Sep 11, 2018

Speech – Building on Common Values – Tuesday, 11 September, 2018


Thank you for the invitation to address you this evening.

Let me take you back a decade to 2008.

The Rudd Labor Government had just been elected and the new Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, declared that the relationship between Australia and India was not receiving the focus and attention it deserved.

As he outlined his desire to deepen and intensify the relationship, Stephen reached for the inevitable cricket analogy.

He said our relationship at that time was a bit like a Twenty20 cricket match, with “short periods of enthusiasm followed by lengthy periods of inactivity’’.

Stephen expressed the desire to transform the relationship into something more substantial, like a Test Match, an outcome that he said would require diligence, dedication, application and perseverance from both sides.

A decade later, much has been achieved by our two nations.

Building upon our common values and mutual interests, India and Australia are more closely engaged than ever before.

At the political level, our Prime Ministers have exchanged visits and our nations are co-operating in the forums of the world on critical issues including regional security, terrorism and people-smuggling.

Our economic ties are also growing strongly.

India is now Australia’s ninth-largest trading partner with two-way trade worth $20 billion a year.

And our people-to-people links continue to expand, fuelled by migration and by Indian students studying in Australia, learning skills to take home and apply to their country’s ongoing economic transformation.

After decades during which we failed to take advantage of the potential of our relationship, India has indeed looked south and east.

And as Prime Minister Modi has made clear with his recent visit to Jakarta and his subsequent Shangri La Dialogue speech, it is not just a “look East” policy, it is an “act East” policy and an Indo-Pacific policy.

And in this country we are increasingly looking north and west.

But this decade of activity is not the end of the journey. It’s just the beginning.

Tonight I want to talk about where our relationship can go in coming decades as India becomes a top three global power in the 21st century.


But before I do, let me admit that like my good friend Stephen Smith, I am a cricket tragic.

Indeed, like most Australian men of my age, the first Indian names that I learned after Gandhi and Nehru were those of great Indian cricketers of my youth, like Bishen Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

A love of cricket is a great common denominator among Australians and Indians.

When we meet for the first time, talking about cricket is the obvious ice-breaker.

However, we should not make the mistake of trivialising our relationship by seeing it only through the lens of the game handed down to us by the British.

I was reminded a few years ago that there is much, much more to our relationship than cricket.

Interestingly, the man who reminded me was one of India’s greatest cricketers.

In 2011 Rahul Dravid became the first non-Australian to deliver the annual Bradman Oration.

Speaking at the National War Memorial here in Canberra, Dravid noted that Indians and Australians were united by something other than cricket.

Dravid said:

Before they played their first Test Match against each other, Indians and Australians fought wars together.

In Gallipoli where along with the thousands of Australians, over 1300 Indians also lost their lives.

In World War II, there were Indian and Australian soldiers in El Alamein, North Africa, in the Syria-Lebanon campaign, in Burma, in the battle for Singapore.

Before we were competitors, Indians and Australians were comrades.

This is an important point.

It is a reminder that whatever our sporting obsessions, the strongest links between Indians and Australians are our values.

We are secular nations.

We cherish liberty and democracy. Indeed, India is the world’s largest democracy.

We proudly value diversity, not just in our own nations, but globally.

And when push comes to shove, we are prepared to fight to defend our values.

In the 1980s, Rajiv Ghandi and Bob Hawke bonded during battles inside the Commonwealth over sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Margaret Thatcher resisted them.

But the non-aligned India and the activist-minded Australia were on the side of justice and won.

At a dinner at Canberra’s Old Parliament in 1986, the visiting Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi said the destinies of our two nations were not just bound by our location on the Indian Ocean.

The more profound link, he said, was our shared democratic values and common interest in justice, fair-play and human rights.


My first contact with India outside of cricket came in 1991 when I travelled there as a backpacker with my now wife, Carmel.

We landed in New Delhi late at night and got a bus to our accommodation in Connaught Place.

In the morning we strolled out casually to encounter what guide books call the  “attack on the sense” that is India.

Sight, sound, smell are all triggered like nowhere else in the world.

Apart from accommodation we had nothing booked. We travelled by train, bus and even hitched a ride in a minivan from Agra to Jaipur. Whether the majesty of the Taj Mahal, the extraordinary Lake Palace at Udaipur or a camel safari from Jaisalmer we got a glimpse into India that you can’t get on an official trip.

We engaged with people wherever we went over the six weeks and got just a glimpse into that wonderful nation.

The truth is that the sheer numbers of people and exposure to extreme poverty and hardship was at times confronting.

But I returned to Australia as a friend of India and its people.

Last year I was honoured to lead an Australian Parliamentary delegation to India, the first in 17 years.

The delegation included Members and Senators from across the Parliament, including One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson and David Littleproud, who has since become the Minister for Agriculture.

We had a full program of events in New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Our aim was to strengthen parliament-to-parliament ties with India by visiting India’s national Parliament in New Delhi and the state legislatures of Maharashtra and Telangana.

It was a wonderful experience.

At a personal level, I was stunned by how much the nation has been transformed.

On the first day I ventured out by myself on the Metro to visit the important Hindu temple, Swaminaryan Akshardham.

Travelling by public transport is the best way to get a feel for the economic, cultural and social aspects of an urban centre.

And India’s economy is being transformed.

This change is reflected in the statistics.

India’s economy grew around 4 per cent per year over the 1970s and 1980s.

But its growth rate has steadily accelerated to around 7 per cent and even 8 per cent a year in the past decade, partly due to economic liberalisation reforms of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Between 2013 and 2018, India’s GDP increased from $1.8 trillion to $2.8 trillion.

As millions of people ride the wave of growth away from poverty, India is about to become one of the top five biggest economies on the planet and will quickly rise to be the 3rd largest economy in the world.


Much has been said and written about the rise of India and China to the status of global super powers since the end of the Cold War.

Some observers worry that the shift will have security implications and disrupt the existing global order.

Of course, much of this commentary relates to China.

Its one-party political system is opaque and difficult to navigate.

There is concern about China’s assertiveness within the region, which is most obviously being played out in the South China Sea.

In Australia and India, we must always prioritise security. Our nations are addressing this in international forums and through the establishment of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue including India, Australia, Japan and the United States.

However, moving beyond security issues, the rise of countries in the region like India, China and Indonesia brings great opportunity.

Economic development of these nations is of benefit to the entire region.

It is welcome because it is lifting millions of people out of the type of poverty that I witnessed on my first visit back in 1991.

Economic development of all nations within our region provides great opportunities for Australia – opportunities that will be critical to our standard of living for decades to come.

There’s an interesting difference between the rise of Asia today and the rise of Europe during the Industrial Revolution.

Western economic development came about because the Industrial Revolution of the 18th Century broke the nexus between population and GDP.

This allowed nations like England and Germany, and later the US, to harness technology and capital, which they used to create export industries and drive GDP growth.

While a similar process is underway in India, there is a critical difference.

India not only has technology and capital – but also a vast population, with a very favourable population demographic.

Even without increasing global trade, it can already count on massive levels of internal consumption to sustain high growth rates.

For Australia, this is an opportunity.

As incomes rise in India, rising living standards will open up opportunities to add new dimensions to our trade relationship.

At present Australia’s exports to India are dominated by minerals and agricultural products.

Australia’s top imports from India are refined petroleum, medicines, pearls and gems and railway vehicles.

The focus of Australia’s trade relationship with India should be diversification.

We need to take opportunities as they arise and ensure that our nation is best placed to benefit.


The Australian desire to deepen our engagement with India has bipartisan support.

Australia is a great trading nation.

We see trade as a central part of the economic development of our nation – an issue that is beyond politics.

Indeed, Labor’s Shadow Foreign Minister, my good friend Penny Wong, has visited India twice in her role.

Both she and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen attended the India-Australia Leadership Dialogue in New Delhi in January.

Penny is enthusiastic about working with India in international forums such as APEC, the East Asia Summit and the G20, as well as maintaining a policy framework that will increase economic engagement.

Labor’s FutureAsia policy architecture, announced by Chris Bowen last year, has put these relationships front and centre.

In particular, Labor and Australia want to see India join APEC.

On that last point, I was impressed by the report produced in July by our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: An India Economic Strategy to 2035: Navigating from Potential to Delivery.

Prepared by former DFAT secretary Peter Varghese, this work is a practical plan for increased trade and investment between Australia and India.

It identifies ten states in India where Australia should focus our activity and ten market sectors in which we have a competitive advantage.

These include agribusiness, resources, tourism, energy, health, financial services, infrastructure, sport, science and innovation.

The report notes that while the past two decades of hard work have brought India to the first tier of Australia’s diplomatic engagement, the economic relationship is stuck in the second tier.

We have much work to do.

Peter Varghese made this point a few weeks ago, launching his report in New Delhi, and next week the High Commissioner to India, Harinder Sidhu, starts her own roadshow across Australia highlighting the report to Australian industry.

And much of the hard work will be done by members of the Australia-India Business Council.

Meanwhile, as our leaders agreed when Malcolm Turnbull visited Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in India last year, our two nations will continue to work towards a commercially meaningful Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement.


Two of the sectors identified by Mr Varghese as having potential for further development – infrastructure and tourism – sit within my Shadow Ministerial portfolio.

India’s infrastructure task is massive, with one estimate putting the value of infrastructure projects required by 2022 at more than $US770 billion.

Most of that investment will be in highways, renewable energy and urban transport.

There’s no doubt that Australian infrastructure companies have much to offer, as India matches its strong population and economic growth with nation-building.

For many decades, Australian companies have been deeply involved in infrastructure development projects right across our region.

That’s a good thing.

Between now and 2040, the world will need $118 trillion of new infrastructure to keep pace with population growth and urbanisation, with more than half of that need coming from Asian countries alone.

This will offer immense commercial opportunities for Australian architects, engineers, construction firms, financiers and the resources companies that export the raw materials necessary to build the railways, roads, ports, power plants, telecommunication networks, dams and housing that will be required over the coming decades.

Tourism is a sector that is also ripe for growth.

India is one of Australia’s fastest-growing visitor markets.

In the year ending March 2018, almost 300,000 visitors from India came to Australia. This was up from 250,000 visitors the year before.

Between 2005 and 2016, visitor arrivals from India grew by 300%, six times faster than the growth in total inbound arrivals.

But it’s not just about more Indians coming to Australia as increasing living standards boost disposable incomes.

It’s also about Australians visiting India.

Australians love to travel.

Our nations should work together to promote each other as tourism destinations.

Opportunities include opening up new direct flight paths, increasing advertising and marketing and continuing to build upon our successful relationship.


One of the great things about tourism is that its benefits are ongoing.

Satisfied tourists make return visits.

Once a person falls in love with a foreign nation, the affair can last a lifetime.

They can also influence their friends to visit.

And above all, they make friends in the nations they visit, further deepening their affection for that country.

And as we all know, people-to-people contacts offer the richest potential for increased engagement between nations.

In this area, Australia and India are working off a high base.

Nearly 700,000 Australians claim Indian ancestry.

One of the first FutureAsia announcements by Chris Bowen was that we would introduce a new diaspora program based on the experience and success of the US program, to improve engagement with the Indian diaspora, as well as that of Japan and China.

Another positive is that as at the end of June 2017, there were more than 59,000 Indian students studying in Australia, an increase of 10 per cent since the previous year.

All of those who return to India do so with a deep understanding of Australia and its culture and will therefore be likely to maintain links with this country for the rest of their lives.

In India last year I was honoured to launch the new website of the Australian Alumni Association, which will help Indians who have studied in Australia to establish and maintain ongoing networks that will reinforce the bridge between our two countries.

As I said at that event, more than 2.5 million international students have studied in Australia in the last fifty years.

Education is not only a major export for Australia, but has also been central to the establishment of the people-to-people links that underpin our regional relationships.

No advertising campaign for Australia can compete with a personal endorsement from a graduate who has spent time in our country.

Whether they know it or not, Indians, Chinese, Indonesians and people from across the Indo-Pacific who have studied here over the decades have become unofficial Australian ambassadors.

Just as importantly, Australia wants our young people to look outward.

Under the New Colombo Plan, an excellent initiative of the former Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, Australian students obtain scholarships to study or undertake internships in the countries of our region.

Since 2015, more than 1800 Australian undergraduates have studied in India under this program, broadening their experience and helping them establish personal links to India.

It’s not just about helping Australians develop their own professional contacts.

It’s also about making friends, exchanging cultural perspectives and, I suppose inevitably, talking about cricket.


Let me wind up by once again thanking the Australia-India Business Council for your kind invitation to speak tonight.

Throughout my life, the relationship between Australia and India has been strong.

It’s not just about cricket or vindaloo. It’s not just about business.

It’s about a shared history based on a common set of deeply held values that bind us tightly as long-term friends – mates, if you will.

Long may it last and prosper.