Regional policy problems: the case of Timor-Leste

Wednesday 31 July 2019 by Bethany Richards, Bachelor of Politics and International Relations

Timor Leste flag.

The Timor-Leste Policy Simulation Program provides students with insight into economic, social and political issues that impact Timor-Leste.

In summary

  • Bachelor of Politics and International Relations student, Bethany Richards, shares her experience as part of the Timor-Leste Policy Simulation Program

Recently, I was lucky enough to take part in the Timor-Leste Policy Simulation Program, giving me a chance to hone my research and policy-writing skills.

When I was approached to participate in the program, I was excited to build upon this knowledge, especially because I would have access to leading experts in the area. I was also keen to develop my communication, team-leading, research and policy-writing skills in a time-pressured situation.

Students participating in the Timor Leste Policy Program.
Students worked in groups to develop policy recommendations relating to Timor-Leste. 

Running over the course of four days, the first two days provided background information on the current state of Timor-Leste’s affairs from leading experts in the field. This included economists, sociologists and political figures from all over the world, including from some Timor-Leste.

Dr Sue Ingram from ANU delivered a lecture on the turbulent political history of the state, to explain why its current political system is unstable, while Dr Damien Kingsbury of Deakin University spoke to us about the disparity in gender equality in Timor-Leste, describing the every-day abuse that many women and girls experience in the state. He suggested that the poor socio-economic conditions and lack of an appropriate legal system contribute to these abuses.

Charles Scheiner, leading researcher for La’o Hamutuk, described how the state is almost entirely reliant upon oil revenue, of which there is a rapidly dwindling supply. He provided an in-depth presentation on the economic position of Timor-Leste, which for me was perhaps the most impressive.

Collectively, these presentations - and many others - improved my understanding of the past and present economic, social and political circumstances of the state, all of which are intrinsically interconnected.

The “wicked problems” that Timor-Leste experiences require an approach considerate of all of these factors, which made this simulation program incredibly challenging and rewarding.

Developing policy recommendations

Following the presentations, two days were spent working in teams made up of students from Swinburne and Flinders University. Groups were assigned sets of questions for each of the days, prompting us to develop policy recommendations relating to how funds should be allocated within the state. We had to consider ways in which the economy could be made independent from oil revenue, while addressing the socio-economic conditions.

From my perspective, it was imperative for the Timorese Government to use the remaining oil revenue to foster a sustainable agriculture industry. As the large majority of Timorese are subsistence farmers, such an industry would build upon current skill-sets and provide paid employment to impoverished villages. Concurrently, the education system should also be funded so that new farming techniques could be taught to youth, and to improve the social and gender inequalities that women and girls experience.

Individual group members were also assigned organisational profiles. As such, we had to ensure that we were representing the interests of these organisations when we developed our policy recommendations to a panel of judges playing the role of the Timorese government.

A slideshow showing Timor Leste policy program.
Guest speakers, in person and remotely, gave students an insight into the issues facing Timor-Leste. 

I represented La’o Hamutuk, so I had to ensure that my responses to the questions were informed from an economic standpoint and considerate of the social issues in the country. Part of the challenge was coming to a consensus within our groups to ensure that all of our organisational goals were represented and not contradictory. This was fairly simple for my team, as we were all able to communicate effectively and compromise when necessary, which are key skills in policy development.

Understanding Australia’s relationship

I would encourage any student interested in regional politics, economics or sociology to participate in this program, as it is imperative that we all understand the issues affecting our region, especially when the Australian Government is implicated in the affairs of numerous Melanesian states.

Collaboratively developed by Swinburne and Flinders University in Adelaide, the Timor-Leste Policy Simulation Program provides students with insight into current economic, social and political issues that impact Timor-Leste.