July 19, 2011 No Comments by admin

Reshaping India Australia Relations

There has been speculation that the relationship between this region’s largest democracies, India and Australia has lost its political traction and that the Labour government has had a different perception of the relationship, thanks to Kevin Rudd. Post Howard era has seen a steady decline in interest of the top leadership towards each other. The banal and text book policy approach adopted by the mercurial Rudd has caused enormous damage to this bilateral relationship and caused Australia to forgo billions of dollars in lost Uranium sales and also eroded huge amount of goodwill. His one dimensional foreign policy fixation towards China has caused more harm than good.

At this moment there is also huge inertia in the Indian foreign ministry to establish a strategic partnership with Australia as it does not want to concentrate its limited foreign policy resources to a relationship which is refusing to peak. India is instead focussing more on US, Europe and Japan instead. The flurry of visits of Indian ministers into Australia has largely been symbolic and has not yielded any big announcements. The nature and size of partnerships announced during these visits is miniscule as compared to the deals signed by Indian ministers when they visit even smaller European countries.

Australian approach to improving relations with India is confused, fragmented and ad-hoc. Ever since the attacks on Indian students in Australia, the bureaucrats have scrambled to look for piece meal solutions. The approach has been to keep on engaging with small time activities ranging from organising barbeque for students to getting Indian journalists to visit Australia. The problem has been that many of the Indian students are vegetarian and not amenable for barbeque functions. In fact some of the Indians don’t even use the free barbeques in picnic areas as they don’t want to heat their meat on the same plate on which someone would have cooked beef and most of the Muslims insist on Halal meat and prefer to be vegetarians rather than eat something they are not sure about. Also the free tour organised by Australian government for Indian journalists failed to generate any goodwill for Australia as senior journalists never visited Australia and stuck to their stand of needling Australian government and instead gifted the trips to rookies to be treated as a job retention exercise.

The approach to addressing crime against Indian students was again ‘killing the goose that lay the eggs‘ and instead of addressing policing issues and resolving student concerns, the government took a different line and all of a sudden decided to take the school book approach and focussed on closing colleges and suddenly increasing regulation in the sector without analysing the impact this would have on the education sector. Indian students have thereafter left for better options and Australia is now losing out on the lucrative international student dollars to the UK, America, Canada and New Zealand.

The din and cry raised over immigration has again muddied the waters and has left people in Asian countries wondering why Australia is so angry over the presence of a few thousand illegal refugees when they are burdened by humanitarian refugees many thousand times more than this number. Some of the myopic Australian politicians have desperately been trying to increase the barriers to entry into Australia by adopting a shrill attitude and inflaming passions by raising xenophobic fears against immigration.

Canada has put no limits on immigration numbers and yet has a flawless functioning immigration system. Educated people in today’s world and people who qualify for Skilled Permanent Residency have multiple options available for immigration and competition to adopting Australia as a destination comes from other developed countries like Canada, UK and even USA. In 2008-09, Indians formed the largest group of new permanent or temporary residents, with more than 80,000 arriving to study, work or settle here. But in 2009-10, the number of Indians arriving shrank by a third to just 55,000.

Since the past two years, despite the best efforts of Australian foreign affairs department, the hatred for Australia in India has not subsided. Anti Australian sentiment has failed to recede in India. Come September, 2011 when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard shake hands during CHOGM summit, the meeting would be just symbolic as both the leaders continue to lose command, respect and popularity in their respective nations due to domestic issues. Given the political situation in which Julia Gillard finds herself and the continuous decline in opinion polls, don’t expect any changes in the Uranium policy of the Australian government towards India. With the burden of so many corruption cases and an administration beset by scandals, internal bickering and declining popularity, Manmohan Singh will not command the same respect which he did during his initial term. To boost his image back home and to appeal to voters in Northern India, it is quite likely that he will rake in the issue of safety for Indian students in Australia, which will continue to irk Australia.

The existing trade relationship between Australia and India is much skewed towards coal and gold and needs to expand. India also has key concerns over giving access to its farm markets as part of the proposed Free Trade Agreement, which Australia desperately needs access to.

However there is hope for better cooperation. With Western Australia firmly positioned as the driver for Australia’s growth and the exponential increase in exports of minerals through the ports in this state, Australia has woken up to the need of protecting the sea corridor around this state and its proximity to Indian coastal waters means Australian and Indian interests will need to merge to ward off any external threats.

The push for Uranium sales to India has grown ever since Kevin Rudd left office. With Energy Minister Martin Fergusson in favour of selling Uranium to India, Julia Gillard needs to summon the political courage to turn around the sale of Uranium to India.



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