Address to the Raisina Dialogue

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Samir, thank you very much for your warm introduction. I particularly thank my friend and colleague, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and say what an honour it is to be here at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi.

Ladies and gentlemen, I come directly to New Delhi from the Sydney cricket test. There was a suggestion from the Indian cricket administration that I should put the Border Gavaskar trophy in my hand luggage and carry it with me to present to the government. I declined that honour and opportunity but I do convey my congratulations for the historic win achieved by the Indian cricket team.

I am particularly pleased to be here at Raisina this afternoon and may I acknowledge the ministers, the leaders of the defence forces, diplomats, and the very many distinguished guests who are here this afternoon.

This dialogue, held since 2016 now has participants from more than 92 countries. For me that demonstrates India's very strong regional leadership. And again I want to congratulate Minister Swaraj on the initiative and the growth of the dialogue itself.

Like many of you, last night I had the honour and the pleasure of listening to the Prime Minister of Norway, Prime Minister Solberg, address the dialogue. Her speech was timely and apposite. I particularly want to acknowledge and thank her for her focus on gender issues, on women and girls, in development, in the economy in education, in national security, and in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals–a very valuable message and a very timely reminder to all of us.

This afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk a little about the Australia-India relationship in particular.

At the heart of that relationship between Australia and India lie our common values. We are both:

  • free, open and independent democracies;
  • we are champions of international law;
  • we are supporters of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific; and
  • firm believers that 'might is not right'.

All of those were encapsulated so well in Prime Minister Modi's Security and Growth for All in the Region concept, which he enunciated so well at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last year. It was my honour to be present there on that occasion.

India's success is a reminder to the world of the merits of democracy, of the rule of law, of a strong private sector and an increasingly open market economy.

Our firm support of these principles is also founded on a sense of shared community.

Australia, which is a country of only 25 million people, now has an Indian diaspora that is both strong and growing. To put this in perspective, one in 50 Australians today was born in India. And as the President of India said on his recent visit to Australia, the diaspora forms a "living bridge" between our two nations.

In Western Sydney, where I live and work, I see at first-hand the growing positive impact that this living bridge makes to Australian society. In fact, I do not have to walk very far past the front door of my constituency office in Parramatta to see countless fabulous examples of the contribution that Indian Australians are making to our social, our economic and our cultural life, and more importantly, to Australia's relationship with India.

Our people-to-people ties are also being further strengthened by the New Colombo Plan, established by my predecessor, the Hon Julie Bishop, in 2014.

Indeed since 2014, more than 4,600 Australian students have studied, or are about to study here in India with the support of the Australian Government. In 2019 alone, that cohort will number over 1,200. This is in addition to the almost 400 Indians who have had their study at Australian institutions supported by our government through the Australia Awards.

Geo-politically, however, Australia and India might from time to time seem far apart, but we do share the great Indian Ocean which laps both of our shores.

It connects us. We are both dependent upon it for much of our security and prosperity.

Our respective futures are intertwined and heavily dependent on how well we cooperate on the challenges and opportunities in the Indian Ocean in the decades ahead.

And as the nation with one of the longest Indian Ocean coastlines, Australia is determined to play a role in how that story unfolds.

To highlight the importance of the Indian Ocean to Australia:

Australia has:

  • one of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world, more than 81 million square kilometres;
  • the largest Search and Rescue Zone in the Indian Ocean, nearly 53 million square kilometres;
  • we have offshore territories that are closer to New Delhi than they are to our capital, Canberra; and
  • we have vital oil and gas reserves on our North-West Shelf.

Few Australians would consciously be aware of this, but more than half of all of Australia's exports depart from Indian Ocean ports.

Around half of our global trade – including oil – crosses the Indian Ocean, from which about 40 per cent of the world's offshore oil is produced.

Five of our top 15 trading partners lie on the Indian Ocean rim – one of which, of course, is India.

These partnerships will grow and deepen, offering great promise and opportunity over the next two decades.

So in no small measure, the peaceful and open character of this ocean is a vital national interest for Australia.

Ladies and gentleman, the theme of this year's Dialogue "a world reordered", touches on the geo‑strategic change that we have seen in recent years.

This includes the increasing strategic competition among major powers in the Indo-Pacific.

And as that competition intensifies, Australia and India have shared interests in ensuring the peaceful development of an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo‑Pacific region - a region in which the rights of all states are respected, large and small.

The uncertainty and increasing competition in the strategic environment leaves us no room for complacency.

Australia believes that all nations have a responsibility to work together to keep the Indo-Pacific open, prosperous and stable - and to promote and protect the international rules that support stability and prosperity and enable cooperation to tackle global challenges–expected and unexpected.

For our part, within the Indian Ocean, Australia seeks to:

  • develop a deep strategic partnership with India, supporting its role as a strategic anchor in the region;
  • to help build stronger regional institutions and norms that manage regional peace and security and that promote openness;
  • to support resilience among regional countries to withstand coercion and shape opportunities in their national interest; and
  • to work with partners to protect and shape rules that promote economic growth, trade liberalisation and open markets.

The determination to build that positive future is not just an Australian view – I know that it is strongly shared by India.

Again, as Prime Minister Modi said at the Shangri-La Dialogue last year: "this new age of promise is also caught in shifting plates of global politics and the fault lines of history … we can shape this region in our collective hopes and aspirations".

Australia also has a range of shared interests with India in terms of fighting transnational crime, terrorism, people smuggling, and illegal fishing, and we have strong interests in dealing with humanitarian and environmental challenges in our very large Indian Ocean neighbourhood.

With these interests in mind, we welcome India's leadership in the Indian Ocean.

We are stepping up our security cooperation with India in the region.

And in March of this year Australia's largest annual naval deployment, Indo-Pacific Endeavour, comprising up to five Royal Australian Navy vessels, including Royal Australian Navy frigates, a Helicopter Landing Dock HMAS Canberra, and a replenishment vessel and around 1400 Australian Defence Force personnel, will be hosted across the region and port visits in Vizag and Chennai.

Engagement with India will be the cornerstone of this year's deployment to the Indian Ocean, with our bilateral navy exercise AUSINDEX at its heart.

This high level engagement reflects broader growth in both quantity and in quality of our bilateral defence engagement.

In 2014, Australia and India conducted 11 defence activities together; in 2018 this figure had reached 38 bilateral defence activities.

And it follows our longer-term contributions to broader Indian Ocean security across a range of military and humanitarian activities:

  • our naval ships are presently carrying out their 67th rotation within the multinational coalition combatting transnational crime in the north west Indian Ocean and the Middle Eastern region;
  • We have worked closely together in response to natural disasters – as recently as November last year in response to the devastating earthquake in Palu, Indonesia; and
  • we combined to deliver complex and sustained search and rescue operations in the Indian Ocean during the search for MH370 and the successful rescue in September of India's sailor, Commander Abhilash Tomy.

We are investing $1 billion in facilities in Western Australia for our future offshore patrol vessels, frigates and submarines, which signifies Australia's long-term commitment to the Indian Ocean.

I strongly supported the growth in this engagement and activity over my three years as Australia's Defence Minister.

As well as those links and engagements, building strong economic links is a vital component of strategic resilience in our region.

So, alongside that strategic convergence, we are also seeking closer economic engagement with India and the region.

We know that India's economic growth will re-shape the region's strategic landscape.

In the next decade India will overtake China to become the world's most populous nation.

By 2035, the Indian economy will be one of the major poles of global economic power – on par with the United States.

And just as energy, resources and infrastructure have driven, and will continue to drive, trade and investment between Australia and India, these same sectors are also being used in growing geo-economic competition in the Indo‑Pacific.

In November last year, during the President's successful visit to Australia, our Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison, officially adopted the recommendations of an important and substantial Government commissioned report An India Economic Strategy to 2035.

The report was prepared by someone very well known to many of you, the former High Commissioner from Australia to India and former Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese. It sets out an ambitious agenda to realise the potential of the Australia-India bilateral relationship.

It looks beyond the immediate horizon and it provides a roadmap for how Australia and India could grow together.

My government is backing the strategy, and in so doing, we're backing Australian business to help India achieve its unrivalled potential.

Our economic partnership with India has no equal for what it offers Australians, as one-and-a-third billion Indians expand their opportunities and their horizons.

We were very pleased, for example, to facilitate a visit recently to New Delhi and Mumbai by a delegation of leading Australian superannuation funds in September to explore investment opportunities.

And in a very significant commitment, the Prime Minister has appointed a Ministerial champion for each of the report's four lead sectors: education, agribusiness, resources and tourism.

These areas are strengths of Australia's and can help complement India's growth.

Our India Economic Strategy underlines the long-term commitment that Australia is making here,

- including announcement today that Mr Andrew Ford will serve as Australia's first resident Consul-General in Kolkata, to establish our new Consulate-General – Australia's fourth diplomatic post in India, and one I look forward to opening later this year.

Australia's aim is that this heightened level of bilateral defence, security and economic engagement will deliver closer ties with India, but also contribute to a more positive regional security outlook.

This needs to be achieved not only through strengthening our bilateral relationship, but also regionally, multilaterally and through mini-lateral fora.

Discussions at this week's dialogue re-emphasise the importance of those engagements.

It is also important to recognise that the Indo-Pacific comprises a number of distinct regions, each with their own specific capabilities and challenges.

At the regional level, we have to build links within and between nations on principles of transparency, sustainability and robust standards.

Australia is playing its part.

Prime Minister Morrison and I have recently announced a series of initiatives to help build the next chapter in Australia's partnership with the Pacific region to Australia's east. Those initiatives cover the breadth of our engagement:

From a new $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility; to increased labour mobility opportunities; to security initiatives including the joint development of the Lombrum Naval Base in Papua New Guinea.

We are working with our friends and partners in Fiji to develop the Blackrock regional peacekeeping and disaster facility. And we are strengthening our people-to-people links through building on our educational, sport, and community links.

India, of course, has its own strong important historical and cultural links with the region, and it has a shared interest in a Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.

We look forward to engaging more closely with India to support our partners in the Pacific region in the years ahead.

Our commitment to increasing engagement with the region is not solely focused on the Pacific, however.

I've already outlined why the Indian Ocean and South Asia are so important to Australia.

I am pleased to announce today that Australia will support building regional economic connectivity in South Asia through our new South Asia Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative, known as SARIC.

A $25 million program over four years, which will begin this year and focus on improving the quality of infrastructure and investment particularly in transport and energy sectors–sectors with an important economic value-add.

A particular aim of the SARIC initiative will be to deploy Australia's expertise in these sectors and to leverage our comparative advantage in infrastructure policy and financing – such as in infrastructure financing and public private partnerships, well-known to our processes in Australia.

Collectively, we also need to work and continue our work on maintaining the broader standards of governance which help to deliver quality infrastructure, such as fighting corruption and having strong judicial systems and accompanying legal frameworks.

There is also significant opportunity to improve maritime cooperation, including to promote key freedoms of navigation and overflight, and enhance our collective response to natural disasters.

For example, Australia will chair the Heads of Asian Coastguard Agencies Meeting in 2020.

We see this as a major opportunity to boost regional coastguard cooperation, an area of security cooperation of such fundamental importance to so many Indian Ocean states, yet an area where more can be done to foster habits of cooperation and familiarity.

Regional institutions will anchor the work we are doing in the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association – IORA – has made big strides in recent years, and plays an invaluable role in bringing together key regional countries and important dialogue partners including the US, Japan and China.

We want to further our cooperation with India – and all of IORA's other 21 member states – to drive IORA forward even further.

We are supportive of the objectives of IORA's Jakarta Concord from March 2017, which set out extensive commitments towards encouraging the flow of goods, services and investment among IORA members, as well as continuing regulatory reforms to improve the ease of doing business.

We should be ambitious to further strengthen Indian Ocean regional architecture and to enhance that sense of community.

Indeed, we believe that this is a critical challenge in delivering the very architecture, cooperation and rules to which we must aspire.

ASEAN-centred forums, like the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum, also have a role to play.

Australia supports Prime Minister Modi's call for all nations to support ASEAN centrality as a platform for cooperation across the Indo-Pacific region, and reinforce that commitment to ASEAN centrality.

The achievement of our regional objectives will also be measured against the development of relations between China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific, including in the Indian Ocean.

Australia is a strong supporter of US engagement in the region.

But we do not, indeed none of us want, to see confrontation become the dominant shaper of US‑China relations.

Cooperation among other actors like India and Australia – at bilateral and regional levels – will be increasingly important to deliver ballast to the international system.

We also need to strengthen cooperation among small groups of nations, as Australia has been doing in different ways and different combinations with India, France, the United States, Japan and Indonesia.

There are a number of areas of strategic convergence between Japan's Free and Open Indo Pacific strategy, India's Act East policy and Australia's increased engagement, which give us increasing opportunities to cooperate.

Our view is that mini-lateral cooperation in the Indian Ocean region can complement the region's architecture, as well as thicken cooperation by leveraging the strengths that all of us possess.

I strongly applaud India's opening of an Indian Ocean Maritime Fusion Centre last month, which specifically aims to build cooperation with regional nations.

Likewise, Australia, India, the United States and Japan have been working together in the form of the Quad.

Building cooperation, familiarity, capability–all valuable non-tangible strategic assets which support regional security and stability.

Ladies and gentlemen, there really is so much more we can do – and Australia, for its part, looks forward to working closely with India, and other regional partners, to continue to build a positive character for the Indian Ocean.

Open, prosperous, stable and secure.

Let me conclude by saying how excited we are by the opportunities and promise of our times.

Notwithstanding that, this is a challenging period, as Indo-Pacific countries face an uncertain strategic period, with great power transitions and increasing strategic rivalry.

For Australia, building on our successful partnership with India is critical.

Together, we can best support shared interests in the Indian Ocean.

We shouldn't be doing that only for ourselves though, but for all of our friends and partners in the immediate Indian Ocean region and beyond, and in a way that is truly open and free for all nations.

Thank you.

Media enquiries