Australian High Commission
New Delhi
India, Bhutan

High Commissioner's address at the O P Jindal University

                                       Address to the O P Jindal University: Inauguration of Centre for India Australia Studies (CIAS)

                                                                                                               13 October 2016

‘The value of India-Australia Relations’

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Thank you, Vice Chancellor Professor C. Raj Kumar; and Professor Shaun Star, Executive Director of the Centre for India Australia Studies, for the invitation to speak.

It is with great pleasure that I join you today for the inauguration of the Centre for India Australia Studies. 

The establishment of a Centre such as this will be seen by many, at one level, as an artefact of the rapidly deepening Australia-India relationship.  And they will be right.

Australia’s relationships with India go back a long way.  We saw the import of camels from India to Australia in the 1890s to work in Australia’s arid Outback.  Up to 15,000 Indians fought alongside Australian forces at Gallipoli in the First World War – one of the most significant episodes in Australian military history. 

And Australia was one of the first countries to establish a High Commission in New Delhi in 1944.  In fact, at the start of 1946, Australia, the United States and China were the only three countries to have diplomatic missions in Delhi.

While in fact Australia and India enjoyed a relatively positive relationship since then, the major underpinnings were the obvious things we had in common – membership of the Commonwealth, the English language and, of course, a shared love of cricket.

But when I was asked why I wanted to come to India as a High Commissioner, my answer was simple.  India now sits at the top tier of countries of importance to Australia.  And yet, despite our long history together, there is still great scope to develop the relationship and to shape it. 

This is where I think the Centre for India-Australian Studies can play a role.  But before I come to that, allow me a moment to walk through the state of the Australia-India relationship.

The bilateral relationship

It is fair to say that today, in 2016, the Australia-India relationship is stronger, more diverse and more active than has ever been the case. 

From the time that Australia and India elevated our bilateral relationship to the status of a Strategic Partnership in 2009, the relationship has grown dramatically.  Since the time our two Prime Ministers visited each others’ countries in 2014, it has accelerated again.

On military and strategic matters, we have established new or expanded maritime, cyber, terrorism and transnational crime dialogues under the Framework for Security Cooperation agreed by both our Prime Ministers in 2014.  

Last year, we held our first Australia-India maritime naval exercises to better understand how we could work together in times of need. This maritime exercise – AUSINDEX – will now occur biennially.  We are also building cooperation between our armies and air forces. 

This activity is supported by strong political ties.  India and Australia are working together to build regional institutions. We are both Indian Ocean states which understand that the big strategic challenges of the future are likely to be maritime in nature.

We share a common goal to assure the security and stability of our region, which we are pursuing through our membership of the G20, the East Asia Summit and the Indian Ocean Regional Association (IORA). 

We are both committed to a non-proliferating world – and Australia wants to see India become a member of the four export control regimes, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India has the credentials for membership and we trust in those. This is reflected in our recent entry into force of our Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement which will support India’s growing energy needs.

On the economic relationship, India is Australia’s 9th largest trading partner and 5th largest export market, with two-way trade valued at around $A20 billion (10,000 crore rupees).  And two- way investment is at about the same level. 

There is tremendous untapped potential in the economic relationship.  Australian exports to India are still only around one-tenth of the level of exports to China, a comparable sized market.  And trade is still very narrowly based – around 70% of Australian goods exports to India is in only three commodities – coal, gold and copper ores.

But it is the dramatic growth in people-to-people links over recent years which I believe will build depth and sustain the relationship over the long term.

The numbers tell the story.

There are 53,000 Indian students studying in Australia today, our second largest source of overseas students.

And 233,000 Indians visited Australia in 2015, making India our eighth largest source of visitors.

The numbers of Indian-born Australians has tripled over the past decade.  Almost half a million of Australia’s 24 million citizens are now of Indian origin.

Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in Australia, and Punjabi is the fastest growing language.

The future

I said I wanted to be part of shaping the future Australia-India relationship.  I can see many areas with potential for us to build a deep, mature and highly textured relationship.  Here are a few examples – and they are not always in the areas you might think:

1. In Education, Australia has some of the world’s best institutions and academics.  Already we are sharing teaching and learning expertise between India and Australia.  Under the New Colombo Plan, some 1800 Australian students will pursue internships and short programs in India.  Beyond this, we are delivering vocational and skills training to equip the workforce to meet the demands of the expanding economy.

2. In Energy, Australia is a natural partner for India’s energy needs.  We have vast reserves of Liquefied Natural Gas to supply, and are a world leader in many areas of mining equipment, technology and services.  In renewables, as well, Australian researchers are making ground-breaking innovations in improving the efficiency of solar power generation, which we could share with India.

3. In Water Management, as the driest continent on earth, Australia pays careful attention to water conservation and environmental management.  We are already working with Rajasthan to establish a Centre of Excellence on water management, and are sharing our learning from managing the Murray Darling River Basin with people and communities in the Brahmani-Baitarani River Basin.

4.In Sport, Australia is collaborating with Indian institutions such as the National Institute of Sport, to build elite sporting capability as well as developing programs on sports health and management.

The list goes on.  But the point is this:  the future of the Australia-India relationship is still forming up.  When it finally settles, it will look different to the kind of relationship that either country has built with its traditional partners.

For Australia, this means we are not building a relationship with India as the “next China” where the relationship is based on selling bulk commodities to fuel India’s economic development through manufacturing. 

The global economy in which India is developing is very different to twenty years ago when China was on its rise.  Manufacturing is much less labour-intensive, so low labour costs will bring more limited competitive advantages. 

Instead, value adding is happening in innovation, technology and services.  These are the sectors where Australia and India’s future economic linkages will develop.  Among these sectors, education, skilling and training will lie at the forefront.

What does this mean for a Centre for India-Australia Studies?

The establishment of this Centre is happening at an important inflexion point in the Australia-India relationship.

Not only is the relationship growing in speed, intensity and depth, but it is also growing in a different direction to what we expect.  So the Centre has relevance in three aspects.

First, the establishment of the Centre in itself is a natural progression of the deepening of the relationship.  As more Indians travel, work, study and live in Australia, there is naturally a genuine interest in developing scholarship to build a more sophisticated understanding of each country.

Second, there is a natural alignment between Australia and India in terms of shared values.  Australia and India are liberal democracies which share a commitment to the rule of law, fundamental human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes.  We both value diversity and tolerance, particularly given the diversity of our populations.

Common values give us a stronger basis from which to study and critique each other’s cultures, systems and economies.  It allows us to share perspectives with a ready understanding of the context and less need for translation.

And finally, speaking as a policymaker, the Centre can harness understanding and ideas to help shape the future direction of the India-Australia relationship. 

On each of the areas of bilateral focus, there are many unknowns.  On the economy, we might want to know what is the world going to look like for each of us in the future? Where are the areas of alignment or synergy?  Where can we learn from or benefit from each other?

On strategic relations, we can ask where the shape of Indian Ocean cooperation will lead?  What roles can Australia and India play – preferably together – to shape the region in the direction of security and stability?

And what contribution will the Indian diaspora make toward the Australia-India bilateral relationship in the future?

There are some uncharted waters in these questions, but equally they open a truly exciting challenge for academic inquiry.  I look forward to taking part of that journey with you, to examine and resolve these questions.

May I warmly welcome the establishment of the Centre.  I wish you every success.  I look forward to a long and fruitful association with you all.

Thank you.