Australia India Business Council Annual Dinner

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. May I acknowledge and thank, Jim Varghese, national chair of the AIBC, and the Board and Committee members and people who put an event like this evening together and all the work they've done in bringing us here tonight. I want to acknowledge my very good friend, the Premier of New South Wales, The Hon Ms Gladys Berejiklian MP, and my other state and federal parliamentary colleagues in the room this evening.

  • To His Excellency Dr Ajay Gondane, the High Commissioner of India to Australia
  • to Mr Vawna, India's Consul General in Sydney, and to her
  • Excellency, Ms Harinder Sidhu, Australia's excellent High Commissioner to India. It is marvellous to be with you all here this evening.

I also want to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land on which we meet this evening, and their elders past, present and emerging.

And his Excellency, the President, was treated to a very special display of young indigenous talent in Parramatta this afternoon, home of the Gadical people of the Eora nation, and he made a particularly amusing play on words in his remarks, which captured the interest of the group.

Can I say in relation to the Australia India Business Council, what a vital role you play in creating opportunities for individuals and businesses to commercialise ideas and strengthen cultural exchanges.

At a dinner like tonight, and it's fair to say having been with the group relatively recently in Brisbane as well, those sorts of events help to build a deeper and contemporary understanding of our two nations.

I most particularly welcome, though, this evening and I do this with such pleasure and enthusiasm having spent the day together, is to acknowledge and to welcome His Excellency Mr Ram Nath Kovind, President of the Republic of India.

It is wonderful to have the President and the First lady here with us in Australia this week. Mr President, you are very, very welcome.

May I also welcome and acknowledge amongst your travelling delegation, Ministers for Skills Development and Entrepreneurship, Mr Tasa and Dr Gavit, who are here with you. The opportunity to form links between our Parliaments, is also something I think we must continue to remember and to take every opportunity, and it's fair to say that for the Premier and I it is a great pleasure to have Dr Gavit here, the youngest member as I understand, of India's Parliament, also shining a light for young women in Indian politics.

It has been a very busy day. The President and I have been together since this morning, firstly with the Prime Minister, then with His Excellency the Governor-General, and we had the opportunity to have an inspection of Australia's Federation Guard of which we are very, very proud, Mr President, at Admiralty House at Kirribilli. It's been an overwhelmingly positive day. Every single step, every single word that has been uttered, every single opportunity that we've taken to work together today has been overwhelmingly positive.

And I'd like to think that reflects the thoughts of Your Excellency in terms of the relationship between Australia and India, and indeed it reflects the visions that he has set out in his remarks over the past few years himself. I think his words, and I have had the opportunity to reflect on some, convey with quiet passion his commitment to a free, sovereign, plural and egalitarian India; and to health, education and dignity for all.

The President's work reminds us that even our most cherished shared values – democracy, free enterprise, the rule of law – important as they are, are not ends in themselves.

And Australia's Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison, also likes to remind us that while we work every day to grow and strengthen the Australian economy, it too is only a means to an end.

Ultimately though, a strong economy matters because it gives us the means to protect ourselves and to stay safe. It enables us to invest in essential services including health and education and our welfare safety net.

Australia's open economy improves our competitiveness, generates more and better paying jobs, gives us access to new ideas and technology, and lowers prices, ultimately, for consumers. These are very important thresholds for any government. I have seen His Excellency, this afternoon, connecting with a very important part of India's diaspora during his visit.

Today in Parramatta, with Geoff Lee, the excellent Member for Parramatta in a community in which I have worked now for twenty one years, the President had an opportunity with the Prime Minister to see a cross section of the Indian diaspora, there in the geographic heart of Sydney.

It's fair to say that I think you will now sign on to the agreement that the Prime Minister and I have had for some time, which is about the vibrancy, the contribution that Indian Australians make to this country, which is contributing so strongly to our multicultural fabric connecting our two nations.

But, and the President reminded us of this this afternoon at the Australian Financial Review Forum, there is more that can be done to harness the insights and entrepreneurial spirit of this community.

And Mr President, I have spoken with your Minister, with your Parliamentary Members about this today.

We want in Australia, the Indian diaspora to go from strength to strength in Australian public life and in our business circles, increasing its cohesion and impact even as it celebrates and makes the most of its diversity.

As a proud resident of Western Sydney, I see this at first-hand, the growing positive impact the Indian Australian community makes to Australia. In fact, I do not have to walk very far beyond my office door in Macquarie Street, Parramatta to see some fabulous examples in Harris Park and other areas of the contribution that Indian Australians are making to our social and to our cultural life, and importantly, to Australia's relationship with India.

Driving private dynamism

We were in the park in Parramatta this afternoon, to watch the Prime Minister and the President unveil a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi to mark the 2019 commemoration of his birth 150 years ago.

Gandhi's message, as the Prime Minister has said today, of peace, tolerance and courage is universal and it is timeless, and it is fitting that this memorial to his life has been placed in a location so central to the diverse everyday lives of the people of Parramatta, and Western Sydney more broadly.

While no country is perfect, India holds true to Gandhi's ideal that the power to accept and respect constraints is greater than the power to impose one's will.

Or, in the words of President himself, "the power to stay your hand is far greater than the power to strike with your hand".

India, 71 years into their modern independent nationhood, is a reminder to the world of the merits of democracy, of rule of law, a strong private sector and an increasingly open market economy.

For the Australian Government, we thank that two of our most important jobs are to establish rules and then to stay out of the way, so that our people and businesses can reap the rewards of their ingenuity.

We recognise that while we can set directions and put the enabling conditions in place, it is private initiative that really makes things happen.

And that's why I, as Foreign Minister, emphasise economic and commercial diplomacy, in close partnership with Australian business.

In our increasingly competitive world, Australia's influence and prosperity relies more than ever on the performance and growth of Australian businesses, of all sizes – at home, within our own region and further abroad.

Our economic and commercial diplomacy has five strands:

  • we promote investment, the fuel on which our economies grow, across national borders
  • we remove barriers to trade, so that both sides can benefit
  • we support Australian businesses so they can compete abroad
  • we connect scientists and innovators
  • and we resist protectionism and stand up for a global rules-based trading system.

India Economic Strategy

Today, my Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison, set out another important chapter in our economic and commercial diplomacy, and that is the Government's strong response to the India Economic Strategy to 2035, prepared by Australia's former High Commissioner to India, former Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese.

For all of you who are here tonight, if you haven't already, can I suggest you download the report and get studying. It's a significant body of work but it sets out the enormous potential of the Australia-India bilateral relationship. And I particularly want to commend Mr Varghese, a consummate professional in the work that he has done in the preparation of the strategy.

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.

It is now time, as the President reminded us, as the President agreed, to start realising the potential of the bilateral relationship. As the President said, the pitch is ready.

The Varghese report sets out an appropriately ambitious agenda to do just that.

We are backing the strategy, and in so doing, backing Australian business engagement with India.

As announced by the Prime Minister this afternoon, the Government strongly supports the report's 10 recommendations for the short term, and 10 more for the medium to long term.

We will focus our economic diplomacy efforts on the 10 Indian states that the report recommends, and the 10 sectors where Australia's competitive strengths align with India's trajectory.

And in a significant commitment, the Prime Minister will appoint a ministerial champion for each of the report's four lead sectors: education, agribusiness, resources and tourism.

And my ministerial colleagues in those portfolios will oversee the ongoing implementation of the strategy.

Our India Economic Strategy is important for all Australians, and it should challenge and stimulate Australian businesses of all sizes to look to position themselves for long-term success in a diverse and contested market.

As an example of the focus on practical cooperation between our two nations, I was pleased to witness with the Minister today, the exchange of four MOUs earlier today that further strengthen our bilateral ties.

MOUs covering; investment between Austrade and Invest India; scientific cooperation between CSIRO and India's Central Mine Planning and Design Institute; agricultural research between the University of Western Australia and Acharya NG Agriculture University; and joint PhD programmes between the Queensland University of Technology and Delhi IIT.

Business Partnerships Platform – India Window

Ladies and gentlemen, the power of the private sector lies in its sharp focus on identifying what people want and value, and then delivering it efficiently.

Business has that knack for bringing fresh perspectives to occasionally seemingly intractable problems.

Government can certainly learn from the private sector, but we can also share our expertise of the socio-economic landscape, of markets and of the broader political context.

Together, business and government can form partnerships that leverage further investment and generate sustainable commercial returns.

That's why the Government has established the Business Partnerships Platform to help business, together with NGOs, deliver Australia's development objectives. And in 2018, this year, we launched the BPP - India Window, to help identify and support scalable partnerships that can contribute to India's economic growth and address development challenges.

And tonight I am proud to announce the inaugural four recipients of the Australian Government's Business Partnerships Platform–India Window.

And congratulations go to:

  • Village Energy, which is using innovative Australian technology to provide smart meters and rooftop solar energy in remote villages in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Pollinate Energy, for improving energy security with affordable solar solutions.
  • Karma Healthcare, an operator of virtual health clinics, where rural patients consult city doctors online, and;
  • the Madhya Pradesh Poultry Company, a successful agribusiness, which is expanding its farming, and providing greater employment opportunities for women.

Our business partnerships are leveraging scaled-up private sector funds.

And in turn, these businesses are delivering private sector growth and prosperity in India in an inclusive and sustainable way.

Congratulations to all of those recipients.

Australia, India and the Indo-Pacific

The strategic importance of the Economic Strategy, as Peter Varghese notes, is that a strong economic relationship with India strengthens Australia's economic resilience.

So India looms large in our plans to diversify our economy and to hedge against global volatility.

So the Strategy is an important component of our wider international agenda.

Without doubt, we are living in a more contested and uncertain strategic environment, which requires us to take an active approach to our international engagement.

And we will focus in particular on influencing the evolution of the Indo-Pacific region so that it remains open inclusive and prosperous.

India is central to Australia's vision to ensuring that the Indo-Pacific makes a leading contribution to global prosperity and security.

And I was very pleased to be at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore in June to hear His Excellency, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, make very significant remarks in relation to that openness and transparency of the Indo-Pacific. And I am delighted that in January of next year I'll travel to New Delhi for the Raisina Dialogue – now a premier strategic forum that underlines India's engagement in both regional and global affairs.

Together, Australia and India are setting a high standard, for example, in strengthening the law of the sea in the Indian Ocean.

The recent maritime settlement between Australia and Timor-Leste, complemented the earlier settlement between India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, and Australia and India are cooperating closely in IORA, the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

Our shared commitment to democracy adds another dimension to our international cooperation, evident in the Pacific, where India, Australia and Indonesia recently together co-chaired the Multinational Observer Group during Fiji's elections.

We should be both practical and visionary in devising more ways for Australians and Indians to work together on the great project of an inclusive, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, without doubt Australia and India have a bright future together, as economic partners and as champions of a prosperous, resilient and open Indo-Pacific region.

A large part of that future, of that connection, comes from the very many Indians in Australia and Australians engaged in India.

Mr President, this afternoon you called the diaspora a living bridge. I think that's a term of art. I think it's a very powerful metaphor for what a strong, enthusiastic, contributing diaspore can do, here in Australia, and of Australians in India. And I look forward to walking the path of the living bridge with you, Mr President, and the leadership of India, to further deepening the Australia-India partnership in the months, and indeed, the years, ahead.

Thank you.

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