'It may feel like we’re hitting a crescendo, but there are higher notes yet to reach.'
This is the full transcript of the speech delivered by Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell at the Australia-India Institute Oration on April 4, 2022 in New Delhi. In this speech, the ambassador detailed why he believes that relations between the two key Indo-Pacific partners is at an all-time high, and only set to grow further.
Ambassador Barry O’Farrell delivering the lecture.
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.
I’m delighted to be delivering the 2022 Australia-India Institute (AII) Oration here in New Delhi.
I thank the Institute for the honour and Lisa Singh for the energy and focus she has brought to the relationship since starting in her role in September.
And given that education is a key pillar of the Australia India relationship it’s great the Oration has coincided with a visit to India by the University of Melbourne – the first major delegation from an Australian education institution since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
In many respects there has never been an easier time to speak about the rise (and rise) of Australia-India relations, given the progress we’ve witnessed in the past fortnight:
· a Virtual Summit between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Morrison
· the launch of the Australian Government’s update to the India Economic Strategy, and
· two days ago, the signing of the Australia India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement.
Today provides a welcome opportunity to take stock of the relationship’s recent developments and achievements.
Australia and India in the Indo-Pacific
At our heart, Australia and India are both Indo-Pacific nations.
India’s late Chief of Defence Staff, General Rawat once told my predecessor that, while on land, miles can signify great distance.
The seas are different.
General Rawat said our vast, common ocean binds us in a way that we too become neighbours.
It’s a beautiful thought that points to a deep practical truth.
India and Australia share the Indian Ocean.
We are – by our very design – stewards of one of the world’s greatest maritime resources.
Our geography places us squarely in the middle of the world’s strategic centre of gravity.
And as the international system becomes more multi-polar, the region’s resilience will be tested.
Current events in Europe serve to remind us of the profound strategic challenges and disruption the world is facing.
The order that has supported peace and prosperity over decades is being challenged.
And there’s no doubt the implications of the invasion of Ukraine will reverberate in our region for some time.
Australia and India have accepted a shared responsibility to ensure a peaceful, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific.
A region where the rights of all states are respected.
Where disputes are managed peacefully, legally and without coercion.
Where open markets facilitate the flow of free trade, greater investment, and stronger people-to-people ties.
Creating such an order is something Prime Minister Modi has called a ‘sacred duty’.
And it’s something my Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has said will only be achieved by widening and reinforcing our likeminded webs of alignment.
Australia-India CSP: our cooperation to date
Australia and India are spearheading such efforts.
In my 14 months at post, I have witnessed our bilateral cooperation grow at an extraordinary pace.
In June 2020, in PM Modi’s first Virtual Leaders’ Summit, we elevated our ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership – or CSP.
We also signed a series of high impact, practical agreements to advance strategic and economic cooperation across a range of areas where both countries can have an outsized impact on the Indo-Pacific.
These covered defence and maritime security, cyber and critical technology, critical minerals, education, water, public administration and governance.
That historic meeting in 2020 also:
· confirmed the ambition Australia and India both shared for the relationship; and
· provided a clear foundation and framework from which both nations could act bilaterally.
Since then, our cooperation under the CSP has been remarkable – and it’s fair to say progress has often exceeded expectations.
· we’ve delivered an Australia-India Business Exchange to help build stronger private sector linkages between our countries;
· we’ve cooperated across the full gamut of cyber activities, with our Strategic National Security Cyber Dialogue supporting information exchange and timely cooperation on cyber threats;
· in agriculture, a partnership on pulses and grains management and logistics was established to stimulate sustained government and industry engagement; and
· we delivered the first India Australia Circular Economy Hackathon – empowering our best and brightest to tackle some of society’s most pressing challenges.
The 2020 Virtual Summit also included agreeing to deepen our military cooperation through a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement – allowing more interoperability and requiring the kind of trust only shared between the closest of defence partners.
This built on the transformative step change in the defence relationship, with joint defence activities experiencing a near four-fold increase since 2014.
Since the Summit we’ve seen:
· the return of Australia to Exercise MALABAR, again joining India, Japan and the United States in annual high-end maritime activities;
· Australian Navy participation in India’s largest naval exercise, MILAN;
· an Australian Navy liaison officer embedded at India’s Information Fusion Centre;
· the first ever 2 + 2 ministerial meeting in Delhi last year; and
· this year, separate visits by our Chiefs of Navy and Army, to be followed later this month by Australia’s Chief of Defence Force and Defence Secretary.
CSP 2.0: Building out the bilateral architecture
As the professionally trained diplomats present know, there is no ‘finish line’ in bilateral relations.
Governments are always seeking more: more ambition, more cooperation, more mutually beneficial outcomes.
This truism was reflected in the 21 March Virtual Summit between Prime Ministers Modi and Morrison—including by their decision to hold summits annually, making Australia only one of three countries to have such an arrangement with India.
The meeting also gave the Prime Ministers an opportunity to take stock of progress under the CSP, to lock in our gains and commit to further building out the bilateral architecture.
Prime Minister Morrison announced a suite of initiatives that form the largest ever boost to bilateral ties with India by an Australian Government.
The new initiatives and programs cover the breadth of our shared priorities: across economic, trade, agriculture, infrastructure, culture, education & skills, public administration & governance, resources & energy, science & innovation, defence, cyber and critical technology interests.
· a mechanism to improve recognition of academic qualifications;
· an investment boost for the Australia India Strategic Research Fund;
· expansion of our diplomatic presence across India;
· a joint Australia-India Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy to be located in Bengaluru;
· a substantial commitment by Australia to build out cooperation in space – an area of great interest to PM Modi as India’s Minister for Space;
· support for increased research, production and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies; and
· front-row access for Indian investment in Australian lithium and cobalt – underpinning secure clean energy supply chains across the Indo-Pacific.
Importantly it also includes Australian Government investment in a new Centre for Australia-India Relations (CAIR) to propel and strengthen our community, institutional and business ties.
The Centre – which will complement the efforts of the Australia-India Institute – will administer the suite of Maitri scholarships and fellowships, as well as a new cultural partnership.
The scholarships and fellowships are designed to be as generous and high-profile as the Rhodes or Fulbright programs – but offered exclusively to Indian citizens by the Australian Government.
The 2020 Comprehensive Strategic Partnership laid strong foundations for deeper and broader cooperation between India and Australia.
The initiatives announced over recent months will build out the bilateral architecture. And they’ll help us further realise the promise of the relationship.
Update to the India Economic Strategy
Last month, following the Summit, Australia also released an updated India Economic Strategy.
This builds on Peter Varghese’s 2018 seminal report, which recognised the importance of India to Australia’s economic prosperity over the coming decades.
It helped elevate India in the consciousness of Australia’s business community and set tangible goals for the economic relationship.
The Update takes into account the transformed global environment, including the lessons learned during COVID, India’s economic reform agenda and our joint progress under the CSP.
It draws on consultations with over 600 business and community stakeholders across Australia and India and sets a basis for new investment.
It also builds on insights from the Confederation of Indian Industries’ landmark Australia Economic Strategy.
My Consul Generals and I look forward to promoting the IES Update – along with other recently announced initiatives – across India over coming months.
Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement
The June 2020 CSP also committed both countries to re-engaging on achieving a Closer Economic Cooperation Agreement. The last attempt stalled in 2015.
As you read, heard or saw on the weekend, an Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement has now been agreed and signed.
I don’t think it’s necessary to emphasise just how significant a development this is for the relationship.
Trade and investment underpins state and national economies, they determine the living standards our citizens enjoy— and they provide the agency for government to deliver on strategic goals.
The trade agreement between India and Australia gives us an opportunity to properly harness the complementary nature of our economies in areas such as critical minerals, professional services, education and tourism.
Indian consumers and businesses will benefit from the immediate elimination of tariffs on 85 per cent of Australian goods exports to India.
While Australian consumers will benefit from almost 96 per cent of Indian goods imports entering Australia duty free.
This is an important step and a real testament to the great strength of the relationship.
And both countries remain committed to working towards a full Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.
Flourishing people-to-people ties
Reflecting on the advances in the bilateral relationship in recent years I want to touch on two, often overlooked contributing factors.
The first is Australia’s growing Indian diaspora. More than 700,000 strong (or 1:35) according to the last census.
This ‘living bridge’ between our two nations has helped broaden and deepen our ties.
My own interest and involvement with India started when I was talking to an Australian friend of Indian origin about how to kick start a State economy and he alerted me to the economic opportunities in this country.
And as the diaspora engages in their lives in Australia they indirectly and directly similarly alert neighbours, colleagues and other Australians to the opportunities, potential and magnificence of this country.
Pre-COVID India had become our second largest source of migrants to Australia, over 100,000 Indian students were studying there each year and India was fastest growing inbound tourism market.
I am delighted to note that since Australian borders were re-opened in November:
· we’ve seen 25,000 student arrivals, joining those who opted to remain in Australia during COVID; and
· almost 150,000 visitor visas have been issued, 20,000 in March alone.
One of the significant outcomes of the Prime Ministers’ Summit in March was the progress towards a Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement.
This Arrangement will create opportunities for skilled professionals and students to experience the benefits of each other’s education and employment markets—and strengthen our cooperation to prevent irregular migration.
I predict that when the results of the latest Australian census are released mid-year, we will see further growth in size of the Australian Indian diaspora.
A diaspora that fully engages in Australian society—and the opportunities on offer.
A community which not only shares common democratic values, but engages actively in local, State and national politics.
And it’s this involvement which helps underpin a bipartisan approach to the Australia India relationship and ensures no future Prime Minister—or even Premier—will change that.
The habit of trust
The trust which underpins the Australia India relationship is the other contributor to progress.
For me, the biggest indicator of how far the Australia India relationship has come is simply how frank, frequent and trusting our interactions are with our counterparts.
To put it starkly: the kinds of discussions we’re now able to have on sensitive issues were unheard of even five years ago.
If, and when, any issues arise, we speak directly to each other, like friends.
We’ve proven that we can turn our desire for cooperation into habits of cooperation with more trust.
We want these habits to become instinct.
None of our progress over the past two years – whether on defence, cyber, trade, education and research, or innovation – would have been possible without the strong personal relationships built at the official, ministerial and leader levels.
This played out in our trade negotiations.
Last August PM Morrison sent former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as, Special Trade Envoy, to India to meet PM Modi to get the trade deal underway.
Trust was evident when, in September last year, Commerce Minister Goyal and Trade Minister Tehan lunched together—without officials and advisers—and emerged almost three hours later with a plan to secure a trade agreement.
And it was reinforced by their constant contact throughout the negotiations over the past seven months and in their ability, willingness and efforts to solve those issues our officials could not agree on.
At the AII last month Minister Tehan noted said he didn’t have a similar friendship with any other trade minister in the world.
On Saturday Minister Goyal characterised his relationship with Dan Tehan as “brothers”.
It’s not hyperbole to say the Australia-India relationship is at a high point. It’s the truth.
But it has taken a lot of work to achieve. And many of the people responsible for it are in the room today. And I again thank you all.
The best part though is both countries are still pursuing “more ambition”.
We’ve identified new opportunities to grow the relationship and institutionalise our cooperation.
Over the years some in the Australian commentariat have been quick to criticise the Australia-India relationship for being long on promise and short on delivery.
I think we can safely say that Australia has put that argument to bed over the past 24 months.
We’ve set a targeted and strategic direction for the relationship.
We’re investing in the technology, talent and trading spirit of our people.
We’re working across the breadth of our shared economic, strategic and regional interests to build webs of alignment that support our region, the Indo-Pacific.
And most importantly, as the relationship continues to rise, we’re not resting on our laurels.
Ladies and gentlemen, it may feel like we’re hitting a crescendo, but there are higher notes yet to reach.
I thank you all for your support and look forward to some questions.