It is a great pleasure to virtually address the 5th edition of the Australia-India Leadership Dialogue (AILD) along with my friend and colleague, Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
2. At the outset, let me congratulate Ms Lisa Singh, CEO Australia-India Institute (AII) and Mr. Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General of CII for continuing to lead this commendable initiative. I also recognize the support of Mr. Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian, and the presence of Mr. Rakesh Bharti Mittal of Bharti Enterprises.
3. This leadership dialogue is taking place as India Australia relations have shifted gears and moved into a higher orbit. In what today seems like history, the ambitions for our ties were expressed initially by the India Economic Strategy Report 2035 released by the Australian side and the CII Australia Economic Strategy issued by India. A trade of US$20 billion plus and investments at the US$25 billion level stand to rapidly expand by the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement that was concluded in April 2022. Australia is a major educational destination for Indian students, who number in excess of 100,000. The Indian community, estimated at 720,000, is a source of strength for both societies.
4. But it is really in the realm of politics and strategy that the transformation has been the sharpest. Much of the growing convergence has been driven by concerns about the region’s stability, prosperity and security. The deficit in global goods has sought to be addressed by India and Australia working together bilaterally as well as in larger formats. This reflects their shared concerns about respect for international law and a rules-based order. The two countries may have long interacted in ASEAN-led forums, Commonwealth, Indian Ocean Rim Association, etc. But stronger leadership and more open exchanges have brought out the mutual benefits of closer cooperation and coordination. Australia has been an early and vigorous supporter of India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). In fact, the big change has been the realization that a stronger bilateral relationship today allows the two nations to contribute much more effectively at a regional and at a global level.
5. The new intensity in the interactions have been on visible display from the leadership level downwards. It is remarkable that the first interaction between our Prime Ministers happened literally a day after the current Australian one took office. It is equally notable that our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership now covers an annual meeting of PMs, a Foreign Minister’s Dialogue, a 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministers meeting, a Trade Ministerial Commission, an Education Council, an Energy Dialogue and sectoral Working Groups. In recent months, we have produced agreements ranging from maritime collaboration, defence science exchanges, mutual logistics support to cooperation in cyber-enabled critical technology, critical and strategic minerals, water resources management, vocational education and training, as well as public administration and governance. These milestones bring out the interactive dynamic between the bilateral and the regional facets of our cooperation.
6. Greater political confidence and stronger defence cooperation have also contributed to the participation of Australia in Exercise Malabar 2020. A better understanding on space applications front has led to the Australian support for the temporary Telemetry Tracking and Command Centre for the Gaganyaan Mission of India. A shared concern about trade reliability and economic volatility encouraged a partnership on the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative, along with Japan. The ECTA was not just a trade deal; it was an outcome of larger systemic confidence that we now see. And the Tokyo Quad Summit provided an opportunity to confirm, if confirmation was indeed needed, that the incoming Albanese Government was just as committed to the bilateral relationship, as indeed to the Quad, as its predecessor. I have myself met Foreign Minister Penny Wong twice and look forward to doing so again in New York very shortly.
7. As I understand it, the focus of this gathering is to ensure that technology makes its due contribution to what is a growing meeting of interests and values between us. On my part, I would only emphasize that recent international developments have given even greater salience to such cooperation. The unpredictability of global supply chains have created legitimate concerns about the resilience and reliability. Similarly, a more digital world puts a greater premium on trust and transparency when it comes to data. As political democracies, market economies and pluralistic societies, India and Australia share a strong interest in all these domains.
8. We all recognize that this is a world of greater creativity and indeed of greater innovation. And in many ways, the fall-out of the pandemic and the demands of governance have accelerated the pace of digitization. How to optimize the opportunities and challenges that emerge is a never ending process. It is but natural that this conference’s security perspective should focus on cyber security and AI. Their human aspects include the harmonization of skills and talent with political and social aspirations of the day. For our two nations, a serious conversation on mobility is one that is necessary to happen. And I am glad to share that the first steps have been taken in that regard.
9. It is also timely that you will all be deliberating on more effective service delivery using digital tools. This is a subject where India has truly made enormous strides in the last three years, building on a digital backbone that was so well anticipated. Whether it is the COWIN platform or the implementation of financial, health and social services, this has been delivered on a scale and with an integrity that would have previously been unimaginable.
10. As with any important relationship, there is a larger context for its growth and deepening. The Indo-Pacific, in particular, will benefit from the fruits of our collaboration. The Quad, on its part has emerged as a key platform for ensuring progress, prosperity, stability and security. We are also engaged in advancing the realization of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. And trilaterally, along with Japan, we are working on promoting supply chain resilience.
11. India and Australia share a deep friendship, and this year it has been very much on display. During the celebrations of India@75, more than 40 buildings and monuments in Australia, including the magnificent Sydney Opera House, were lit up in the colours of our Tiranga (national flag). Partnership, even during difficult times, is not new for India and Australia. We fought together on the same side during the WWI campaign at Gallipoli. We have also had memorable battles against each other on the cricket field, only to be again side by side in the IPL.
12. There is a world out there Ladies and Gentlemen, that not only beckons to our partnership but values it for the contribution we make to the common good. Your discussions today is part of the collective efforts to expand our collaboration and take it forward in particularly promising domains. I wish you all the best in your deliberations.