Update to the India Economic Strategy to 2035

  • Speech
22 March 2022

I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners on the land of which we meet [Indistinct].

Can I just take this opportunity to say that all of us should want to and strive to increase our knowledge and understanding of our Indigenous heritage. And if I could just point to one thing that I think all of you could do in this room, if you haven't already, to just get a real understanding of that is go to my electorate and visit a site called Budj Bim, which is in Western Victoria, where 65 000 years ago the first aquaculture took place that we know of in our nation. This is the sort of aquaculture [indistinct] traps that were used 65 000 years ago, and it's a great way to really understand the rich of their culture the Aboriginal peoples have, so I would implore you to go and visit a site like that or one of the many numerous sites where you can really grow and understand the rich history that we're privileged to have as part of our nation.

I thank the Vice-Chancellor for hosting us today here at Melbourne University. It's wonderful to be back. Lisa, can I thank the Australia India Institute for also hosting us, and it's wonderful to see you and I commend you for the role that you're playing at the institute, the direction that you're taking it in. I see a very, very bright future for the institute in the years ahead, and I think it has an important role to play, and I'll touch on that in a minute going forward.

Can I also acknowledge all of our distinguished guests here in the room, and I won't go through everyone, but I will acknowledge that we have the former Premier of Victoria here, Ted Baillieu and Ted, it's wonderful to see you.

I'm here to launch two reports today, two significant reports, which go to highlight how important the Australia–India relationship is and how important it is going to be into the future. I think all of us in this room would know and acknowledge that there has never been a more important time for Australia and India to advance its relationship. Given the geostrategic sheens and the way they are shifting at the moment, our two countries need to come together like we have never come before. And we saw an example of how we are going to do that yesterday when our two Prime Ministers met and made a number of announcements about how they want to advance the relationship.

I want to add to that this morning because in launching the updated economic strategy for our two nations, there are some important initiatives that I also want to discuss and announce. The first of which is that we will be providing $16.6 million to strengthen linkages with India's key policy and finance institutions. So, what we want to do is make sure that across every field, across every area of research, that they are bringing the two countries closer and closer together. When it comes to policy, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to link our policy institutes and our departments closer and closer together. And that $16.6 million will be aimed at doing that. I want to give you an example of why that is so important.

At this very moment, I'm in very, very detailed discussions in trying to conclude an interim free trade agreement with India. As a matter of fact, at six o'clock this morning I was jogging around the Tan and I got a very good, friendly call from my good friend the Indian Trade Minister, Piyush Goyal, wanting to discuss where we go and how we can make sure that we nail the deal by the end of this week or early next week, all going well. And the strength of the relationship that we've been able to build over the last six to seven months has meant that we are in a position that I hadn't imagined we would be in, of landing a free trade agreement, hopefully, in the next week. We've been talking quite often – twice daily. Obviously, I've been to India twice in the last seven months. He sent his negotiating team out here to Australia three weeks ago and offered again this morning to send them over again if it was needed later this week.

And it's the strength of that relationship and the strength of the friendship that we've been able to develop, and I can quite honestly stand here today and say I do not have a friendship like I have with Piyush with any other Trade Minister in the world. It's that friendship and that closeness and that trust which has enabled us to get to where we are. What we need to be able to do is see that happening across the board. One of the things that would help this negotiation [indistinct] is if we have a similar understanding and trust between the various bureaucracies here in Australia and India. So, we have those linkages between the head of our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the head of our Treasury, the head of our finance department, with the head of the external affairs department in India and the head of their Treasury, the head of their finance department. That would grow and enhance how we come together to land deals like this but also other deals across the board.

And one of the things that we were able to announce yesterday, that the leaders were able to announce, which came out of our negotiations through this free trade agreement was in the next six months we're going to harmonise the recognition of degrees between India and Australia. That's something that Piyush and I have worked on to have as part of our free trade agreement, and it's an early harvest – an early, early harvest – of that agreement that was announced yesterday. And wouldn't it be fantastic if Indian students could come to Australia and study two years of their degree and then go back and finish their degrees in India, or an Australian student, a young student here at Melbourne University, could begin their degree and then go to India to finish their degree? That would be a great sign of the growing closeness of the relationship.

The second thing that we're announcing is $8.9 million to support enhanced business engagement and an increased Austrade presence in India. It's not only the government-to-government links that we need to improve. And Jennifer, I'm sure we'll discuss this, and it's great to see you here, and I'm looking forward to our conversation. But it's growing and enhancing those business-to-business links, getting a proper investment relationship developed, getting proper commercial ties developed that really build on and enhance the relationship. That is something that we need to put into development.

And, of course, there is our diplomatic presence in India. And what I'm announcing today is that Austrade will be setting up an office in Bengaluru, and that will mean that we have the same diplomatic footprint in India that we currently have with China. And it's only one less than what we have with the United States. Now, my aim is to make sure that over the coming years we have a diplomatic presence in India, which matches the United States, because that, to me, would then be a terrific symbol of how close the relationship is, how close two liberal democracies seeking to find a path in this new world, a path which sets global rules that means all countries can thrive and prosper in a peaceful way – that we both understand the importance of that through the diplomatic presence that we share.

So, that is what we're seeking to strive for through our enhanced economic engagement strategy. It will not be the last advancement of this economic strategy. One of the things that I'm very keen to see is that it becomes a living document. So, we've had the first one. We've now, because of COVID, made sure we've enhanced it, but it should become a living document that we seek to enhance into the future. So, I hope that this will be the economic engagement strategy 2.0, which would soon be followed in years to come with 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0.

The other thing that I'm privileged to launch today, or the other document, is the Australian–Indian diaspora, a national asset, which is a very important study, which has been undertaken of the Indian diaspora here in Australia. And it is well worth a read because it shows the contribution the Indian diaspora is making here in Australia already and will make into the future. But what is the contribution that's being made? First of all, it's a sizable contribution. The Indian diaspora is second now only to the United Kingdom diaspora in Australia, so it is of growing significance.

And the second thing is it is helping us as a nation. The Indian diaspora brings with it youth; it brings with it intellect; and it brings with it skills that we need as a nation. So, it is helping to improve, it is helping to uplift us as a nation, and I would commend this document to you. I think it shows very much a way forward. I hope as part of the free trade agreement that I'm seeking to finalise in the coming days that we'll be able to have a significant mobility chapter which will lead to those people-to-people links growing and then, over time, we will be able to build on that mobility chapter in that FTA.

I hope also that we'll begin to see the Indian diaspora populate more and more of the key institutions that we have here in Australia. When I started with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we had one young Indian who started with me as part of our journey. Now, my hope would be that in future we will see DFAT taking graduates from our Indian diaspora four, five, six, seven at a time so that we can use their skills and their knowledge to make as we outreach across the world, but also it would be wonderful if our Chief Scientist had deputies that came from our Indian diaspora. It would be wonderful if our State and Territory bureaucracies also had leading Indians from our Indian diaspora. That is the vision that we should be seeking to achieve as a nation. When you see the skills that they bring, the knowledge that they bring and the youth that they bring to our population, there is no reason why we shouldn't be seeking and striving to make that happen.

So, Lisa, thank you for hosting me here today. Thank you for enabling me to launch these two important documents. I'm looking forward to the conversation with Jennifer. Can I thank you all for coming along today. Can I thank you for your interest in the relationship. It is a relationship that's going to go from strength to strength, and I can see from your attendance here that you want to be part of that journey. Thanks a lot.


Media enquiries