Australia-India press conference

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Summary of bilateral talks; Russia-Ukraine situation; Indian students in Australia; relations with China.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us here today, and I apologise for the delay in us being able to join you. It’s fair to say there was a lot to discuss between Australia and India, and we have had very, very productive discussions, of course due to the Quad yesterday but also in our bilateral engagements today.

It’s been an absolute delight to finally be able to welcome my very good friend Dr. Jaishankar to Australia. This is a visit that has been some time in the making and delayed by the exigencies of the pandemic more than anything else.

As well as our Quad meeting yesterday, we’ve also taken the opportunity here in Melbourne to hold the annual Australia-India Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue and the inaugural India-Australia Cyber Framework Dialogue.

For Australia and India, we are Indo-Pacific partners with a shared vision for a resilient, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific. The relationship between our countries is most certainly at a high point. We’ve noted, again, today the wonderful step of the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership by Prime Ministers Morrison and Modi in June of 2020. Our discussion today on the challenges facing the region on issues ranging from Covid response to economic recovery, maritime security, supply chain resilience and cyber threats has underlined our shared common interests and values, including in democracy and in the rule of law.

The relationship between Australia and India has deep connections in trade and investment as well. And as we speak, as we stand here in Melbourne, Minister Dan Tehan, Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, is returning from India after a round of negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. This is an agreement which we are confident will unlock new trade and investment opportunities for both countries, particularly as our respective economies recover from the impact of COVID-19.

I’m also proud of the number of Australian ministerial colleagues to announce today a series of new initiatives to boost the education and cultural ties between Australia and India. The initiatives are appropriately called the Maitrī, meaning friendship initiatives. Under the Maitri Scholars Program, the Australian government will provide over $11 million over four years to support Indian students to study at Australia’s world-leading universities. The Maitrī Fellowships Program will provide $3.5 million over four years to build links between future leaders. It will support a mid-career Australian and Indian professionals to collaborate on strategic research initiatives. It will also provide over $6 million over four years under a program which I think is an absolute initiative – the Maitri cultural partnerships, to support cultural exchanges and boost the role of the creative industries in our two countries.

I must say that in our discussion of that today, I mentioned the Australia-India Youth Dialogue, which really has innovation and youth leadership of course at its core, but I have always been impressed with their engagement on cultural issues, creative issues, in particular. Importantly, the Maitrī program is a strong positive for the education sector in Australia, recovering from the economic impacts of COVID-19 as it is.

It is also pleasing that Minister Tehan was able to sign a memorandum of understanding on tourism with his ministerial counterpart yesterday in New Delhi. Under the MOU, Australia and India will work together to promote travel between the two markets and advance cooperation on tourism policy, data sharing, training and industry engagement.

I also announce with my ministerial colleagues the establishment of the Australia-India Infrastructure Forum. The forum will match Australian finance with the enormous infrastructure opportunities in India and its near neighbours. It will host workshops and generate analysis to drive results for businesses.

Like the other parts of the relationship between Australia and India, which are many and varied, I look forward to seeing the Maitrī program and the Australia-India Infrastructure Forum grow in the coming years.

So, Dr. Jaishankar, I really want to thank you for joining us here in Australia this week. I want to thank you for the fact that I’ve become the proud owner of a Virat Kohli signed cricket bat, which was a momentous and extremely generous gift. Thank you very much.

I also want to acknowledge both of our High Commissioners – High Commissioner Vohrah here and High Commissioner O’Farrell in New Delhi, both of whom have been working with our teams, with our agencies to drive some of these initiatives – in fact, all of these initiatives that have enabled us to do the good work that we are doing. And, again, Dr Jaishankar, I look forward to continuing to work with you and to continue to reach these highlights of the Australia-India relationship.

S. Jaishankar: Thank you, Marise. Minister Payne, friends of the media, let me at the outset thank you Marise for welcoming me and my delegation to Australia, to Melbourne - my first time here – for your hospitality, for the wonderful arrangements. This is, in fact, I think the first physical ministerial visit from our side in the last two years after the Covid. And I think we’ve had very productive, very useful, very wide-ranging discussions. And a lot of our discussions, in fact, reflect the real, profound transformation in our ties which has happened in this very difficult period of the Covid.

So we have just concluded the twelfth Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue and equally importantly the first Foreign Ministers Cyber Framework Dialogue. And the Cyber Framework Dialogue is a direct outcome of the virtual summit between our Prime Ministers which was held in June when we actually elevated our ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. There have been other direct outcomes from the summit, including the first 2 + 2 Ministerial Dialogue where I had the pleasure of welcoming you and Minister Dutton to India.

And before I come down to our discussions, I want to say how very warmly welcome the announcements made by you, by the Australian government on enhancing engagement in the North East Indian Ocean region and on the Maitrī scholarship, fellowship and cultural partnership programs.

Our discussions today, let me speak about that. I think they have very comprehensive, they were very fruitful. We really looked at a very wide range of our bilateral, regional, global partnership. And I again welcome announcements of the additional resources that the government of Australia will be committing for further deepening of our partnership.

Now, we shared our experiences responding to the Covid challenge itself, but also in assisting other friendly countries, particularly with vaccines, and we have committed ourselves today to building more trusted and resilient supply chains and ensuring broad inclusive growth in the Indo-Pacific.

I welcome the opening of borders by the government of Australia which will help those who have been in India waiting to come back, especially students, temporary visa holders, separated families, and this is something which is greatly appreciated. I had yesterday an opportunity to meet some student representatives who are really – their spirits were much higher after learning of this decision.

Again, I want to [indistinct] the very positive evaluation you have of Minister Tehan’s discussion with his counterpart Minister Goyal on the CECA negotiations, and we certainly hope that they would make rapid progress this year.

While we discussed briefly today, Minister Payne and I, our progress in our defence and security cooperation which reflects our growing strategic convergence. I had an opportunity to talk about some of these issues with Minister Dutton yesterday morning.

The inaugural Cyber Framework Dialogue was particularly useful in reviewing our joint activities under our framework agreement. We discussed some of our shared challenges and opportunities for closer collaboration in this very important domain.

Minister Payne and I also shared concerns about terrorism and extremism. We have serious concerns about continuing cross-border terrorism, and it’s our shared endeavour to deepen counterterrorism cooperation, including in the multilateral forum.

We spoke at some length about regional and multilateral matters, global issues as well. There was an exchange of view on South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. And I emphasise today as I did yesterday after the Quad meeting that as liberal democracies we would continue to work towards rule-based international order, freedom of navigation in international waters, promoting connectivity, growth and security for all while respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.

Once again, I would like to express my thanks to you, Marise, to the government of Australia, to the state of Victoria for the warm welcome. I join you in appreciating the work of our High Commissioners and their teams for the progress that we have made. And I extend an invitation to you to visit India at a time convenient to you. Once again, thank you very much.

Marise Payne: Thank you. Thank you very much. And it has been an absolute pleasure. We have a number of questions identified – four in total. And I’ll start with Pablo Vinales from SBS.

Pablo Vinales: Thank you Ministers, I just wanted to ask about the situation in Ukraine given the US intel being cited overnight about an invasion is possible as “any time”. Are you concerned an invasion is indeed imminent and can you both say that you are on the same page in your stance against Russia’s actions?

Marise Payne: Thanks for your question, and as you would recall, I responded to a question on this matter yesterday, and I reiterate those deep concerns that I raised yesterday. I know the Prime Minister has reinforced that in his public statements that he has made today. I want to note that the US has advised its citizens to leave Ukraine now. Australia has been aligning our travel – making our travel advice clear for some weeks now, explicitly so in terms of our updates to Smartraveller, our communications with Australians that we know to be in Ukraine. We have urged all Australians to leave Ukraine immediately. And the Department of Foreign Affairs has continued to reach out to contact Australians to reiterate that travel advice.

So we continue to urge Russia to remain engaged in reciprocal diplomatic dialogue on what would be an extraordinary unilateral action. We support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We support a unified European and NATO response. And we are standing together with Ukraine at this very difficult time.

S. Jaishankar: Well, I don’t think it was you; I think it was somebody else who asked me the question yesterday morning when I was with –

Marise Payne: It was not Pablo; it was someone else.

S. Jaishankar: And at that time, I had stated, which I repeat to you, which is our position regarding the situation in Ukraine. We actually laid out a fairly lengthy statement to the UN Security Council. And the short summary of that is that we really do think that the way out is through diplomacy.

Marise Payne: Second question is from Ashleigh McMillan.

Ashleigh McMillan: Thank you so much Ministers. The Russian foreign ministry dismissed the reports coming out of Ukraine as “co-ordinated attack of information by Western nations.” Do you refute that statement, and what does that type of messaging suggest about Russia’s willingness to come to the table and find a different outcome for this?

Marise Payne: Well, ultimately those are matters for Russia, and I would reiterate what I said before – that there have been extensive efforts made in relation to diplomatic dialogue by European leaders, through NATO, on security concerns. And we have consistently encouraged Russia to participate constructively in those instances of diplomatic dialogue, and we would continue to do that.

If it is suggested that the concerns that are being raised in relation to Ukraine are false, then it is entirely within Russia’s gift to ensure that that is the case.

S. Jaishankar: I thought you were asking for a Western response on American intel.

Ashleigh McMillan: No.

S. Jaishankar: But, look, again, I am here primarily to discuss with my colleagues the tremendous progress we have made in the India-Australia relations. So, believe me, that’s mostly what we discussed, and I think what I had to say on Ukraine I said to your colleague just now.

Marise Payne: Thanks, Dr. Jaishankar. The next question is from Indira Laisram from the Indian Sun.

Indira Laisram: Thank you Ministers. My question is for Minister Jaishankar. The last two years have been frustrating times for Indian students stranded in India. Now because we have the air bubble and mutual recognition of vaccines, how is the government facilitating the movement of students? We know that mobility benefits both India and Australia.

S. Jaishankar: First of all, I’m delighted to get a question on India-Australia relations. Look, I think the last two years have been difficult for everybody. And every government in its own way in its best judgement did what was the best response to their particular situation.

Now, I can completely understand the particular predicament of students, which was one of the reasons why I made it a point to meet many of them yesterday. Right now, I think what’s been good for us is we worked out a bubble arrangement. It is our hope and expectation that we get back to scheduled flights fairly soon. That's not my call – it’s got to be done by our Civil Aviation Minister but it’s certainly something that we have discussed and I’m very supportive of that.

Again, I would thank the Australian side both for the mutual recognition of the certification on vaccines as well as the, you know, the recognition of the vaccines themselves. They’ve also been quite forward leaning in terms of helping the students whose results and work approvals had sort of expired or kind of been paused during this period. The students who are studying here. I think that’s a very good step. It’s something which the students appreciate, and I do as well on their behalf.

There are, as you know, students who are in India waiting to come back, whose approval some of them are yet to come through. But it’s something – again, yesterday when we had some of these discussions Minister Hawke was with me, so I spoke to him. I also mentioned it to Minister Payne.

So I think the challenge now for us is to try and normalise as quickly as we can, therefore, the opening of Australian borders is something which is a very positive step. In India, we are actually opening, normalising our travel system from the 14th of this month. So we really all want to get on with it.

Marise Payne: If I may just add briefly, when I was in India in, I think September last year and we were talking about students at a similar media conference at the time, I indicated that I wanted to welcome the first plane of Indian students at Sydney airport.

S. Jaishankar: I remember that.

Marise Payne: Omicron rather compromised my ability to be able do that. But we have seen approximately 15,000 Indian students return to Australia between November and January. That’s the largest cohort from any one country, indeed. And as Dr. Jaishankar said, he and Minister Hawke have discussed these issues in the last two days.  Minister Hawke and I work closely on making sure that we provide the support and the welcome back to our Indian students to campuses across Australia.

We are looking forward very much to reopening our border to international travel more broadly on the 21st of February, including to all fully vaccinated business travellers and tourists. And I know that that will facilitate the movement of students as well.

Thank you. And, again, Pablo Vinales.

Pablo Vinales: Thank you. China’s Foreign Ministry has responded to the Quad meeting overnight, particularly to Secretary Blinken’s comments yesterday saying that they were “to discredit, suppress and contain China’s development in Indo-Pacific.” And it has again criticised the Quad as an action that they see as an effort to contain China. Has this further inflamed tensions? And can I also ask, was there any discussion over the tensions in the line of actual control?

Marise Payne: I haven’t seen those particular comments from China myself. But what I can say is that we have absolutely reinforced in the day of our discussion yesterday and all of the work that is being done by multiple working groups and agencies and officials in relation to the very positive agenda that the Quad has that we are not against anything; we’re about building, about building confidence and resilience, about promoting a region in which all countries are able to be and feel sovereign and secure without the threat of coercion or intimidation.

We have a really practical agenda which is evidenced by our support of access to vaccines, indeed, over 500 million vaccines delivered under the Quad leaders’ commitments on vaccination. We’ve talked at great length both in our bilaterals and in or Quad meeting about the work we are able to do together on infrastructure development, on cyber security, on maritime security – which, again, we reinforced today in our bilateral meeting – on countering malicious and dangerous disinformation.

And for Australia, the Quad is a very complementary part of the network of relationships that we have both regionally and internationally. And it is all about helping to positively shape our region as, indeed, it develops and grows. And Australia has welcomed the development and growth of China over the years, but we have always said that we will also act in protection of our national interest, as any sovereign nation would.

I don’t know if you wish to add any, Jai.

S. Jaishankar: Yes, you know, I would largely share what Minister Payne said in terms of our approach. I think a lot of – I mean, very frankly what you told me of the reaction was something which was asked of us yesterday because the Chinese had been taking that line for some time. And I think all four of us yesterday – the two of us and Blinken and Hayashi as well –made that point that we are here to do positive things, we are here to contribute to the peace, prosperity, stability of the region. And so I think our record and our actions and our stance is fairly clear. And by criticising it repeatedly, it doesn’t make us less credible.

Regarding the issue whether we had a discussion on the situation on the line of actual control, yes, we had a discussion on India-China relations because it was part of how we briefed each other about what was happening in our neighbourhood. And, you know, it’s an issue in which a lot of countries legitimately take interest, particularly from the Indo-Pacific region, because the situation has arisen due to the disregard by China in 2020 of return agreements with us not to mass forces at the border. So when a large country disregards return commitments, I think it’s an issue of legitimate concern for the entire international community. So.

Marise Payne: I would say, also, in terms of those initiatives under the Quad framework that I spoke about earlier, if you think about the region itself, what we have also all said and what was reiterated in our Quad statement yesterday on cooperation in the Indo-Pacific is the work we are also doing with ASEAN focused on ASEAN centrality for the region, the criteria, the factors that are laid out under the ASEAN outlook on the Pacific. That is one of the keys to our regional engagement, our regional partnerships. We’ve talked at length about the work that we are able to do together. And I look forward to continuing this very practical and constructive effort in our region.

S. Jaishankar: If I could add one last word on the Quad – anybody who doubts that Quad has a positive message and positive approach should have been with us at the MCG yesterday. I think a major advancement was made when we could teach Minister Hayashi and Secretary Blinken the intricacies of cricket, including bowling, how to actually use the seam of the cricket ball. So nobody should doubt the positive contribution of Quad.

Marise Payne: We have a two-a-side cricket and baseball competition coming up any minute!

Thank you all very much and thank you for the interest that has been shown in our bilateral and quadrilateral engagements this weekend. Thank you.

S. Jaishankar: Thank you.

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