'Can we elect him Prime Minister here, please?': PM Lee's take on 'wokeness' praised by Australian media

The presenters felt that Australia could learn from Singapore.

Tharun Suresh | May 15, 2024, 04:56 PM



Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments on 'wokeness' struck a chord overseas.

Commented in interview

During a wide-ranging interview with local media, PM Lee spoke about the cultural movement in countries like the U.S.

"In the West, they've got a movement called 'wokeness', where you're super sensitive about other people's issues, and you become hypersensitive when other people somehow or other say things or mention things or refer to you, without the respect that you or your super sub-group feel you are entitled to."

PM Lee elaborated that it could lead to "very extreme attitudes and social norms, particularly in some academic institutions, universities".

"You talk about safe spaces, you talk about appropriate pronouns," PM Lee added, before citing a typical 'trigger warning': "I'm about to say something which may be offensive to you if you don't want to hear it perhaps you'd like to leave now."

PM Lee said that such discourse makes life "very burdensome, and I don't think we want to go in that direction."

"It does not make us a more resilient, cohesive society with a strong sense of solidarity. We must be more robust," PM Lee added.

@mothershipsg "It does not make us a more resilient, cohesive society with a strong sense of solidarity. We must be more robust." #singapore #tiktoksg #sgnews ♬ original sound - Mothership

Praised by Australian television presenters

Australian news channel Sky News Australia's presenter Rita Panahi, in an opinion segment, called the comments by PM Lee "60 seconds of wisdom".

Panahi jokingly also asked another presenter Gabriella Power, "Can we elect him Prime Minister here, please?"

Power concurred, replying, "Please, please come to Australia."

Power felt that PM Lee's criticism of 'wokeness' was connected to broader issues worldwide.

"He's completely right ... look at what's happening in Scotland, in the UK, where they're all going crazy over these hate speech laws. We're seeing this teacher that has been sacked for promoting critical thinking like that is when the 'wokeness' gets absolutely too crazy," Power said.

Power here was likely referring to hate crime laws recently passed in Scotland, as well as an earlier Sky News segment where the presenters talked about a teacher who was, the presenters claim, fired for challenging a student's stance on whether JK Rowling was a transphobe and bigot.

"Look at us as a society - we're so much stronger when we're in solidarity with one another," Power added.

Singaporean-born journalist chimed in

On the panel was also Caroline Marcus, a senior reporter at Sky News Australia who also happens to be born in Singapore.

Marcus said: "I wish we had that type of common sense here, it makes me miss Singapore even more. It's my homeland, but it's also part of the reason I've spoken about, before, this rejection there of 'wokeism', political correctness, a refusal to pander to 'Cultural Marxists'."

According to a paper written by Rachel Busbridge, a researcher at Australian Catholic University, "Cultural Marxism" is an American-born "conspiracy promoted by the far-right".

The theory opines that a "small group of Marxist critical theorists have conspired to destroy Western civilisation by taking over key cultural institutions."

The paper goes on to note that the term is frequently invoked in Australian media.

Comparing Australian and Singaporean education

Marcus opined that Singapore's "rejection of 'wokeism'" is why it "consistently ranks among the top countries in education, if not at the very top."

"Meanwhile in Australia, where teachers are encouraging students to go and march for climate change and pro-Palestine, our students are ranking below that academic superpower, Kazakhstan," she added.

A quick check of the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study shows Australia outperforming Kazakhstan in mathematics and science for both fourth and eighth-grade students, while the 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study also shows Australia outperforming Kazakhstan.

Regardless, Singapore topped the rankings in both studies.

Marcus claimed that Singapore's educational success stems from the Singaporean educational system "focus[ing] on what is important for young people - getting a good education, family values" and not allowing "trivial things to divide [Singapore] as a society".

"Could learn a thing or two from Singapore"

Panahi went on to extol the low incidence of crime in Singapore, claiming that when she visited Singapore "a couple of times", apparently some shops here would not lock their doors, using only "a rope they put across the front door which is open".

It is not clear where and how Panahi sourced this claim.

Panahi and Marcus claimed that the low crime rate is because of Singapore's use of capital punishment and caning, which they argue is not embraced in the "civilised West". They also remarked on Singapore's "zero tolerance approach to drugs". Marcus then said that in her view, Australia's justice system "could learn a thing or two from Singapore."

Sky News frequently reports on the death penalty in Singapore, such as in Apr. 2023 and Jul. 2023.

Power said: "People on the far-left just can't handle conservative voices, promoting cancel culture and they get caught up in things that really don't matter so, look, I think the Singapore Prime Minister spoke very well."

She then added that she would "love to have [PM Lee] as our Prime Minister in Australia".

Marcus interjected to provide a caveat towards the end of the segment: "In fairness, he may not be used to having people like ourselves criticise the government. That's not tolerated so well in Singapore, but many other aspects of life are superior."

Background on Sky News Australia

Sky News Australia has been accused of being a right-wing-leaning organisation.

It is the Australian wing of Sky News, a British broadcasting service founded by Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-American businessman, in 1989.

Murdoch was also the chairman of the Fox Corporation, which owns Fox News, a right-wing news outlet in the United States.

Top photo from Sky News Australia.