26 November 2014

Australia benefits as India looks to the East

By Professor Gail Pearson, Discipline of Business Law

This was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Australia in twenty-eight years. The mood in the galleries of the Australian Parliament as visitors waited for the proceedings to begin was ebullient. India has been Looking East since the early 1990s; now it is Acting East.  How far and in what way would Mr Modi signal that India would Act East with Australia? Would Mr Modi speak in Hindi or in English? The informal tipping suggested Hindi.  He is regarded as a great orator in Hindi, even among those who do not support his politics.

Mr Abbott spoke, Mr Shorten spoke.  Each emphasised the long ties between Australia and India, the battles fought together in the two World Wars, and with the UN; the close friendships between leaders of different political parties – both Indian and Australian; and of course, cricket.

Then it was Mr Modi’s turn. He was impressive – impassioned and clear in his message – in English. It was evident why he is referred to as a rock star of politics. India is looking to Australia as a key partner in the Indo Pacific. India wants the Free Trade agreement with Australia which, if all goes to plan, will be completed by the end of 2015. Australia has what India needs, particularly resources and educational expertise. There is great scope for investment between Australia and India.

What does this mean for the University of Sydney? The largest ever research delegation from the University of Sydney has just returned from India, visiting four major centres and encompassing  individuals from diverse areas of research – Arts and Social Sciences, Business, Engineering and IT, Health , Nursing and Medicine. Others, such as Agriculture and Human Geography, had visited earlier. This was the biggest and most successful delegation yet, with more Deans attesting to our growing research links with India. India wants to engage. It has 800 million people below the age of twenty-five. It is the country with the second largest rate of economic growth in the world. There are great opportunities for our students to go to India and for Indian students to come to Australia.

It is not every day that the leader of the world’s largest democracy visits the national Parliament of a democracy such as ours which pioneered enfranchising wider groups of individuals, including women. The great thing about democracy is that as parties and leaders come and go, optimum solutions should result from the contest of ideas and policy. As Mr Modi said, democracy offers the best option for the human spirit. In his address to the joint sitting of the Australian Parliament, Mr Modi said security is paramount – energy, resources, food. India sees Australia as a natural partner. Education is a national priority for India. New economic opportunities are central for Australia. From the Business School and from the whole of the university, we should continue to build and strengthen the infrastructure of our existing partnerships and look to new collaborations. This will help make the whole region prosperous.

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