Few things bring home the warmth of the Australia-India relationship quite like being showered with marigold petals. That’s why Holi in Ahmedabad – in all its colour, joy and celebration – made for such a perfect start to my India visit earlier this month.
There were moments amid all that festivity, and during my visit to the cricket, that I thought back to my first encounter with India as a young man.
India has given me so many memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life, and so much of that is down to the wonderful welcome I always get from the Indian people – regardless of whether I’m backpacker or Prime Minister.
The generosity and hospitality I have experienced on a personal level is, I believe, a microcosm of the relationship between our two nations, one which has a great and enduring friendship at its heart. It is a friendship underpinned by our common interests, shared democratic systems, and an affectionate but fierce sporting rivalry. Above all, what holds us together so warmly are the bonds between our people.
It is a view very much shared by Prime Minister Modi. This was my fourth meeting with him since I became Prime Minister; indeed, one of my first meetings with a leader after I was sworn in was with him.
Australia has a very good friend in India, and it was wonderful to spend time with Prime Minister Modi, not least at the cricket. What an extraordinary experience it was being there in the stadium, sharing one of our nations’ great shared passions.
We have more meetings to come this year when Australia hosts the Quad leaders meeting and India hosts the G20 summit. Both of these are great avenues through which our nations can work together to promote a free, fair and rules-based order, and a stable and balanced region.
We are always looking ahead. As well as a celebration of the close partnership between our nations, my visit to India was also very much about the future. Our track record together gives me reason to feel ambitious about our future engagement in so many areas: trade, investment and the economy; strategic and security engagement; and a future built on clean energy.
As close as our relationship is, it can become even closer – and stronger. India is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner, with trade between our two nations doubling in the seven years until 2021.
There is potential for so much more, and as the relationship grows, we can create Australian jobs, and help our industries prosper, benefitting businesses big and small.
That’s why I was accompanied to India by more than 20 Australian business leaders from major companies. Among them were representatives from the transport, resources, finance, university, energy, architecture and design, health, commodities and information technology sectors.
As we both act on climate change and move towards net zero emissions, India’s ambitious renewable energy goals provide a huge opportunity for Australian resources, expertise and manufacturing. There are challenges ahead on climate, but there are also extraordinary opportunities.
The security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region is critical to Australia’s economic future, and to our own national security. Australia and India are top tier strategic partners, with shared interests in a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Our Defence links are growing, and Australia will host Exercise Malabar for the first time this year.
Likewise, our educational ties with India are about to get even closer. We’ve finalised a deal that means students who study in Australia and India can have more of their qualifications recognised between our two countries.
During my visit, I was so pleased to announce that Australia’s Deakin University is the first foreign university in the world approved to open a physical campus in India, at Gujarat’s GIFT City.
Where Indian students aspire to study in Australia, our newest Maitri scholarships will provide that chance as well.
I very much want to see growing numbers of Australian and Indian students have the experiences of living and studying in our respective countries, and to bring those experiences home.
We can draw from each other’s strengths, and in the process each of us can become something greater.
That’s also the story of the Indian community in Australia. The Indian community is Australia’s fastest growing diaspora, with nearly a million Australians identifying as having Indian heritage in the last census and nearly 700,000 having been born in India.
The Indian community is such a fundamental part of the fabric of Australia.
In 1947, when India gained Independence, the Tricolour was unfurled at a midnight ceremony at New Delhi’s Constitution Hall. Mere hours later, the flag was raised more than 10,000 kilometres away, in Canberra.
It was the first official raising of the flag outside of India, and it was an important moment in history.
My aim is to bring our nations and our peoples even closer together in the future.
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