No more stumbles?

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Gillard does her bit on uranium, the biggest stumbling block in India-Oz relations

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s three day trip to India has been a lesson in diplomacy and tact, as is befitting a well-experienced politician.

It’s a far cry from the uncharacteristically aggressive stance she took recently in Parliament, berating Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and calling him a ‘misogynist’, for which she was surprised to find herself internationally lauded. But Ms Gillard has kept sanguine on her India trip, in what seems to be an endorsement of friendship and goodwill between the two countries. And despite her spectacular stumble thanks to a footwear malfunction, she is back on her feet offering goodwill and amity to the Indian subcontinent.

Julia Gillard’s visit to India from October 16-18 has been widely hailed as an acknowledgment of the country as a force to be reckoned with in the region, and a useful ally to have on Australia’s doorstep. In the first visit by an Australian Prime Minister in three years, Ms Gillard sought to create greater economic, political and strategic links with India, as well as highlighting the cultural and social links between the two countries.

It was a whirlwind visit, with meetings organised with high profile political figures, business leaders and eminent personalities, but one that has positive outcomes for trade and bilateral relations, which are worth almost $18 billion.

Naturally, the sale of uranium to India was high on the agenda of discussion, given that it has been considered the biggest stumbling block in the smoothening of relations, but it is also alleged that Gillard intends cultivating the relationship as a counterpoint to China.

But overall, it seems apparent that Ms Gillard’s trip was as much to strengthen diplomatic ties with India as to earn the goodwill of its people.

Here are the highlights of Julia Gillard’s visit to India.


India, Australia to start nuclear deal talks

Opening a new chapter in their bilateral ties, India and Australia decided to start negotiations for a civil nuclear deal that will enable the sale of uranium by Canberra to New Delhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard on a wide cluster of issues that included civil nuclear cooperation, intensification of economic ties and enhanced counter-terror and security cooperation.

“We have agreed to begin negotiations for an agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation, which will precede actual cooperation,” Manmohan Singh said at a joint media statement with Gillard.

“As you are aware, under Prime Minister Gillard, the Australian Labour Party has articulated a new policy on uranium sales to India. This is recognition of India’s energy needs as well as of our record and credentials and I have expressed to Prime Minister Gillard our India’s appreciation of this development,” he said.

The launch of nuclear negotiations marks a turning point in bilateral ties that were blossoming in virtually all areas, but were held back by Canberra’s reservations over selling uranium to a country which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Gillard, the prime mover behind the India-Australia nuclear rapprochement, however, has made it clear that the deal could take a year or two before uranium exports begin.

In December last year, the ruling Labour Party reversed an earlier policy of not selling uranium to countries which have not signed the NPT.

The decision has removed a “point of tension” in relations between the nations, she stressed.

“Australia has changed, in determining to export uranium to India. India is changing, through important economic reforms in areas like energy, aviation and retail,” she added.

The two sides also announced a slew of steps that will imbue their burgeoning ties with greater depth and diversity. The initiatives include annual meetings at the summit level, either bilaterally or during multilateral events, a ministerial-level dialogue on energy security and setting up of a water technology partnership. They also decided to start negotiations for an agreement on transfer of sentenced persons. The two countries also decided to expand the strategic canvas of their partnership by agreeing to work closely in creating an inclusive order in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We are also developing wide-ranging cooperation in defence and security issues, including the fight against terrorism, in all of which we regard Australia as an important partner,” Manmohan Singh said.

The two sides decided to step up negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that will help scale up bilateral trade and investment.

“There is great potential to further strengthen India-Australia bilateral trade and investment relations, which continue to show robust growth,” Manmohan Singh said.

Bilateral trade in goods was estimated to be $17.4 billion in 2011-12, while India’s investments in Australia are around S$ 11 billion. Speaking to business leaders, Gillard said the two countries have set a goal of doubling bilateral trade to $40 billion by 2015.


Australia to honour Tendulkar

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar would be conferred with a membership of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the sport.

Gillard, who made the announcement during a visit to a cricket clinic in New Delhi organised by an NGO Magic Bus, said that the “special honour”, the AM, would be conferred by Australian Cabinet Minister Simon Crean when he visits India soon.

“This is a very special honour, very rarely awarded to someone who is not an Australian citizen or an Australian national,” Ms Gillard said. “He is away playing cricket – surprise, surprise – but the award will be conferred on him by Minister Crean when he visits India. It’s a very special recognition of such a great batsman.”


Trade and investment discussed at meeting with Indian President

Prime Minister Julia Gillard met President Pranab Mukherjee and discussed trade and investment and energy issues between the two countries.

The two leaders held “wide ranging discussions on bilateral and multilateral issues”.

“The discussions covered issues relating to trade and investment, energy, supply of resources for India’s economic development, education, and people to people contacts,” a statement issued in New Delhi said.

The start of civil nuclear negotiations, though, according to Gillard, could take “one or two years”.

Gillard and Mukherjee also discussed cooperation in multilateral forums such as G-20 whose summit Australia will host in 2014.

Mukherjee congratulated Gillard for launching the Oz Fest in India and described it as a good initiative.

“The president also expressed appreciation for Australia’s support for India’s candidature in an expanded United Nations Security Council and said the two countries should work together in reforming the international financial architecture and equipping institutions like the World Bank with the resources they need,” the statement said.

Gillard gifted two saplings of Wollemi Pine for the famed Mughal Gardens inside Rashtrapati Bhavan’s sprawling premises.

This tree was discovered in Australia in 1994 and its origins date back to the time when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, the statement added.


Cricket cooperation for a good cause

The cricket clinic attended by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Indigenous Cricket Development Squad at her recent visit to India is run in New Delhi by Cricket Australia (CA) and a local NGO.

Gillard said, “Australia and India share a love of sport and cricket in particular and I am delighted to join you for a cricket clinic with NGO Magic Bus. Sport is an important foundation for life. It teaches us self confidence and self-esteem and promotes teamwork, cooperation and tolerance — values which we can take off the sporting field into our everyday lives.”

Gillard was seen mingling with children from the NGO, who were playing a match among themselves. She refused to take up the bat or the ball, saying that she had political differences with John Howard but had learnt some things from watching him.

“I wasn’t tempted to showcase my skills. Number one, because I don’t really have cricketing skills. So that would be a problem,” she said.

“Number two, whilst I didn’t agree with prime minister Howard’s policies in many respects, I watched and learned from his prime ministership and a key lesson is never to pick up a bat in India in front of our friends from the media.”

The Australia’s Indigenous Development Squad is in the early stages of its 12-day tour of India.

Captain of the team, Josh Lalor, who presented Prime Minister Gillard with a shirt signed by members of the team, said: “The tour is a fantastic opportunity for members of the squad to come to a vastly different part of the world to develop our cricket and learn from exposure to new cultures. The clinic is a unique experience for the team and one that I know we’ll remember clearly from our time in India.”

The visiting team lost its first match of the tour on the last ball of its match against the Cricket Club of India at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.

The development squad comprises the brightest talent from the 2012 Imparja Cup, Cricket Australia’s national indigenous tournament.


Oz Fest opens with mega concert, endowment

The four-month Oz Fest, a showcase of Australian culture in India, kicked off with Prime Minister Julia Gillard announcing the Ravi Shankar World Music Scholarship, named after the Indian sitar maestro, at Victoria University. Announcing the endowment, Ms Gillard said the scholarship would allow musicians to study at the Victoria University from 2013.

“This scholarship represents everything that India and Australia share. Ravi Shankar took Indian culture to the world,” Gillard said at the opening of the Oz Fest, which will conclude on Feb 5.

The festival opened with a fusion concert of Australian aboriginal music and a sitar recital by Anoushka Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s daughter, at the historic venue of the 16th century Purana Qila (Old Fort) in the heart of the national capital.

Besides the Australian prime minister, the opening concert was graced by Indian Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Australian envoy in India Peter Varghese and a host of dignitaries from Australia and India.

Set against the backdrop of a small arched relic, the Sher Mandal Observatory, inside the Old Fort complex, the opening act left the audience gasping in delight. A spectacular light show highlighted the Islamic architecture and the intricate floral design – which was magnified on the red sandstone surface of the structure by a complex kaleidoscope of moving laser images and coloured 3D electronic lights.

The light show, produced by the creators of Sydney’s Vivid Light Festival known for its light displays at the Sydney Opera House, was accompanied by a solo didgeridoo concert by virtuoso Mark Atkins. The didgeridoo is an ancient indigenous Australian drone instrument resembling a long wooden horn that produces a deep primal sounds like that of the gongs.

It was followed by a solo concert of iconic Australian vocalist, Gurumul Yunupingu, a blind musician who sang about the ethnic myths, legends, spirits and cross-cultural connections. In 2011, he was named the most important voice from Australia by Rolling Stones magazine. Gurumul’s plaintive voice spun a magical web on the sprawling heritage ambience.

Twice Grammy Award-nominated Anoushka Shankar played two cheerful and rhythmic evening compositions, raga Tilang and raga Vachaspati created by her father Ravi Shankar, and a Carnatic raga Adi.

Addressing the gathering, Sibal said the ties between India and Australia date back to 50 million years ago when the continental drift started to separate Asia from the Australian landmass.

“We share similar values and are striving for a more equitable world,” Sibal said.

The festival is spread in four venues – Pune, Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore – with a panorama of music, performances, indigenous cricket, movies and art.


Gillard announces grant for Delhi NGO

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australia will offer scholarships worth $30,000 in an effort to help the students from a slum in New Delhi pursue higher education in India.
She made the announcement while launching an internship programme of a Delhi-based NGO, Asha.

Congratulating Asha’s initiative which works for rehabilitation of slum dwellers in various colonies of the national capital, Gillard announced the $30,000 contribution for Asha’s ‘higher education programme’ to provide scholarships for college and university students.

“In five short years, Asha has helped over 700 students into university. Australia’s support will ensure the number of slum children attending university and college continues to grow,” Kiran Martin, founder and director of Asha said.

According to the NGO, the internship programme adds an extra dimension to Asha’s pioneering ‘higher education programme’ which started as the first organised effort to enable slum children attend university.

“These bright students have overcome enormous challenges to make it to college. The Asha internship programme equips them with skills and confidence to take the next step into the competitive job market. Asha has been overwhelmed by the support for this innovative programme,” Martin said.

Divaker Thakur, a business student, who interned with the Macquarie Group and Rio Tinto and has since been employed as a marketing executive, said: “The internship has been a dream come true. I could never have imagined I would work in such high profile multinationals. I gained confidence and invaluable skills that helped me obtain a terrific job.”

Julia Gillard has a special relationship with Asha, which she visited as Education Minister. She has hosted its founder Kiran Martin here in Australia too.

Sheryl Dixit with reports from IANS