India Australia Relationship

Federation Chamber - Private Members Business

Watch Matt's Speech here

We Western Australians find ourselves an extra hour behind our east coast neighbours for half the year, but we also find ourselves in around the same time zone as some of the most dynamic regions and areas of the world—China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and many of our neighbours to the north. Among the unique advantages presented by our global orientation is that we share our Indian Ocean beaches with perhaps the most dynamic and one of the most populous nations in our region and indeed the world: India. India is the world's third largest economy. It boasts the largest democracy in the world, with Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians all represented, a societal framework that serves as an example of democracy to be both emulated and supported. Both of these factors make a strong Australia-India partnership attractive in a changing global environment.

But Australia's traditional international networking strategy—commodity trade—won't gain us any credit with India. India is actually largely self-sufficient in natural resources and energy, needing little assistance from Australia in that regard. But Australia needn't despair. We have another more valuable export—education. In 2017 over 113,000 million Indians sought tertiary education but were unable to access it. This is because India is short in around 20 million university and vocational education lecturers, teachers and trainers. That's nearly the entire population of Australia. With 40 per cent of Indians living comfortably above the poverty line, accounting for only 600 million people in a population of over one billion, a good tertiary education in India is arguably just as valuable as coal or iron ore. Indian students travel in their thousands to study in Australia each year. In 2016-17 alone, nearly 34,500 student visas were granted to Indian students, accounting for over 10 per cent of student visas granted. The 2016 census data reveals that the Indian population in Australia has grown to over 450,000, which is up from just under 300,000 in the 2011 census. Of Australia's 25 million people, today's Indians comprise just under two per cent of the total population. In WA alone, our Indian population is sitting at just under 50,000. With a population of 2.5 million, it means that our Indian population is around two per cent and should be taken much more seriously.

Labor announced its Future Asia Policy late last year, which includes a government-wide program to ensure that we are fully engaging with and leveraging the benefits of Asian diasporas in Australia. Labor's shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, noted at the launch of this policy that Asian countries were growing even hungrier for Australian education, and the challenge for the future would be capitalising on this massive demand. Outside of political and government-led initiatives, towards closer ties with India, we have the Australia India Institute, an organisation which has been holding the Australia India Leadership Dialogue over the last 10 years. In January last year, Labor's shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, and shadow foreign affairs minister, Senator Penny Wong, attended one of these leadership dialogues. Indeed, both the member for Gellibrand and I attended the Youth Leadership Dialogue in Delhi this time last year. The 2019 conference will be kicking off later this week, in Sydney.

My takeaway from my trip was that Australia could be doing so much more to improve and strengthen our relationship with India by understanding our common interests. This idea was reflected by the Perth USAsia Centre, who, alongside our foreign minister and our Defence Force chief, attended India's flagship global security conference, the Raisina Dialogue—an annual dialogue that has been held over the past four years. They reflected there the importance of cooperation between our two nations, particularly in defence.

Western Australia has a long history of capturing economic opportunities in North-East Asia, namely with Japan, Korea and China. Now we must further diversify the economy, which is something we can take advantage of through the opportunities coming out of the north-west of Asia—opportunities like education. The Indian government has a well-founded fear that their young people will leave their home country, only to upskill but never return, meaning that the benefits of education are lost. By pursuing a better relationship with India, we need to come to a mutual understanding about how we can benefit them by exporting education from Australia and responding to India's demand for education, but it does involve helping them in the development of this and building a stronger relationship.

While the federal government is yet to conclude a free trade agreement with India, as it said it would do so two years ago, we shouldn't be deterred. This motion asks us to endorse an India economic strategy by 2035, and we should. As the report so eloquently notes:

Making the most of India’s demographic advantages will require labour market reforms, measures to improve education and skills and significantly improving women’s participation in the economy.

There is a long way ahead. There is no market over the next 20 years which offers more growth opportunities for Australian businesses than India. Australia and Perth in particular are uniquely positioned to forge a deeper relationship with our north-west neighbours in other ways.