Interview with Anand Narasimhan, CNN-News18

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia; Australia-India relations; cooperation on climate change and energy; violence at Hindu temples in Australia; Cricket World Cup.

ANAND NARASIMHAN: She's in the thick of all the action and she's one person I've been wanting to speak with. And perhaps let's say good karma or how it's fated to be, we've been able to get 10 minutes with the Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Thank you so much. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: It's great to be here. 

NARASIMHAN: How do you see the equations between India and Australia, and I'm speaking to you soon after the joint statement by the Prime Ministers? 

FOREIGN MINISTER: An enormous amount of momentum in the relationship which is fantastic. As you know, there's been a lot of visits to and from. Prime Minister Albanese was in New Delhi in March. We're privileged to host Prime Minister Modi here. We, a number of my colleagues and I, have been in India this year and we hope to continue that pace of bilateral engagement. But last night was a sight to behold, wasn't it? 


FOREIGN MINISTER: And, you know, the energy and vibrancy of the diaspora here, which is really ‑ how did Prime Minister Modi describe it ‑ the beating heart of the relationship and a bridge between the two countries. Well, I thought that that was on display last night. 

NARASIMHAN: Yes, and he's also said, the Prime Minister has also said this is now gotten into T20 mode, if you want to use the cricketing analogy. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: You know I'm a test cricket fan, not a T20 fan.


FOREIGN MINISTER: T20 is moving fast.

NARASIMHAN: Moving, moving fast.

FOREIGN MINISTER: So we're getting stuff done. 

NARASIMHAN: So what are the key areas you think this partnership is going to grow between India and Australia? 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, we are very strategically aligned and at a time where the region is changing and we all know the competition which we are seeing in the region and the way in which the regional and global order are being reshaped, I think where there is a lot of alignment between Australia and India about the sort of region we want. You know, I think an open, stable, inclusive, prosperous Indo‑Pacific, and we will want to work together towards that. India is a regional power and a global power, and it will only grow in its power as well as in its population and in its economic development. So we see this as a partnership for a very, very long time about a region and about our values. 

NARASIMHAN: Is this thought process bipartisan, so Labor or Liberal? 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, yes. Look, I was Shadow Foreign Minister so the spokesperson in Opposition for a very long time, in fact, much longer than I wished, but the benefit of that is it enabled me to do a lot of thinking about foreign policy and a lot of work. And one of the conclusions I came to was the importance of making sure there was an aspect of our engagement, a very large component or aspect of how we engage with the world which is bipartisan. And so I was – we will continue to work in that way. We were very supportive of the previous government's efforts to improve the relationship or to deepen the relationship, and I hope my counterparts will be the same. 

NARASIMHAN: How has your engagement with Dr Jaishankar been? I think you people have been engaging in speaking to build up to this bilateral and to, you know, sign, because Prime Minister Albanese spoke about mobility and migration. There is a consulate opening in Brisbane, there's a consulate opening in Bengaluru. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, we've done a lot of work across our systems to ensure we've got some concrete outcomes out of the bilateral discussion today, which includes the work on green hydrogen, the work on the partnership on migration and mobility, the Consul‑General in Brisbane and ours in Bengaluru. But I would make this point about Dr Jaishankar, he's a very deep strategic thinker, and I have really valued the intellectual engagement as well and I've learnt a lot from my discussions with him. And I always go away with some insights into how India perceives the world and regional dynamics from India's perspective. So he's very impressive. 

NARASIMHAN: You're a champion for climate change and also sustainability. I see a lot of sustainable measures which are evident in Australia. India, on it's growth path is now embracing sustainability and climate change. How can Australia help India and how can these two nations ‑


NARASIMHAN: Yeah, energy, renewable energy?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes. Well, I think to continue to develop, India needs energy. All countries need energy, but those countries who are, you know, on that development path need a very, almost exponential, growth in energy generation. So the key task is how do we make sure that that energy is from clean energy sources. There's a big transition there, but it's a very important area for cooperation. 

NARASIMHAN: Does that include the other Pacific nations, leadership of the Global South, Prime Minister Modi also spoke about bringing these nations to the spotlight, those nations and he said India and Australia can really work jointly.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes. Well, as you know, Prime Minister Modi came to Australia but prior to that he came ‑ went to Papua New Guinea for the FIPIC Summit. And, in fact, my Prime Minister spoke about the importance of that today in the bilateral meeting. We see India, India's engagement with the countries of the region both in the Pacific but also obviously the Indian Ocean which is a particular area of leadership for India, as really critical. But I make two points. The first is elevating the voices of small islands nations, small island developing states, is really important on climate because they have a very first‑hand perspective. 

NARASIMHAN: Yes, and it's a shrinking land mass for them ‑

FOREIGN MINISTER: Correct, right. 

NARASIMHAN: They're losing islands quite quickly. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Or they're losing arable land because of salinity, et cetera.  But the second point that we all have to remember is there's no point playing geopolitics with climate. It doesn't negotiate. And there is no answer for humanity unless we all participate. So, you know, we have to build agreements that is around everyone doing something because if it degenerates to people pointing fingers about who should have done what or who must do more, we're all going to suffer. 

NARASIMHAN: But do you see congruence coming there or are there still geopolitical pressures? 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Of course. I was the Climate Change Minister at Copenhagen so I saw a lot of geopolitics there but my message will, and Australia's message will continue to be the same. We all lose. You might win, you know, this meeting outcome or you might get this outcome, you think that's great. But, ultimately, you know, your family, your children, your grandchildren ‑ they lose. 

NARASIMHAN: Yeah, because I think I remember this quote from the President of Kiribati. He said, "If Kiribati sinks so does Mumbai."


NARASIMHAN: So it's not so far away as everybody thinks.


NARASIMHAN: Let me ask you one thing which you feel needs to be done? Which is the bump which perhaps smooths the relations in those critical areas?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think that I have been engaged in a number of, you know, visits to India, discussions about, and with Indian counterparts before we came into government. And I think we've talked for a long time about improving the economic aspect of the relationship. The sort of stereotypical position is we're really good on the strategic aspects but not so much on the economic. Well, we need to have the economic work, don't we. And there's a fair bit of focus on that, as you would have seen from Prime Minister Modi's statements but also the announcements over the bilateral today. 

NARASIMHAN: But to take the ECTA forward to a CECA, what needs to be done? I think what's the biggest bump, let me ask you that. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I mean, I'm an Australian, so I would say, obviously we want meaningful market access. But I think, if people can think laterally and creatively about the areas where we can work more closely together then, you know, I'm hopeful that the CECA will be an ambitious agreement and I'd like it to be. We've recently opened, or last night we announced the board and the location of the Centre for Australia‑India relations.

NARASIMHAN: In Parramatta. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yeah, in Parramatta, which will be great because so much of the diaspora is there, and that's such a source of energy for the relationship. But I've said to them, "Look, I really want to know what are some of the things we can do on the economic front to facilitate more economic engagement." And so it's not just the large companies but it's also the diaspora which have, there's a lot of entrepreneurs here in Australia and in India, and they've done a lot of work on the economic relationship, I'm sure we can leverage that more. 

NARASIMHAN: Did the strength of the diaspora surprise you yesterday? 

FOREIGN MINISTER: No, I was not so much surprised but I suppose moved by it, excited by it, inspired by it. But I have engaged enough with Indian Australians to know the extent of their pride and their joy in their culture and their history, and there was a celebration ‑ and their future, their excitement for their future. 

NARASIMHAN: They're very excited about the Little India Gateway at Harris Park, but there are also concerns about extremist elements, secessionist elements. Prime Minister did speak about it in the joint statement today. You think that's going to be addressed?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, we are. I'd say this and I've made this really clear: there is ‑ we guard multiculturalism fiercely in Australia. And we guard the social cohesion which underpins that. We are one of the most multicultural societies in the world, and the social cohesion and the values which underpin that matter to us. That's why there is no space for hate and bigotry, and there is no space for violence. And, you know, we have had an appropriate security response to the violence against religious places including Hindu temples and that is to be condemned. And what we would say there is no place for that in Australia. We do, people have a right to peaceful protest. That is something Australians expect. But there is a line and we do not want people to cross it and if that is crossed then obviously the law will respond. 

NARASIMHAN: I respect that. Vandalism, violence, protest, is one aspect. Hate is another aspect. 


NARASIMHAN: But the messaging is now secessionist. So that's where the concern is. Is the government, Australian Government concerned?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, as I've said, the so‑called, you know, the protest which was held, the so‑called referendum has ‑ is simply a political ‑ is a protest, it has no effect and ought be dismissed in terms of any effect. So I mean, I don't even want to talk about the territorial integrity of India because it seems to sort of give weight to something which has no weight. 

NARASIMHAN: Point well taken. Final two questions. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Two questions.

NARASIMHAN: Yeah. This is final two questions.

FOREIGN MINISTER: This is like T20. He's doing a T20.

NARASIMHAN: I was coming to the cricketing aspect. You've got an open invitation to come and watch the Cricket World Cup and also celebrate Diwali with us. So will you take up that offer? 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Oh, look, you know, if I can, I will. I know the Prime Minister is very keen on doing that. 


FOREIGN MINISTER: But I'll see if I'm able to or whether it needs to be ‑ you know, I need to stay, be elsewhere while he is in India. But, you know, it is amazing what has happened in India with cricket over the last 20 years. I mean I'm old enough to remember watching Tendulkar.

NARASIMHAN: Tendulkar, yes. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: I remember, it was actually probably the best innings ‑ probably the best innings I've ever seen, actually. 

NARASIMHAN: Your impressions about Virat Kohli? He's going to go head to head with the Australian team very soon.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I mean, we had a joke ‑ we had a joke about the cricket in the meeting today and I said Australians are getting used to the fact that, you know we're probably winning less often now, aren't we, and we don't like it. 

NARASIMHAN: You don't like it? 

FOREIGN MINISTER: No, not really. 

NARASIMHAN: But you're looking forward to the World Test Championship, the final? 


NARASIMHAN: Thank you, Minister Wong. Thank you very much for your time.

FOREIGN MINISTER: It's great to be with you.

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