NEW DELHI: After months of rancour, there has been a year-end flash of bipartisanship by Australia’s two major parties in the Indian capital, New Delhi.
Labor and Liberal MPs have enthusiastically endorsed burgeoning ties between Australia and India at the Australia-India Roundtable, a meeting of more than 50 parliamentarians, diplomats, government officials, academics, business figures and journalists from both countries.
Australia’s first federal parliamentarian of Indian origin, the Labor senator Lisa Singh, and a Liberal MP, Josh Frydenberg – who were at the meeting – both said there was a sense of optimism about the future of the relationship.
Until recently Indo-Australian ties had been hampered by a Labor moratorium on uranium exports to India and the spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia during 2009 and early 2010. But Labor’s decision to drop its uranium export ban and improvements to the safety of international students has removed the two major irritants and paved the way for new levels of political trust.
C. Raja Mohan, an Indian foreign policy analyst and co-chairman of the Roundtable, said the India-Australia relationship had momentum for ”the first time since the independence of India”. His co-chairman, Rory Medcalf, from Sydney’s Lowy Institute, said it was as if the nations were starting their relationship anew, without old problems and misunderstandings.
”The pressure is now on for us to come up creative and practical ideas to advance the partnership,” he said.
Trade and investment between the two nations has grown rapidly and India is now Australia’s fourth-largest export market and a major source of investment.
India’s energy security and mushrooming demand for Australian energy resources was a key theme of the meeting.
However, the federal Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, who attended the Roundtable, said there were ”frustrations in the relationship” and that the investment plans of some Australians were being thwarted by restrictions in India’s minerals and energy sector.
”This is a new phase in our engagement and energy security has jumped up as one of the priority issues,” he said.
”Australia is a strong economy because we’ve welcomed foreign investment. We’ve got companies that are frustrated in their desire to invest in India, so we’ve all got our challenges.”
Members of the Indian delegation raised concerns about taxation, labour costs and transportation costs in the mining sector.
Australian firms wanting to break into the Indian market were urged to adopt a targeted regional or state-based strategy rather than trying to ”take the whole of India by storm”. There were also calls for more direct links between Australian and Indian states and cities. These state-to-state and city-to-city relations should include the sharing of best practices in service delivery and development, skilling and education.
Senator Singh said the 400,000 Australians of Indian origin, like her, had a key role to play in helping to build the relationship between Australia and India.
”India has an incredibly large population but it has great entrepreneurship to deal with some of its problems,” she said. ”And here are we as a willing partner really wanting to engage … there are great opportunities and the future looks incredibly bright.”
Mr Frydenberg said there was a convergence of strategic and economic interests between Australia and India and a growing recognition of shared values such as democracy, the rule of law and a commitment to prosperity in the region.
”Based on these things, India and Australia have a lot to look forward to together,” he said.
No Indian prime minister has visited Australia since 1986 and the two countries were urged to work towards arranging such a visit soon.
The Roundtable was hosted by Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation in conjunction with the Australia-India Institute at the University of Melbourne and the Lowy Institute for International Policy. It was supported by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.