18 February 2019

The report by Mr Peter Varghese AO, An India economic strategy to 2035, is indeed something that Australia should be very mindful of as we consider not only our place in the region but the place of our people in the world.

Certainly it is vital to acknowledge the importance of building broad and deep bilateral relationships based on long-term economic strategy, our strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific and the strength of our diaspora here in Australia. To do otherwise is really not an option.

In considering the importance of this report, I went back nearly four years to some remarks I made at the Australia India Business Council. I talked about the Australia-India relationship being spoken about as being 'on the cusp of something great'. I said:

“I feel that we have been on this cusp for a very long time. Too long. It soon became clear to me that there was something missing in the Australia-India relationship. At its core, it is an economic relationship and there is recognition of our important historical and cultural links. But, beyond that, there is something that has been holding us back from going beyond this cusp. I think it's been a matter of our one-on-one relationship needing much more than niceties and introductions. It needs to be something deeper”.

One thing I also looked at in this context was whether there was something lacking in the collaboration space. I noted some observations made by an Indian innovative company:

"The future will belong to those countries and companies that can unleash the power of cross-border collaborations, invest in innovation and embrace entrepreneurship as an economic model of growth".

I said:

“India and Australia have so much in common in that innovation space. By collaboration, we can do so much more as two economies in making these ideas happen and exporting them to one another. I don't have a sense that we have been doing this in a methodical or policy-driven way. This needs to change”.

Much is said about the strength of the Australia-India relationship being the growth of people-to-people links. This is certainly true, because, as the report notes:

India is currently our largest source of skilled migrants, our second largest source of international students and a substantial proportion of those who come to Australia under temporary visas to fill skilled positions that Australians cannot.

It also notes that the diaspora will have an enormous role to play in the partnership of the future.

Mr Varghese also summarises in his report something very notable in terms of that innovation concept that I alluded to:

  • As we leave the mining boom behind, we can do better in targeting and supporting the highly qualified professionals and high calibre students who will help drive future economic growth in Australia and integration with India.
  • There are good examples, globally, on how to engage the diaspora more effectively.

He also notes, amongst other things, the need to improve Indian literacy of Australia's corporate sector. I think it's worth saying that that needs to work the other way as well. I'm proud, in the electorate of Greenway, to have 11.6 per cent of all ancestry being Indian, compared to 2.1 per cent in New South Wales and two per cent across Australia. That's the third-largest in Greenway, behind those choosing Australian and English as their heritage.

The Varghese report was embraced by the shadow Treasurer, the shadow minister for foreign affairs and the shadow minister for trade and investment, because it ties in very closely with Labor's policy on future Asia developing deeper ties with India. As those shadow ministers noted, over the next two decades, India will become the world's third-largest economy with a population of almost 1.7 billion people. As they noted, we want to sell more of what we make in Australia to India to create more local jobs.

In order to capitalise on this opportunity, we must improve the way we engage with India to better understand how its economy operates and what it needs. To that end, I note the sentiments of the mover of this motion. But I do note with some disappointment that it took quite a while for the government to accept these recommendations. Now that that's been done, I think the recognition is there across the economy and across the parliament of the need to progress reform in this relationship.

Lastly, I want to note and express my deepest sympathy for the over 40 Indian paramilitary police who were killed late last week in a bomb attack by militants on their convoy in Kashmir. I note it has been reported as the deadliest militant attack on Indian forces in Kashmir since the insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989. I'm sure all in this Parliament, certainly myself in representing a large Indian diaspora, stand in solidarity with the people of India in countering terrorism in all its forms.