H E Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner
Roundtable with Chandigarh Press Club
Chandigarh, Monday 25 July 2016
Thank you for welcoming me to speak today
I’m delighted to be here in Chandigarh.
As some of you may know, both my mother and father are of Punjabi origin, and my father was born in Punjab. Though I was born in Singapore and raised in Australia, Punjabi was spoken at home, and I feel very close to Punjab, so it is a personal pleasure to be here today.
Chandigarh feels familiar also, in part because, like my home in Canberra, Australia, it is an organised, planned city, and full of eucalypt trees and a lovely lake in the centre.
Australia India relations
I became the Australian High Commissioner to India in April this year, during a time in which relations have never been closer.
Expanding people-to-people connections are creating important new and very positive dynamics and play a huge role in bringing our countries together. Let me throw some numbers at you to illustrate just how dynamic these links now are.
There were last year 53,000 Indian students studying in Australia. 233,000 Indians visited Australia in 2015, our eighth largest source of visitors.
More Australians than ever are choosing to study in India. Around 350 Australian students will this year study and undertake internships in India under the New Colombo Plan.
People of Indian origin also make up an increasing component of Australia’s population. Almost half a million out of a total of 24 million Australians are of Indian origin. India is now the largest source of new migrants to Australia, and numbers of Indian-born Australians have tripled over the past decade.
According to the 2011 census Hindi is now among the top 10 languages spoken in Australia (9th) and Punjabi is among the top 20 (13th) and is the fastest growing language. Sikhism is now one of the top 20 religions practiced in Australia by about 75,000 people.
These numbers illustrate the size of the people-to-people links between our countries.
But what they do not show is the cultural impact and depth of those links.
Australians are rightly proud of the successful multicultural society we have built over the past couple of centuries. Indian Australians have made a significant contribution. Sikh Australians started migrating to Australia in the 19th Century, first to work in sugar cane farms and then to settle. Up to 20 Sikhs fought for Australia as part of the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War. And in 1940, a number of Sikh families settled in a town on the New South Wales north coast, Woolgoolga, where they built Australia’s first Gurudwara and established a successful agricultural community.
More Australian-Punjabi athletes are making their mark at the national and international level in Australia. Rupinder Kaur is a wrestler who represented Australia at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014; Sandeep Kumar represented Australia in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing; and Gurinder Singh Sandhu is an Australian cricketer who has represented Australia in two One Day Internationals at senior level.
This rich Indian cultural heritage has reflected itself in the diversity of media available in Australia. Australia publishes about 15 Indian languages newspapers and magazines in Tamil, Hindi and Punjabi. Punjabi Express, an English-Punjabi news magazine in Australia is one of the most popular.
Australia India Relationship – Foreign and Security policy
We often think of people-to-people links as the ‘soft’ end of a bilateral relationship. But I believe it is one of the most important dimensions. When people connect, countries also connect. We understand and trust each other more. This can have a profoundly positive effect on strategic relationships.
Australia has placed India at the forefront of its international relationships.
The two-way Prime Ministerial visits in 2014 was a milestone, setting out an ambitious forward agenda.
Last year we saw new or expanded maritime, cyber, terrorism and transnational crime dialogues between our nations.
Australia and India are working together more closely than ever on security cooperation. We had our first joint naval exercise last year, and we think the bilateral security relationship will go a long way. Our civil nuclear cooperation agreement has entered into force, enabling the export of uranium to India.
Given our strategic alignment, India and Australia are well-placed to work together on challenges in the Indian Ocean region.
It will be important to build and strengthen institutions and norms in the region which can help manage tensions. From Australia’s strategic perspective, the East Asia Summit is the regional institution which has the highest priority and the most potential to promote consultation to resolve regional issues peacefully.
Our economic relationship is now on a solid footing. In 2015, two-way trade between Australia and India was valued at $A20 billion. India is now Australia’s 9th largest trading partner and 5th largest export market. And trade is growing steadily.
While these figures are excellent, there is considerable scope to expand the trading relationship. Australia’s trade with India is still a little more than one-tenth of our two way trade with China, which stands at A$150 billion. And it is very narrowly based – over three-quarters of Australian goods exports to India are in three commodities alone.
During my tenure, I would like to see not just a growth in size, but also an expansion in diversity, of the economic relationship.
Education and skills is a key area where our interests and strengths intersect.
Equipping Indians with the skills to participate in the economy underpins so many of the Modi Government’s flagship policies, from Make in India and Start Up India to the Smart Cities initiative.
We see ourselves as a natural partner for India as it seeks to meet its challenges across the education sector, whether this is in schools, higher or vocational education, or research.
In higher education, we have some of the world’s best institutions and academics. Already, we are sharing teaching and learning expertise between India and Australia.
Beyond this, we are starting to expand our work on delivering vocational and skills training to equip India’s workforce to meet the demands of the expanding economy. This training is in fields as diverse as welding, plumbing, fitness, health and aged care.
Punjab and Haryana are among our highest sources on student intakes into Australia, especially in vocational training. We are also looking at centres of excellence and training within Punjab and Haryana, for example in training for excellence in sports.
Last year, Heraud, an Australian skills organisation, signed an MoU with the Chandigarh Group of Colleges to deliver one year diplomas in health care administration and retail management.
Australia is one of the world’s strongest performing agricultural producers. We produce clean, high quality products very efficiently and at very low cost.
While India is the world’s largest dairy producer, this is because of the high number of cows. Using advances in technology, genetics and farming practices, an Australian cow produces on average 5 times as much milk as an Indian cow. We can share what we have learned with India. Australia is hosting International Dairy Week in January 2017. It will focus on every aspect of dairy farming: cattle genetics, services and technologies. We hope that Punjab and Haryana will encourage delegations to go.
Apart from dairy, Australia has strengths in farm services and in grain storage. We’ve developed world-renowned alternatives in bulk grain storage solutions – from silos to bunkers. These providers are exploring participation in Punjab’s AgroTech 2016 being organised by CII.
Other areas for cooperation
I can go into great detail, but in the interests of time, allow me to briefly mention other areas where we are, or could, cooperate with Punjab and Haryana to take the relationship forward.
Collaborating on scientific research and technology development is another area. In Punjab alone, the $84 million Australia-India Strategic Research Fund has supported 5 research projects, one workshop and a Grand Challenge project. The $A2.3 million Grand Challenge project was awarded to examine diagnostic tools for tuberculosis is led by CSIRO and CSIR through the Chandigarh-based Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH).
On Smart Cities, we can make contributions on road safety, under MOUs already signed with the Punjab Government. An Australian company UraP International is working on a World Bank funded project in Punjab to assist the government with road safety audits on state highways. It’s an important project aimed at saving lives and reducing the risk of road injury – one of the top 10 killers in India.
And finally, we can get practical results out of our shared love of sport. Australia’s Victoria University, along with the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS) has partnered with the Panjab Institute of Sports (PIS). The two institutions will collaborate on the physical, technical and tactical improvement of an athlete’s performance. AIS coaches, sports scientists, physiologists and physiotherapists will provide training and teaching at PIS as part of the collaboration.
As I hope I have demonstrated already, we have all the ingredients of a strong Australia-India relationship going forward. I will be working hard over the next three years to not only promote Australia within India, but India within Australia, in order to realise some of these opportunities.
I see great opportunity to grow and deepen our relationship in the northern region and I look forward to my next visit to the region.