Observer Research Foundation: A conversation with the Foreign Minister

  • Speech (check against delivery)

Lady Shri Ram College

New Delhi, India

Can I first thank the Principal, Dr Sharma, for those very kind remarks.

Thanking for the work you and your colleagues do, in helping to develop the next generation of leaders, who happen to be women, for India.

Professor Pant, to members of my delegation, but I particularly want to acknowledge the Australian High Commissioner Philip Green, to students here today, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you. And thanks to the Observer Research Foundation for hosting this event.

Thank you also for the very gracious remarks about the cricket. It was such an honour to play a team like yours, the Indian team, such an extraordinary team. But I want to say this – Travis Head is from my home town, so we care a lot about what happened yesterday.

I wanted to start with partnership.

The ORF plays an important role in engaging young people in foreign policy, through their Young Voices blog and their survey of young Indians attitudes to the world.

Those surveys often find young Indians see Australia as one of their closest partners for the future.

I hope that's right, because that is how we see you.

Yesterday, along with my ministerial counterparts, I was pleased to announce that we will host 'Raisina Downunder' in Australia in 2024.

This is my second visit to India this year – and this marks the 19th Australian ministerial visit to India and six Indian ministerial visits to Australia in 2023.

Who could forget those iconic images of our prime ministers in Ahmedabad – and of course, who would want to forget the images of Australia's glorious 50-overs World Cup victory there two days ago. A credit to India – an amazing tournament and a fantastic side. Regardless of the outcome, this team will be remembered as one of the greats.

I am here in Delhi with the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also Australia's Defence Minister, for meetings with India's Defence and External Affairs ministers.

The context for such meetings becomes ever more serious.

We see more and more conflict in the world.

Russia continues to wage its illegal and immoral war on Ukraine.

And the Middle East is in crisis. Hamas continues to hold more than 200 hostages, and Gaza is in the grip of a humanitarian catastrophe.

We are working with countries with influence in the region, to help protect and support civilians, to help prevent conflict from spreading, and to reinforce the need for a just and enduring peace.

And our own region faces circumstances in some ways unprecedented.

Tensions have risen between states with overlapping claims and disputed borders.

Compounding that have been dangerous encounters on land, in the air and at sea.

China continues to modernise its military at a pace and scale not seen in the world for nearly a century, with little transparency or assurance about its strategic intent.

North Korea continues its destabilising behaviour with its ongoing nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile launches.

All of us know that the region we live in is being reshaped.

The only question is whether we choose to either play our part in the reshaping, or we choose to let others decide our future.

Australia and India are making a choice to do what we can – together and separately – to shape a region that is peaceful and predictable, that is governed by accepted rules and norms, where all of us can cooperate, trade and thrive.

Where a larger country does not determine the fate of a smaller country.

Where each country can pursue its own aspirations.

Where no country dominates, and no country is dominated.

This vision for our region is grounded in respect for sovereignty.

What is sovereignty? Fundamentally it is about being able to make your own decisions, and shaping our own destinies…

This is the thing about sovereignty; it might be exercised alone but it is best assured when we are working together.

Because none of us can achieve a region with the attributes I am describing by ourselves.

The less unified we are, the less we all operate by the same rules, the more likely it is that vulnerabilities will be exploited.

That's why we are so committed to strong partnerships like the Quad and mutually agreed rules, which enable more stability and choices, which in turn means greater autonomy and sovereignty.

Just as each country has a responsibility to help maintain conditions for peace, we also have a responsibility to play our part in collective deterrence of aggression.

By having strong defence capabilities of our own, and by working with partners like India investing in their own capabilities, we change the calculus for any potential aggressor.

Our foreign and defence policies are two essential and interdependent parts of Australia's approach.

That is why these meetings matter – it is about contributing to the strategic balance of power that keeps the peace in our region, where we have strategic reassurance through diplomacy and military deterrence which supports it.

As India knows well, there is not enough strategic trust in our world and in our region.

Military power is expanding, but measures to constrain military conflict are not – and there are insufficient concrete mechanisms for averting it.

The risk of conflict is of deep concern to us all.

That is why Australia continues to encourage mutual strategic reassurance, military risk reduction measures and on opening lines of communication at all levels.

We all have a stake or a part to play in the Indian Ocean.

Because Australia and India share this region and we share a future.

We are also joint custodians of the Indian Ocean. And we share an interest in the countries of the Indian Ocean being prosperous and peaceful and resilient.

Australia has one of the longest Indian Ocean coastlines of any country and we are responsible for its largest search and rescue zone.

As Dr Jaishankar has said, “the separation of the Indian and Pacific oceans as distinct compartments looks less and less tenable. We are quite visibly in each others' proximity and to pretend otherwise is unrealistic.”

This was recognised in Australia's Defence Strategic Review, which included the north-eastern Indian Ocean, alongside Southeast Asia and the Pacific, as Australia's primary area of strategic military interest.

It is a conduit for global trade and energy production.

Its sea lines of communications help underpin our security and prosperity.

The Indian Ocean is already bustling with more than a third of the world's bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of global oil shipments.

The Indian Ocean is already essential to building a regional balance.

And it is only becoming more important. The rise is partly driven by demography.

India is now home to the world's largest population, and countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh will experience the so called 'demographic dividend' as they host some of the largest youth labour forces in the world until 2040.

So it only makes sense, with the Indian Ocean's importance, and its status as a point of confluence for strategic competition, we are boosting our engagement in the region.

We've opened new posts at Malé, Bengaluru and Kolkata. Next year, Australia will host the Indian Ocean Conference in Perth.

I look forward to welcoming Dr Jaishankar, as well as heads of government, ministers and senior delegates to Australia to discuss our priorities for the region.

India's prosperity matters to Australia, just as our prosperity matters to you.

Geography may have decided we share regional interests, but we have decided to be friends.

This was a choice.

Fifty years ago, in 1973, Australia's Prime Minister Gough Whitlam visited India.

It was the first visit to India by an Australian Prime Minister in 14 years.

Whitlam said this at the time, “Here are two great democracies bordering the Indian Ocean, both members of the Commonwealth, both deeply dedicated to world peace, both with Federal systems, both holding great institutions in common.”

The Albanese Government is proud to take forward the Whitlam legacy of engagement with India.

We make the same choice Whitlam did, to be closer friends with India.

Our prime ministers have met five times this year – including once in Sydney and twice in India.

Our countries are partners in almost every pursuit except cricket…

Working together through our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, through the Quad, and through regional architecture and the multilateral system.

We are growing our economic partnership and looking to deepen two-way trade and investment.

We are launching new climate initiatives in green steel and hydrogen, critical minerals and innovation and technology.

The close cooperation between Australia and India that Prime Minister Whitlam envisaged has come to pass.

The relationship also benefits from the legacy of Prime Minister Whitlam's changes to immigration policy for Australia.

Half of the Australian population was born overseas or has a parent who was born overseas.

That includes me.

It means when Australians look across the world, we see ourselves, just as the world sees itself reflected in us.

This matters here today.

One in every 25 Australians claims Indian heritage – our fastest-growing and second-largest diaspora community.

This is something we celebrate.

Australia launched the Centre for Australia-India Relations during Prime Minister Modi's visit to Australia in May, at an event attended by some 20,000 members of the diaspora.

The Centre is harnessing the energy and knowledge of Australia's Indian community to grow our economic and political links.

The million-strong Indian tourists and students that visit Australia each year also contribute to this goal.

And it is in pursuit of this goal that I am pleased to announce a new fellowship program.

These new Maitri fellowships will see Indian researchers spend six months to two years at an Australian institution and Australian think tankers spend six months at an Indian institution.

We recognise the important role that thinktanks, civil society and other stakeholders play in this relationship.

Australia and India have a proud history as democracies that foster academic excellence and welcome a broad range of views.

At a time when pluralism and democracy are being challenged worldwide, the next generation of Indians and Australians have a special responsibility to strengthen the institutions that we hold dear.

I had the opportunity to hear from India's leading thinkers yesterday on the impact of gender on foreign, trade and development policy.

I spoke to them of my own party's commitment to having women in leadership positions.

Having women at the decision-making table is not just the right thing to do.

It leads to better decisions being made. We bring a wider perspective, a wider set of experiences, to those fora which makes decisions and that is a good thing.

I have the privilege of serving in a Government that is more than half women.

And to have been sworn in alongside the most diverse parliament in Australia's history.

We believe our multicultural democracy and the pluralism that accompanies it is essential to our ability to shape the region we live in. We believe this diversity is one of our greatest strengths.

Australia sees the world as it is, but we seek to shape it for the better. We want to do that with you. We want to seize the challenges of this moment, but also seizing the opportunities of the decade ahead.

I want to end on this point, I have always believed that we are a stronger community, a stronger society, a stronger nation when all of our citizens' aspirations and capacities can be fully realised.

So in everything that you do, as young women who have the privilege of attending such an extraordinary college, please remember your education, your opportunities – they are a great thing for you, but I truly believe they are a great thing for your country.

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