Speech to the Australia India Leadership Dialogue - Melbourne - 09/12/2019

09 December 2019

(Acknowledgments omitted)

The variety and depth of expertise in this room is a testament to the growing people-to-people links between Australia and India.
Amidst the fast pace and chaos of the day-to-day, this forum provides much-needed time and space to think about the relationship with India and how we can do more together to further our interests.
China has dominated Australias foreign policy debate and media coverage in recent years.
For much of that time, the focus has been on Chinas remarkable achievement in lifting hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, and the economic opportunity that has presented for Australia. China is Australias primary trading partner and will remain crucial to our prosperity.
As it has grown, Chinas role in the region has been a bigger focus, especially given the increasing assertiveness China has evinced under the leadership of President Xi.
Reports of foreign interference and human rights violations have illustrated that the relationship with our major economic partner is in a new, more complex phase.
But differences between our respective systems are not new, and a singular focus on China has never been in Australias interests.
Too often the foreign policy discussion is focused on one country like China or the US while at other times it is framed as a binary between China and the US.
It is true that the growing strategic competition between the US and China is the defining narrative of these times.
It warrants our attention, but not always in the way it is given.
The strategic competition in our region means we need to think carefully and engage actively to avoid becoming collateral.
Great powers will do what great powers do assert their interests.
But we are not without our own agency.
The choice is whether we are to be spectators to the competition between the United States and China, or active players.
As the balance of economic and strategic power is changing, the US and China are both in different ways choosing paths that challenge the status quo.
And in the international system we see the erosion of support for international norms, rules and institutions.
With our Indo-Pacific region being the focal point of disruption and competition, we must do more than simply navigate the slipstream of great power competition.
We must do what we can to shape the region we want.
Both Dr Jaishankar and I have spoken about a vision for a multipolar region as a way to realise our objectives.
A multipolar region in which the US remains deeply and constructively engaged.
A region in which China is a positive contributor and in which the perspectives of all powers are respected and valued.
A region that retains a system of institutions, rules and norms to guide behaviour to enable collective action and to resolve disputes.
A region where outcomes are not determined only by power.
India is a crucial part of the multipolar region we want.
As the worlds biggest democracy, it is no surprise that India not only values the global rules-based order but seeks to strengthen and shape it in its own right.
We have a common interest in being constructive internationalists in our region and in the world.
80% of the worlds maritime trade transits the Indian Ocean.
Indian Ocean littoral states are home to 2.5 billion people, with an average age of under 30.
The Indian Ocean region is central to both of our interests our prosperity and security are tied to its success.
So while this might be a time of disruption and chaos, I agree with Dr Jaishankar when he says that there are great opportunities in disruption.
India given its geography and history is no stranger to strategic competition.
And Indias rise is a major component of the changing economic and strategic realities of the region.
India is an Indo-Pacific power in its own right.
Australias relationship with India is central to the region we want and we have a strong stake in each others prosperity and security.
As Dr Jaishankar has said, the really important relationships in the world are the less transactional ones.
The really important relationships in the world are driven by congruent global assessments and shared values - and are based on strengthening each other.
Australia not only shares democratic values with India.
Our growing economic and business links mean we have a stake in each others prosperity.
But we also have converging strategic interests and a shared desire to shape our region.
India and Australia can give form to these converging interests not only through inclusive regional institutions that promote economic integration and resilience.
But also by building a partnership based on strengthening each other, rather than a series of transactions viewed only through the prism of strategic competition.
Which is why we should be wary of the notion that there is a binary choice between India and China.
And we should avoid glib analysis. India is not the new China.
India is charting its own course, maximising its strategic autonomy, asserting its interests and unlocking its economic potential.
India is leading the way in its immediate neighbourhood.
Prime Minister Modi has set a feverish pace of outreach across the Indian Ocean.
From infrastructure investments in Mozambique to a deep sea port in Indonesias Sabang, Indias strategic footprint across the region is expanding.
And it is giving impetus to regional architecture, such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative, to boost economic cooperation on the blue economy.
India and Australia should draw on our shared interests in the regions security and prosperity by strengthening this architecture and ensure new economic opportunities provide benefits to all our citizens.
As I foreshadowed in recent speech in Jakarta, a focus for Labor in the coming year will be how Australia should seek to position itself within the region and its architecture including ASEAN, EAS and IORA to enable more opportunities to work actively and cooperatively, rather than being a spectator.
Australia is also well-placed to meet Indias economic aspirations and its demand for better goods and services.
I dont think anyone would doubt that our trade relationship has untapped potential.
As our fifth-largest trading partner, two-way trade reached $29.1b a significant way behind China ($194b), Japan ($77b) and the US ($70b).
Peter Vargheses comprehensive India Economic Strategy rightly identifies our education sector, together with our agriculture, resources and tourism credentials as the frontrunners of cooperation and growth.
We should also be taking advantage of Indias growing innovation and technology credentials.
India has become a global research and development hub it accounts for 27 per cent of Asias new innovation centres and spends more on R&D than France and the UK.
And with a large, young population, Indias demographic dividend will drive huge demand for education and jobs.
Indias working age population will reach one billion over the next two decades.
According to the World Bank, India needs to create 8.1 million jobs per year just to maintain its employment rate.
Demography is both an opportunity and a challenge.
This has undoubtedly raised expectations of Prime Minister Modi and for future leaders to create jobs and harness the ambitions of Indias people to create sustainable and inclusive economic growth and opportunities.
With growth tapering and consumer confidence cooling, we shouldnt underestimate the scale of Indias economic challenges.
These challenges underlie the need for structural reforms and to strengthen the capacity of the state to implement these reforms.
We also recognise Indias security challenges.
We encourage the peaceful settlement of the final status of Jammu and Kashmir, underscored by the protection of human rights that will ultimately ensure the regions stability and economic recovery.
More broadly, it is clear that Australias broader understanding of India beyond foreign policy, academic and business circles is shallow.
We need the conversation about our ties to go beyond the three Cs cricket, curry and the Commonwealth.
Boosting India-literacy in Australia should be a priority.
We should elevate the voices of the 700,000-strong Indian-Australian diaspora in thesediscussions.
It is a diaspora that will continue to grow: India is currently the largest source country of migrants to Australia.
The diaspora will drive deeper engagement between our two countries as a matter of course and necessity.
But this also requires a deeper effort from the media and arts sectors to build deeper cultural understanding and exchanges.
We need to amplify our stories and messages in order for Australians to understand Indias place in the world and vice-versa.
Because its clear from our discussions today and from the current geopolitical realities that India and Australia have a bright future together.
Our personal ties are growing, our strategic interests are converging and our economic opportunities are immense.
The numbers speak for themselves: by 2035 India will overtake China as the most populous nation and by some predictions will become the third-largest economy by 2030.
With the global liberal order under strain, some countries are tempted to look inward this is not Australias approach and it is not Indias approach.
We look to India for a partnership not based on transactions but based on strengthening each other and strengthening our region.
Indias character as a secular, liberal democracy is central to the way Australia imagines this partnership with India.
We can work together to achieve our objectives through a multipolar region that is less a contest about who should be or will be number one, than how we foster partnerships of enduring connection and relevance.
Amidst the disruption that characterises our present, this will require creativity, focus and dedication.
And I thank the organisers and participants at this dialogue for helping us on our way.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.