It seems the world’s obsession with the Western world’s “it” language, Chinese Mandarin, extends to our world leaders. And like a lot of politicians faced with a tough assignment, they like to throw a lot of money to solve the problem.
In Australia, the former Federal Government’s Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone‘s obsession with learning Chinese Mandarin has been revealed to the public. The public that is footing the bill estimated to be worth AUD$70,000 (RMB430,000 or USD$55,000). Wayne Swan, Federal Opposition Treasury spokesman has this to say about Vanstone’s silver-spoon attempt at learning Chinese.
“Senator Vanstone has apparently spent $70,000 to unsuccessfully learn Mandarin. That is pretty stunning by anybody’s standards.”
Australian newspapers reported yesterday that Senator Vanstone, immigration minister from 2003 until the ministerial reshuffle in January this year, racked up a bill for private Chinese language lessons worth at least AUD$31,000. It is speculated that the final bill, including a AUD$3,600 airfare to China for the senator’s teacher, could total AUD$70,000.
Senator Vanstone has a reputation in Australia as being a
cold-hearted arsehole hard-nosed, determined politican, but also one that was surprisingly supportive of learning Asian languages despite her portfolio.
Senator Vanstone told Australia’s Fairfax Press she could not recall the amount the department had spent on her Mandarin lessons but said it was part of her then job as immigration minister.
Wow! AUD$70,000. Imagine spending that on lessons here in Shanghai where university courses cost around RMB8,000 to RMB12,000 per semester, or hourly lesson rates cost anywhere between RMB40 to RMB200. Even removed from a normal Chinese-speaking environment, you would think that spending that large amount of money allow you to obtain a reasonable degree of knowledge for the language, wouldn’t you? Not so.
However, she failed to impress a seasoned Mandarin-speaking businessman when she delivered a speech in Mandarin in Canberra last year. The man described her effort as excruciating.
We wonder what really prompted this desire to learn Chinese from Senator Vanstone. For a number of years, China has been on the lips of Australia (and many other western countries) as the place of big opportunity. At the time, one of her opposition contemporaries Kevin Rudd, was well-known for his intellect and Mandarin language ability honed through previous service in the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Rudd has now risen through the ranks to become Leader of his political party. Was it a little green eyed monster that prompted Amanda to catch up? Or did she want to taunt immigrants or detainees in Australia’s immigration detention centres in their own language? Well, these are pure speculative ideas on our part, Shanghaiist doesn’t agree with her politics or her political party on this issue. Further reading reveals that recently the overspending Senator may have been angling for a plum job representing Australia in China.
Senator Vanstone was removed from the portfolio in Mr Howard’s January reshuffle and has since been widely touted as a possible ambassador.
Beijing has been mentioned as one post the former minister, an avid fan of Chinese culture and arts, would dearly love.
Diplomatic sources also said speculation had been rife the former minister would leap at the chance to become the leader of the Australian team for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, a job akin to getting an ambassadorship.
As an Australian, Shanghaiist feels that she should have used taxpayers money a little more judiciously and just kept to her strong suit of detaining refugees fleeing world conflicts, political oppression, or seeking a better way of life in Australia. She’s was very good at that.
Photo of Amanda Vanstone taken from The Radar Blog.