australia it's impossible to have that discussion.
Kalani Scarrott (38:42): I don't mean to sound silly or naive, but do, do you ever worry about or actually receive substantial blowback from like the people you write about or the topics you write about?
Murray Hunter (38:51): I think last year over the whole issue, I had at least six lawyers’ letters from Sydney, from Melbourne, from Kuala Lumpur, from Singapore. I've had my computer hacked into where it sort of flew across the room. I know the ISD in Singapore is monitoring my phone. I know for sure. So I say good morning to them every morning, and I know I'm being surveyed. I've had the Mufti of Singapore accuse me of Fitnah or telling lies publicly. So you can, you can do a, you can you go Google my name in Singapore, You'll, you'll see the local media when against me. I've got trolls making all sorts of funny comments that you can, you can see on some articles sometimes it's been a bit scary. I've been warmed, but actually Covid was gave me a, a sense of security when, when things were very hot with some articles for Singapore.
Well, I knew it was very hard for ISD to come in in the Covid, but I know that Malaysia Special Branch has an office in, in Hat Yai, So, and I actually know the person, I actually sit across him in, in one of the restaurants, so they know me. I know then. But then on the other hand, I got into Malaysia without any problem, and I got out without any problem. So how much is paranoia and, and worry, and I, I had one article I wrote on somebody I personally knew the vice Chancellor of my university and he sent Commandos to my house in Malaysia. I wasn't there. but he did lose his job as vice chancellor. And that hurt that actually personally hurt me for months. So you have to be responsible for what you write. So when you do write and when you do get people in high positions and they fall, you have to live with the consequences. And I don't get the champagne or the beer out. I have to go through a bit of a grieving period. So you know, writing hard, hitting corruption, you know, exposing articles emotionally costs a lot.
Kalani Scarrott (41:11): To move into my closing round of questions, what do you think is the most undervalued life experience that maybe university age students don't give weight to? So what's an underrated skill or an experience?
Murray Hunter (41:20): definitely experience. You know, you can have all the degrees you have, and I know because I, I'm, I've taught in how many universities in the last decade and a half a PhD before 1980 is worth many times more than a PhD done in the last couple of years. And I first went to uni in 1978. Monash economics I remember, and the standard of what they taught us and the rigor of what they taught us in the seventies and the, and the early eighties is so much different from the spoon feeding. They get it, it's all done with the textbook. We had to go to the library. There was no, there were cards to find stuff, and we had to sit there and read different points of view. Now they're just given stuff out of the textbook and, and they can pass on having little knowledge when they graduate, they know nothing. They get a job in 7/11. so you need a degree in Thailand now to work in 7/11. Basically what they're not getting is critical thinking how to be creative and, and how to turn an idea into some sort of tangible innovation or, or source of income. So I'm sad that we, we are churning out all these graduates and they don't have much of a clue of what to do.
Kalani Scarrott (42:47): And for yourself personally, have there been any books or people that have been very influential in shaping your world view?
Murray Hunter (42:52): Yes, I've written a list. I've got a list here. I, I I'm onto that page. Okay. I've put on Substack, two people. Yeah. One is M. G. G. Pillai who is a legend. He was, he's a Malaysia, Indian Malaysia, and he was on the front lines in Vietnam reporting. I think he was doing it for Reuters or, or one of those big organizations. He founded Asia Week. So if you, if you, if you're old enough, you'll know that Asia Week in the Far Eastern Economic Review were must read. If you don't have one in, in your, in your lounge room, then you, you're not living, you know, that was, that was weekly reading. So, and then he opened up one of the first blogs back in the 2000. So he's a legend, and unfortunately he passed away many years ago. The second was Geoffrey, Drummond, who was my professor when I did organizational behavior at Swinburne.
And we were crazy. It was a time of Japanese manufacturing and we used to go to places like Ford and, and Nissan, and we'd stand in the middle of the shop floor, and we would ask questions, what does it feel like to work here? And it, and in the eighties, you didn't ask that question. so he, he was a, a major influence, of course. Then there was Edgar Shine who wrote a book called Organizational Culture, and then, oh, Gareth Morgan called Images of Organization, which he'd looked at organizations from different paradigms and that was just mindboggling and that opened up so many things. William Ouchi: Theory Z, where he talked about Japanese management. So he looked at management in all a whole new paradigm. Kets de Vries, who wrote a book called The Neurotic Organization. So he, he looked at the archer types of neuro neurotic disorders, and looked at organizations from that paradigm that was like, really?
Well, then there was Lim Kit Siang, Time Bombs in Malaysia. I remember buying that book in 1978 when I was in Ipoh and reading it and then imagining what Malaysia would be like with his vision, John Cribbins in search of the multiverse. That, that reinforced my idea about looking at things through different paradigms. the writings of Paul Recur for Narrative Jared Diamond for his economic geography. And his description of, you know, read that stuff is just, that's better than James Michener. For me, the Koran, I read the Koran, oh, read the Koran how many times, But I saw it as one of the best business books about ethics and how to, how to organize society. Then I was going to say the Torah, but the real thing that influenced for me was the Wheel of Samsara, where I saw in Sun Milk in certainly in t. And I read a lot of stuff from that and, gave me a deep understanding of the way our cognition works. Yeah, there, there, that's, that's the area I, I've been hanging around. Yeah,
Kalani Scarrott (46:22): Perfect. There are some great, interesting recommendations there. I've got some catching up to do, but yeah, having now completed your book and doing the road shows and stuff like that, what areas are you most curious about going forward? What's the plan?
Murray Hunter (46:33): yep. I started working on I, I met, I, I went to Betong where the Malaysia Communist Party had their tunnels just like in in whereas in Hanoi, they, they, they have tunnels and they have it in <inaudible>, which is just down 30, 40 k from my home. And people left Malaysia to fight in the jungle, and of course, they had lost, and they signed a peace agreement, and some of them went back to Malaysia, and some of them stayed where they are. But I spoke to their head, who was one of their children who managed all the, the tunnels as a tourist attraction. And he said that many of them feel that their life has been in vain. They fought, they fought it on the losing side, and they're sort of asking what was the point of it.
And I think they, they, they have a, a very important part to contribute to what the history of Malaysia and, and the region was. So we talked about recording their life and through interviews and, and collecting the narratives. So I tried a couple of times to get that going, but I found a young academic Jason Ng, at New Area University College, and he is utterly excited about going and interviewing. so we made arrangements and in January we're gonna go and do a series of interviews. And just to make it even more fun, we're going to use a works of Paul Recur and Edgar Shine, and we're going to, we are going to analyze the narrative using all these tools. So it's not just going to be a book of history, is going to be a book using narrative as a tool to understand history.
So that's really exciting that that's what I've always wanted to do. But before that, I've got a friend that's come from Hungary that I've been speaking to for years about a different view of sustainability. And I, I worked on, I was going to write a book on this a, a few years ago, but the lady I was going to write the book with became the president of Mauritius. So she stepped up in, in she stepped up in society. And so this was something that was always going to be, and it, it is using economic geography. It's using the concept of Gaia, going to James Lovelock. James Lovelock is another must read. and then looking at culture, social, going back to sustainable like going back to the 1950s, which is not gonna save the world, but it's going to help decentralize, put an argument for decentralization away from urban environments, which actually, if you look at the statistics, they contribute about 50% to global warming. So I just don't understand why all these you know, young vanguard of environmentalists, they're talking about carbon but there are a lot of practical things you can do, but they, they just talk the one thing, they, they don't act. So I think that can be a contribution. so they're two exciting things that I'm, I'm actually want to call the first one here. He's in Bangkok waiting. He's come from Hungary, and we're gonna start now. So I'm excited about the future.
Kalani Scarrott (50:21): I don't know how you get it all done on top of running 15, 20 Ks a day. It's
Murray Hunter (50:25): Insane. Well, that's part of the running process, because I actually write when I'm running, but, but the problem is my mind can't hold everything in and you, and you have to stop running and with sweet, write all these things down so when you get home, you can start going over them. That's
Kalani Scarrott (50:43): Such a good insight into the writing process. Murray, thank you so much for coming on today. Is there anything else you wanna plug? Where can people find you?
Murray Hunter (50:50): No, I'm on, I'm on Substack and then Eurasia Review and Asia Sentinel, and I've got a column now in FMT and My Sin Chew, which is in Chinese. so those who know me, they know where I am. but Substack there, there's, there's something like 500 articles that go back to 1990, to the 1990s. So there's a lot of gems there, I think.
Kalani Scarrott (51:18): And I’ll put links to all in the description, but yeah. Murray, thank you so much for coming on today. It's been the blast.
Murray Hunter (51:23): Okay, great. Great to talk to you and love your podcast.