Prime Ministers Tony Abbott and Narendra Modi in ground-breaking meet
Despite professing friendship and mutual admiration for many years, the Australian and Indian governments seemed reluctant to take their relationship forward. While contentious issues in years gone past such as the sale of uranium to India and the student attacks put the relationship on a tenuous footing, behind the scenes, trade and commerce between the two countries has been quietly burgeoning.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent visit to India was proof of the growing strength of this relationship, as he met his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and further cemented what is widely being perceived as a positive partnership between the two countries.
Although the trip made no discernable impact in mainstream media in Australia, the Indian press hailed the visit as a successful and mutually rewarding one.
PM Abbott and his team, National Chair Dipen Rughani and Vice Chair Sheba Nandkeolyar from the Australia India Business Council (AIBC), cricket legend Brett Lee and producer-director Anupam Sharma were part of the Australian delegation who travelled to India on a state visit on September 4-5, 2014 to meet with the newly formed government headed by PM Modi. Actress Pallavi Sharda added a touch of glamour to the delegation with her vivacious presence.
Gestures of goodwill
The main highlight of the visit was signing of the non-proliferation trade agreement, confirming that Australia will supply uranium to India and putting to rest speculation that has covered this issue for years. In a gesture of goodwill, Australia returned the 900 year old bronze statue of Lord Shiva, an ancient artefact valued at $5million.
In a unique reciprocal gesture, PM Modi accepted Mr Abbott’s invitation to attend the G20 summit in Brisbane in November 2014, and to progress further Australia-India trade negotiations. This would be a historic trip, as Mr Modi would be the first Indian Prime Minister travelling to Australian shores since 1986. Mr Abbott also invited Mr Modi to attend the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing in April 2015, in commemoration of the 16,000 Indian troops who were a part of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli in April 1915. The new Colombo Plan was also launched, which would increase understanding, interaction, communication and travel between Australian students and those from the subcontinent.
Speaking at a business luncheon in New Delhi, Mr Abbott stated that Australia was eager to participate and help build India’s rapid growth and improvement in living standards. “We have been an utterly dependable source of energy security, resource security and food security [and] I hope that we can become an utterly reliable source of energy, resource and food security for India too.”
“Australia and India already have a formally-negotiated strategic partnership. My hope is to develop an economic partnership commensurate with our countries’ history and heritage, and our people’s easy rapport with each other – mines and minds, if you like,” he said.
Mr Modi expressed a ‘deep sense of gratitude’ for Australia returning the statue with ‘great speed’ on the request of the Indian government. “Prime Minister Abbott and the people of Australia have shown enormous respect and regard not only for our ancient treasure, but also for our cultural heritage,” stated Mr Modi.
Strategic bilateral investments
The two leaders also agreed to strengthen their relationship in forums such as the East Asia Summit. They also signed a memorandum of understanding on co-operation in sport, renewed an agreement on water resources management, and signed an MoU on cooperation in technical vocational education and training. Mr Modi said Australia could help India with the development of sports universities. The talks paved the way for more cooperation between Australia and India on education, and a statement issued by both government highlighted efforts to enlarge the scope of joint PhD programs and degrees. Mr Abbott also flagged the opportunity of more help from Australia in providing skills training to the Indian workforce.
Mr Abbott and Mr Modi also committed to strengthening their defence and security partnership, and closer cooperation in the areas of counterterrorism, cyber security, disarmament and non-proliferation. Their joint statement called for “deepening the framework of defence and security co-operation’’. Indian naval ships will participate in joint exercises with their Australian counterparts in 2015.
Other links were also established or strengthened, including new collaborations for Indian and Australian scientists, and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Australia’s National Trauma Research Institute and India’s largest emergency services agency, the Gunupati Ventaka Krishna Emergency Management Research Institute.
It is expected that the Free Trade Agreement between India and Australia that has been consistently discussed over the past few years, will finally come to fruition. According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Indo- Oz trade relations have grown from $3.3billion in 2000 to over $15billion in 2013. Key sectors that will benefit from the FTA will be mining, resources, agriculture, tourism, IT, education, filming, television programs, vocational training and professional services.
There is a strong sense of promise following Mr Abbott’s visit to India, as after decades of uncertainty, the Australia-India relationship is ready to transform itself into a strong trading, economic and culturally enriching partnership •
Prime Minister Tony Abbott addressed the Indian Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon in his honour on September 5. Here are highlights of his address
Past association with India
“As a student, I spent three months travelling around much of northern India. I was conscious of the historical links: the Indian soldiers who’d been with us at Gallipoli and in Palestine and who, in a later war, had passed with our own into captivity at Singapore. I was excited by this land of contrasts; of the most ancient spirituality with the most modern technology. I was fascinated by a country that was both exotic and familiar. Not only was that a formative period in my life; it also left me with an abiding sense that India would soon make its mark in the wider world.”
Emerging Indo-Oz relations
“The election of new governments opens new possibilities for both our countries. Australia is “open for business” – Prime Minister Modi is inviting the world to, “come, make in India”. In Australia, over the past year:
• the carbon tax has been scrapped;
• the mining tax is gone;
• one-stop shop approvals for environmental permits are coming into place;
• $800 billion worth of big new projects have received the environmental go ahead;
• free trade agreements are being concluded; and
• the Budget is coming back under control.”
“India, for its part, has, so to speak, a new CEO, determined to bring to the whole country the problem- solving approach he brought to revitalising an important state. As countries that believe in private sector-led growth, both Australia and India will be in a position to lead- by-example at the coming Brisbane G20 leaders’ summit, in committing to policies for an extra 2 per cent growth over the next five years.”
“Both Prime Minister Modi and I wish to be known as “infrastructure prime ministers” and the G20, fittingly, will focus on mobilising private capital to address the world’s infrastructure deficit.”
“Both India and Australia want to boost two way trade and investment and I hope that the comprehensive economic partnership – or free trade – negotiations between our two countries will be concluded, at the latest, by the end of 2016.”
“My hope is to develop an economic partnership commensurate with our countries, our two countries’ history and heritage and our people’s easy rapport with each other – a rapport that is evident today – mines and minds, if you like.”
“In the years ahead, India will have many friendships but few, if any, that will be as uncomplicated and as clearly mutually beneficial as that with Australia.”
“There is a future. It is bright and golden and it is there for us to grasp.”
“India has proven that economic transformation is quite compatible with robust free speech, independent courts, and democratic checks and balances on government.”
“My instinct is that India’s well entrenched democracy, commitment to the rule of law, and habit of lively debate will turn out to be its greatest intangible assets •”
Salient features of the visit
$20 million for AISRF
The Australian Government will provide $20 million over the next four years to support scientific collaboration between Australian and Indian scientists.
The Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) has supported more than 220 joint scientific projects in areas of key importance to both countries including agricultural research, biomedical devices and implants, nanotechnology and vaccines. AISRF projects have attracted significant contributions from respected research partners in both countries representing 90 top universities and research institutions.
The Fund’s work has resulted in substantial commercialisation opportunities and a large number of publications, patents and prototypes. This includes a low cost and environmentally safe product to address oil contaminated water; technologies to build up disease and pest resilience in crops such as chickpeas and cotton; and technologies to assist in the production and long-term use of a clean burning synthetic fuel with potential use in the Australian and Indian transport sectors. Over the last ten years more than $60 million has been invested in the AISRF and further support will enable the Fund’s work to continue to the mutual benefit of both countries.
Bollywood beckons for Brett Lee
Australian cricket legend Brett Lee will soon star in a new Bollywood movie titled ‘UnIndia’, with co-star Tannishtha Chatterjee. Production will start in Australia in October, the first venture of the recently established Australia-India film fund.
Brett Lee has no shortage of Indian fans – for his prowess on the field, and also for his musical talent, coming into the spotlight for a love duet he sang with renowned singer Asha Bhosale. He also starred in the cricket-themed film titled ‘Victory’, which sadly, wasn’t a hit at the box office. Lee has also established ‘Mewsic’, a Brett Lee Foundation initiative that uses music as a medium of ‘healing, educating and empowering sick and poor children in India’.
It should be an interesting experience seeing Lee grace the stage with Tannishtha Chatterjee, who also starred in the internationally acclaimed British film ‘Brick Lane’. And as usual, we can expect him to bowl over the audience!