“Bold initiatives are needed to consolidate progress and chart a course towards deeper ties”

After a lost decade of nagging tensions and bad publicity, Australia-India relationship is on the mend, according to a report brought together by Indians and Australians with decades of experience in diplomacy, public policy and media.

Launched in Sydney on Tuesday and made available to The Hindu here, the report by the Australia India Institute’s Perceptions Task Force aims to answer questions relating to the state of bilateral ties, how the two peoples and nations view each other and how these perceptions are being formed in the era of rapid, global communications.

The report suggests a dramatic improvement in the perception of Australia in India since concerns about the safety of Indian students triggered a media firestorm in 2009-10.

Indians once again rank Australia as a top ten country; a well-governed, business, tourist and student-friendly destination. Yet the relationship remains brittle and bold initiatives are needed to consolidate progress and chart a course towards deeper ties.

Regional security issues

Three factors underpin the report’s optimism — India’s growing demand for energy, and Australia’s capacity to provide it; the rise of China, which encourages both nations to protect their interests by consulting more closely on regional security issues; and Australian efforts to reform its international student programme to avoid a repeat of recent quality and security issues. Yet the Task Force warns that initiatives taken to date fall short of those required to convince Indians that Australia means business while Australian stakeholders lack confidence in India’s capacity to improve ties rapidly.

The report calls for new measures to build trust and improve perceptions of each other in the fields of education, diplomacy, media and security. They include doubling Australia’s public diplomacy budget, a new Indo-Pacific or Australasia Division within India’s Ministry of External Affairs, extending post-study work rights to international students, and training Australian teachers in Hindi language in anticipation of it being added to the Australian curriculum before the end of this decade.

The report suggests that as an act of goodwill, extending the visas of Indian students caught up in changes to regulations and tasking the Australian Institute of Criminology to undertake more research into racism and crime, including the events that affected Indian students in 2009-10.

“With political will, public education, and a more ambitious concept of the role that awaits both countries in the Indo-Pacific region, we can and should become reliable partners and good friends,” says the report authored by John McCarthy, Sanjaya Baru, Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, Maxine McKew, Ashok Malik and Christopher Kremmer.

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