High Commissioner's Address at the Rotary Club of Delhi Garden City
What’s unique about Australia?
I would like to thank Suneeta Trivedi and Deepika Venkatesh for the invitation to address the Rotary Club of Delhi Garden City today.
No matter where I go, I am constantly impressed by the diversity of Rotary members. It has the ability to unite men and women from different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and religions to work together to do extraordinary things.
Rotary instils the values of service, mutual respect and intercultural understanding within and between communities, which are fundamental if we are to reach our full potential.
These values transcend state borders. That is why I am pleased to note there are over 30,000 fellow Rotarians and 1,100 clubs in Australia. Rotary has been a part of Australia’s history for over 100 years and it remains a strong driver of community engagement and development.
These values become even more essential at times of change and the uncertainty that comes with it.
And that is what we are experiencing now in the part of the world that India and Australia share – what we, as diplomats, increasingly refer to as the Indo-Pacific region.
Today I want to talk about the world as we see it from Australia. I want to talk about the kind of partnership Australia and India are building, and can build, to meet the challenges and capture the opportunities in this new world.
And I want to tell you a little about why India and Indians should look more to Australia. What, beyond cricket, friendly people and nice beaches, has Australia to offer? What is unique about Australia? More importantly, why does it matter?
Uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific
So let’s start with the world as we see it.
We are witnessing right now a pace and scale of change that is without precedent. We cannot expect to reach a settling point for this change anytime soon. So it seems we are looking at a prolonged period of flux.
Change is occurring at every level that affects our lives. The rise of technology, for instance, has transformed our lives and the lives of many. We have come a long way since the launch of the first IBM personal computer in 1981 (with a whopping 16Kb memory!). The first iPhone was launched only a decade ago with significantly more computing power. And who knows what the future will bring.
Artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things and 3D printing are changing our societies and economies. At the individual level, they will change the kinds of jobs that people will do in the future and the way they live their lives.
Things are not very different in the business of diplomacy and international politics.
In relations between countries, we are seeing the concurrent rise of a number of powers in our region.
China, for example, has grown larger and faster than any other economy in history. If we exclude the United States, China’s economy is roughly equal to the next six biggest economies in the Indo‑Pacific.
India is growing rapidly and is expected to become the world’s third largest economy in US dollar terms by 2030.
The Economist predicts that by 2050, Indonesia will leap from the 16th largest economy today into the top 10 economies. While, at the same time, established economies like Japan, South Korea and Australia will drop in relative GDP rankings.
Economic size translates to strategic weight over time. It is only natural that these countries will want to exercise greater influence on the world order. The challenge for us is how to manage this without coming into conflict with each other.
And at the same time, we need to deal with other, larger challenges in the world. These include the spread of terrorism and the impacts of climate change on our economies and our security.
But it is our longstanding concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that is keeping people awake at night right now. The reckless and dangerous behaviour of the North Korean regime has raised tensions on the Korean peninsula. We should all be deeply worried about where this might take us. The risk of miscalculation is real. The consequences of conflict between nuclear powers would be catastrophic.
In an environment such as this, there is a tendency for people to seek safety in supporting insular, nationalistic policies and governments. Protectionist policies are being brought in by countries that had previously championed open trade and economic cooperation.
While this trend is understandable, such policies reduce the incentives for countries to work cooperatively. And, as I will argue today, far from making countries stronger, it could also lead to weakening the ability of those societies and economies to manage change.
According to Amnesty International’s 2016-17 Annual Report, the cynical use of ‘us versus them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear have taken on a global prominence. Optimism has given way to fear‑mongering. Insularity has driven a global pushback on human rights.
This is a gloomy picture. It poses a challenge for countries like India and Australia that have a vested interest in open societies and a rules-based international order. What I mean by that is an order that can manage change, resolve disputes and promote economic cooperation and growth peacefully.
The diplomatic toolbox
So how do we work to create such an order? How are Australia and India building their partnership now and into the future?
Diplomats and politicians use a range of tools. Among these are familiar actions such as building military partnerships, or creating trade agreements, or building cooperation multilaterally – for example, in the United Nations or in regional organisations such as the East Asia Summit.
But when we are dealing with issues that are complex, move fast and require agility, then focusing on ‘soft’ tools can also be very effective.
These tools are ways to protect and promote values. They can include building links between people and communities, improving mutual understanding or strengthening institutions. These are important because they give us the resilience we need to deal with change and maintain stability.
Underpinned by shared values, Australia and India are rapidly building a strong partnership.
Our defence and security cooperation continues to deepen. With it comes greater trust and understanding between our two countries.
We held our second bilateral maritime exercise AUSINDEX in July. We have annual staff talks between our Army, Navy and Air Forces. We will soon schedule the inaugural defence and foreign secretaries’ 2+2 talks.
We are working to step up economic cooperation.
For instance, Australia is a natural partner to meet India’s energy security needs. We provide fuel such as coal and uranium as well as technology on mining and energy generation. And we have an established knowledge partnership with over 60,000 Indian students studying in Australia last year.
I was pleased to welcome a 176-strong delegation to India last week during Australia Business Week in India focusing on closer cooperation in a range of sectors from innovation and smart cities to mining equipment, technology and services.
Trade builds links between economies and expands prosperity. So it is equally important to achieve reform on the trade policy front. If we want others to open their borders to our trade, we must start at home.
In Australia, we implemented considerable structural reforms in the late 1980s, including opening up our economy to trade and investment. At the time, this was very difficult to do, but it is fair to say we have enjoyed 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth as a result.
In India, efforts to increase efficiencies and remove distortionary policies are welcome and will contribute to national growth. The GST has been a significant achievement. Liberalising tariffs, simplifying regulation and reducing trade barriers will not just be good for India’s economy, but will strengthen ties among countries in the region.
What’s unique about Australia?
So, what is it that makes Australia a valuable partner for India? Why, in other words, should India look to Australia?
In order for us to appreciate the value of each other, we must first understand each other clearly. To do this, we need to look beyond outdated views and assumptions.
I want to take a moment to dispel some myths. Australia is not an outpost of the United States or a remnant of the British Empire.
When imagining an Australian, many of you may conjure up the stereotype of the Aussie donning an Akubra hat, riding his horse through the bush or working on a farm. But now, the image of the modern Australian is far more diverse.
Bear with me as I share a few statistics.
- 70 per cent of Australians live in cities
- It is not the activities of the outback that solely drive our economy. Services including retail, construction and health are the largest sources of employment.
For a population of only 24 million, we are one of the most diverse communities in the world.
- More than a quarter of our population was born overseas. That places us ahead of countries like the US, Canada and the UK.
- Nearly half of Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas.
- Australians come from almost 200 different countries.
- More than 300 languages are spoken in Australian homes.
- There are over 100 religions practiced by Australians while at the same time about one-third of us do not subscribe to any religion whatsoever.
Australia occasionally gets misrepresented as a country with a harsh migration policy. But it is worth remembering that for many decades now we have had a migration program that actively seeks to bring people to Australia to settle. I myself have been a beneficiary of this program. It is a sign of the tolerance of our country that we will accept everyone as one of our own.
For the past decade or so, we have brought around 190,000 people a year to settle in Australia under our migration program. All up, we add about 1% to our population every year simply from migration.
And India features prominently.
- India is one of the top five countries of birth for Australians alongside China, New Zealand, the UK and, of course, Australia.
- Hindi and Punjabi are both in the top 10 languages spoken by Australians at home and both have grown in proportion since 2011. Hindi is now being taught in some Australian schools.
Much has been made in India on the spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne about 10 years ago. But the lesson to be drawn there is not that these incidents happen – they occur all over the world. Rather, the point is that it was seen as such a breach of Australian values that we swiftly moved to condemn the attacks and tackle the underlying safety issues to prevent a recurrence.
In his speech to mark the release of Australia’s 2017 Multicultural Statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that:
Australia has achieved something remarkable...The glue that holds us together is mutual respect. A deep recognition that each of us is entitled to the same respect, the same dignity and the same opportunities.
I think that sounds pretty Rotarian to me.
Migration is not the only example of diversity we value.
Just two weeks ago, I launched the Australian Government’s Development4All campaign in India. The campaign reflects the Australian Government’s priority of ensuring the full and equal participation of people with disability in society. By working with government, business and civil society, we aim to promote disability-inclusive development.
Being Australian is not based on where you were born, who your parents are or what your profession is. That is not what binds the social fabric of society or drives our economic dynamism.
Irrespective of race, religion, gender, sexuality or disability, it is our shared values and respect for each person as an equal that makes Australia special.
Australian values drive growth and development
Migrants keep our population young, dynamic and creative. According to a 2015 report of the Migration Council of Australia, migration will increase our population by 14 million people and contribute an addition $1.6 trillion to Australia’s GDP by 2050. That’s the dividend we get from diversity.
Let me give you one example.
The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric scheme is the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia. It is also one of the most complex hydro-electric systems in the world. Construction began in 1949 and concluded in 1974. The reason I bring this up is that, in addition to showcasing Australia’s engineering skills, the project is also a defining achievement that highlights our multicultural and innovative society.
It comprises 16 major dams, seven power stations and over 225 kilometres of pipelines, tunnels and aqueducts. If there are any engineers in the room, I hope this excites you. It was completed on time and on budget. It required innovative methods for construction in difficult environments for a fraction of the cost.
Such a feat would not have been possible without the collective contribution of a diverse workforce. More than 100,000 people from over 30 countries delivered this project. Seventy per cent of the workforce were migrants, attracted by the high wages and the opportunity to become Australian. Most of these migrants have now made Australia their home.
Many of them went on to contribute greatly to Australia’s economy. Two young Italian engineers – Carlo Salteri and Franco Belgiorno-Nettis, were among the many thousands who came to Australia to seek their fortune in the early 1950s. I had the privilege of meeting Mr Salteri many years ago. He told me they met while working on the Snowy Mountains scheme. Neither of them spoke a word of English and together they founded the engineering company, Transfield in 1956. Transfield and its offshoot companies have gone on to make an enormous contribution to Australian manufacturing and engineering in many sectors, from roads and bridges to building warships and developing sophisticated technologies.
The Australian Government has just announced the launch of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme 2.0 to expand capacity by up to 50 per cent and deliver reliable, renewable energy for the next generation. This will draw on the skills, knowledge and resources of a modern diverse workforce.
In Australia, we recognise that when people are empowered, our society improves and a virtuous cycle emerges. Inclusion leads to higher employment, productivity, income and investment, which in turn supports an innovative society that can overcome great hurdles.
Australia’s respect for diversity, backed by strong institutions like democracy and the rule of law, also injects Australia with a robust political character. We do not shy away from tough conversations. We are honest and straight-talking.
You may be aware that we are currently having a national debate on the legalisation of same-sex marriage. In order to have these debates, it is important to have strong leadership to set a fair and respectful tone.
These personal traits create a country that is resilient, honest and reliable. We mean what we say and do what we say.
Australia and India: Natural partners
This brings me to my final conclusion. What makes Australia unique is also what makes us a natural partner for India.
Australia’s values and strong, tested institutions are valuable in the pursuit of peace and security. But beyond that, we have a responsibility to nurture these values and institutions in a changing, unpredictable environment.
India is perhaps placed better than most to make a profound contribution to the region. Since independence, India has experienced great transitions with the challenge of inclusion on a scale beyond any other country. It is home to:
- Over 1.3 billion people
- Over 460 languages, and
- A multitude of religious and spiritual beliefs including as the birthplace of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism.
India has the third largest Muslim population and the largest Hindu population in the world. It is a remarkable achievement in social inclusion and cohesion. India’s diversity is perhaps its greatest strength. It gives it the ability to adapt and flex to changing circumstances better than any other country.
And of course, diversity is one of the strongest Rotary values too.
India enjoys established institutions like democracy, a free media and the rule of law. The recent decision of the Indian Supreme Court on the fundamental right to privacy was significant because it demonstrated a robust judicial system and a willingness to affirm core rights and values amid technological advancements and social trends.
As we face the challenges and changes in our homes, in our lives and in our region, we must ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to live in? Every country, by its actions or even its lack of action, will help shape that world.
In times of change, society is vulnerable to antagonistic rhetoric and competition without respect.
At the start of this address, I said that the temptation to insularity – social as well as economic – must be resisted. It’s not just a challenge of our values, it undermines our ability to build strength and resilience to manage change.
It is during critical periods of transition that we must uphold our core values and prevent the erosion of institutions. The benefits of inclusion and diversity far outweigh any short-term gains from protectionism or exclusion.
Australia and India both share a tradition of living side by side with people of different backgrounds and religions. This means we are skilled at managing differences. We tend to underestimate just how powerful this can be not just in managing a changing world, but in shaping it.
It is important that countries with a firm belief in liberalism, democracy and the rule of law—like India and Australia—set the example and lead the way in championing those values in our region.
This is what is unique about Australia. This is what makes India special. And this is why we are such natural partners.