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30 January 2020

Address to the Australia India Chamber-Australia Day/India Republic Day 2020 Celebration, Melbourne

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Acknowledgements

Thank you for the introduction. It’s an honour to be here representing the Australian Government as we jointly mark Australia Day and India Republic Day, both celebrated on 26 January.

I’d like to thank the director of the Australian India Chamber, Chris Mooney, for the invitation, and the Australia India Chamber for hosting this occasion. I acknowledge your commitment to strengthening the economic and business ties between our two nations.

I’d also like to acknowledge other significant guests, the Hon. Ted Baillieu - former Premier of Victoria, Craig Jeffrey – Director and CEO of the Australia India Institute and Anuradha Sundaramurthy, Deputy Consul General of India.

Introduction

Australia Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate everything good about Australia; our way of life, and the opportunities we have.

India Republic Day commemorates independence and the birth of the modern Indian nation.

In the words of President Kovind, it’s a ‘precious’ day to ‘celebrate India and the spirit of being Indian’.

The 26th of January is a day of significance for both our nations, even more so with around 700,000 people with Indian ancestry living in Australia today, including in my electorate of Deakin. The Indian community has made, and is making, an outstanding contribution to Australian society.

We have seen this too in the aftermath of the recent bushfires in East Gippsland, where volunteers from Indian community groups including Sikh Volunteers Australia, drove out to Bairnsdale to serve hot meals to those forced to evacuate their homes.

I would also like to acknowledge Indian cricket heroes, Yuvraj Singh and ‘The Little Master’ himself, Sachin Tendulkar, who will take part in the Red Cross Bushfire Big Bash charity match on 8 February.

Australia / India relations

Australia and India share a liberal-democratic political culture and an appreciation for hard work, enterprise and family.

And of course, there’s our shared passion for Cricket and the friendly rivalry that we’ve developed on the cricket field over the years. Our nations’ Men’s Test Match teams are one and two in the world! We look forward to hosting India at the Women’s T20 World Cup in February.

But, more importantly, we also have a similar outlook when it comes to the world around us, particularly the future of the Asia Pacific region. When it comes to the nature of our economies, Australia and India have travelled along a similar journey over the last few decades.

In its early years, the Indian Republic was a heavily state driven, protected and subsidised economy. Trade had a minimal role in terms of economic development and the private sector was viewed with suspicion in many quarters of the government.

Likewise in Australia, for many decades, we installed protective barriers and subsidised our industries all of which ended up acting as a barrier to trade and a hand-brake on growth.

Starting from the mid-1980s, Australia began a bipartisan programme of deregulation and tariff reform, opening up our economy to the region.

Similarly, in 1991, the Indian government also embarked on a ground-breaking round of economic reform that has become a template not only for our region but for the rest of the world. Import quotas and tariffs were stripped away, foreign investment was encouraged and the rupee was devalued.

The Finance Minister who ushered in these changes, Manmohan Singh, went onto lead India, to be followed later by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, another champion of reform and a great friend of Australia.

These reforms have helped the Indian economy to grow at a remarkable rate, with entire new industries popping up, particularly in the services and IT sector, delivering real social benefits to the Indian people.

The Morrison Government’s commitment to build relations

India’s growing economic importance is being felt beyond the Indian Ocean, creating new opportunities for cooperation between our two countries.

A stronger relationship with India is a priority for the Australian Government.  In the Foreign Policy White Paper, India was characterised as of ‘first order importance’.

In May 2017, the Government commissioned former DFAT Secretary Peter Varghese to prepare the India Economic Strategy, designed to deepen our economic ties. According to the strategy’s report, ‘there is no market over the next 20 years which offers more growth opportunities for Australian business than India.’

As a reflection of the high priority the Government places our relationship with India, Prime Minister Morrison was scheduled to visit Prime Minister Modi in India this month, however due to the bushfires this had to be postponed.

I know how highly the Prime Minister values this trip and the opportunity it provides to deepen relations between our two countries, and I am pleased this visit will go ahead later in the year.

India Economic Strategy action items

As the India Economic Strategy outlines, Australia has an ambitious plan to transform our economic partnership with India in the coming years.  The Government has appointed Ministerial Champions to drive forward work in the four priority sectors: education, agribusiness, resources and tourism.

We’ve expanded our diplomatic presence in India, with the starting of operations at the Australian Consulate-General in Kolkata in March 2019.

We’ve expanded the Australia-India Mining Partnership with the Indian Institute of Technology at the Indian School of Mines in Jharkhand.

We’ve signed a Memorandum of Understanding between Austrade and Invest India to support Australian companies to enter the Indian market and promote bilateral investment flows.

We’ve established an Australian State Education Forum on India.

Australia Economic Strategy

While Australia is making great strides in implementing the India Economic Strategy, we acknowledge that India is also investing in our relationship.

During his visit to Australia in June 2018, India's then Commerce Minister Prabhu commissioned a counterpart report to our India Economic Strategy, the Australia Economic Strategy, which we look forward to its release and engaging further with India to take both our strategies forward.

Opportunities for businesses

The opportunities for Australian and Indian businesses are growing quickly.

Building on the success of Australian Business Week in India, the Australian Government is rolling out the Australia India Business Exchange program of events. These events aim to deepen Australia’s trade, investment, education and tourism relations with India.

The Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment is also scheduled to visit India in February as part of this exchange.

Trade

But the story of our relationship is not just one of growth opportunities. It is about building on the strong links we already have.

Before the period of economic reform that I spoke of earlier that our two countries have undertaken, total goods and trade between Australia and India was just $628 million in 1986-87.

Our trade with India was worth just 1 per cent of global merchandise trade.

Today, after decades of reforms in both our countries, Australia’s merchandise trade with India is worth more $21 billion a year.

India is now Australia’s sixth largest trading partner, and fifth largest export destination.

Major Australian exports to India include coal, natural gas, gold and copper. Major Australian imports from India include petroleum, railway vehicles, medicaments, pearls and gems.

Tourism

Over the past few years, there has been strong growth in the number of Indian visitors to Australia.

There were 364,000 visitors to Australia over the year to September 2019 — the majority of whom took the opportunity to visit family and friends.  India was responsible for the largest growth rate in international visitation to Australia, with growth of 12 per cent over the same period.

And while they are here they inject $1.8 billion into our economy. India is also one of the top 10 tourist destinations for Australians too.

Education

Adding to the continuing growth in Indian visitors to Australia is the access to quality education system our Universities have developed over the past 20 years

Higher education students from India make up the second-largest group of international students in Australia, accounting for 18 per cent of overseas student enrolments in 2018.

Investment

The bilateral relationship between Australia and India is one of untapped potential.

India ranks 18th as a destination for Australian investment, with investment of around $16 billion in 2018.  The India Economic Strategy sets a target for $100 billion of total Australian investment in India by 2035.

Closing remarks

The best days for India and Australia are ahead of us.

There has never been a better time to enhance our cultural and economic which will undoubtedly be positive for India and for Australia. Now is the time for us all to harness our growing, positive relationship and unlock this potential.

The Australia India Chamber will be a key driver of this, providing the networks and channels to help open up new opportunities and partnerships.

Thank you once again for the chance to speak to you this evening.