Radio Interview with James Valentine - Sydney Breakfast, ABC Radio Sydney - 24/05/2023

24 May 2023



Subjects: Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia; Australia’s relationship with India; Human rights; Meeting of India’s Prime Minister and Ukraine’s President.

JAMES VALENTINE, HOST: Well, a lot of focus on what happened in Sydney last night. Extraordinary scenes, really, when the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visited Sydney and ended up at Olympic Park. Huge.

Absolutely huge applause for the visiting Prime Minister and as Anthony Albanese said, it's unusual, perhaps, last time he was at that venue, he went to see Bruce Springsteen. But the vigour of the crowd matched and possibly outmatched that event. Here is the Prime Minister speaking.

TRANSLATOR: India-Australia relations are based on three ‘D’: democracy, diaspora and dosti, which means friendship. Some people even said that India-Australia relations are based on three ‘E’: energy, economy and education. However, the scope of historic relations between India and Australia is way, way beyond that. And do you know what is the single biggest basis of all of these relations? Do you know? Do you know? The single biggest basis is mutual trust and mutual respect.

VALENTINE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at Qudos Bank Arena last night. Penny Wong, Australian's Foreign Minister, was there as well. Ms Wong. Good morning.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning. Good to be with you. A beautiful morning here in Sydney.

VALENTINE: Isn’t it? Yeah, it's terrific. What did you make of it? I normally think the politicians look at something like that and it's both, ‘wow, I wish we could pull this off’ and also, it's a little bit frightening, that sort of rally.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I thought it was fantastic, actually, and I guess I look at it particularly as a Foreign Minister that this is a demonstration of the relationship between India and Australia and the vibrant Indian diaspora that was represented there last night. Indian Australians are the beating heart of the relationship. They are, as Prime Minister Modi said, the bridge between India and Australia and Australia and India. And I thought that was demonstrated last night in energy and in colour.

VALENTINE: Yeah, but I suppose that kind of rally and intensity and that sort of populous energy that he's able to generate, we often associate not with our favourite leaders.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, we have a different political culture here, different style of democracy. But it is important to remember India is the world's largest democracy. And at a time when we're seeing so much change in the world and a lot of competition, rising tension, having this depth of relationship, a trusting relationship, a relationship where we share interest, where we have so much work to do together, that is a good thing for both our countries and it's a good thing for the region.

VALENTINE: Yeah. What are the official sort of questions that'll be - that will come up today? He's meeting the Prime Minister in a more official setting in the usual - you know, as leaders getting together, you're meeting Foreign Ministers, I imagine you're part of all this. What are the kind of things that are raised between India and Australia?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, there's a lot of momentum in this relationship, if I can preface with that. We've had, I think, six Prime Ministerial engagements. I think the two Ministers I've met most often are the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and Dr Jaishankar, who's the equivalent in the Indian administration. So, that sort of says something about how much work we do together. Look, this we already have a very important and strong partnership with India. What we will be exploring is a number of measures on that which the Prime Minister will speak to more publicly later. We obviously have an interest in growing the economic side of the relationship. We currently have what we call the ECTA trade agreement in place, which we're looking to build on. From Australia's perspective, given the growth in the Indian economy, we want to have the opportunity to be part of that. So, there's a lot to discuss in the bilateral relationship, but also about the region, because we share a view about the importance of a stable, open and resilient region.

VALENTINE: Yeah, we've welcomed his visit. It's been embraced. We've been talking about it in media with enthusiasm. We've had people on who were there saying it's terrific. We had Sanjay from the little India committee saying it's terrific - it'll now be little India. But we've also had a lot of texts this morning pointing out that he's - we had somebody on yesterday - that Prime Minister Modi is oppressing minorities in India, cracks down on protest and opposition to his leadership. How do you balance that aspect of India today as Foreign Minister?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, when it comes to human rights, I think, which goes to your question, obviously, Australia has a consistent and clear position on human rights and whether it's with any country in the region we will continue to put our view, respectfully, about the importance of human rights, about the importance of freedom of expression and other rights. We take that position whether it's in this relationship or in any other relationship. But I would make this point. India is a democracy and India is a country which shares so many of the values Australians look to. And India is a very important partner for Australia, particularly at this time.

VALENTINE: And do those concerns get put at a meeting today?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I don't pre-empt that sort of discussion, but I think if you look back at what I'd said when I last met with Dr Jaishankar in India, you would see our practice would be for these matters to be raised appropriately. We do that because it is about who we are.

VALENTINE: Someone else has pointed out that India still is a supporter of Russian economy. It's importing oil, it's trading with Russia. This would have come up at G7, I imagine, as well. He was, I think at G7 he was saying, ‘we stand with Ukraine’. Is that the view you're seeing?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I thought that was a really important meeting, actually, Prime Minister Modi and President Zelensky. And after it, I think President Zelensky said he welcomed Prime Minister Modi's support for Ukrainian sovereignty. India does have a historical relationship with Russia that we are aware of. But I thought that meeting was a very important signal to both the Ukrainians but also to Russia, that the views about its immoral and illegal invasion and continued war in Ukraine and against Ukrainians is condemned across the world.

VALENTINE: Yeah. Penny Wong, thanks for some time this morning. Thanks so much for coming on.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to speak with you.

VALENTINE: That's Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong following the visit of Narendra Modi and they'll be in meetings today, of course, dealing with the official business after the great, sort of, celebration and as Anthony Albanese described a virtually rock star appearance of him at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney last night.


Media Contact:
Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500

Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.