Lets start with the news- that Al Qaeda has started a new branch for the Indian subcontinent. Given your talks with Prime Minister Modi on counter-terror cooperation, how do you think India should respond to the threat?
Obviously it must be taken seriously, because Al-Qaeda has demonstrated its capacity in the past to inflict enormous damage on countries. We now not only have Al Qaeda but we also have the ISIL movement which is committing atrocity after atrocity, revelling in evil in a way unparalleled since the middle ages. So you do have to take this threat seriously. Australia and India already cooperate closely on counter-terrorism. I expect that cooperation to increased. Australia is a member of the so-called ‘five eyes’ (US, UK, Canada, Australia, new Zealand), but we also have very strong close cooperation with India, especially after the Mumbai outrage, and we also have cooperated in police and security measures, such as against people-smuggling.
I ask because of the Al Qaeda and ISIL threat to recruit from India…in the last few months we have heard of more jihadis from Australia and western countries. Why have your countries failed to stop this kind of radicalisation?
I think the difficulty is that this movement, this ‘death cult’ has proven horribly attractive to too many people. There are some 60 Australians who are or have been fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, some with ISIL, and that’s appalling beyond belief. We can but profoundly regret what has happened, and to do what we can to prevent people from being radicalised, to prevent the m from leaving our country, and if they do leave our country to join a terror group, to jail them and effectively prosecute them on their return. There are also discussions led by the U.S. with the Iraqi government and Australia to see what further measures might be necessary to restrain this hideous force.
To come to bilateral relations, the Australia-India nuclear cooperation agreement is a big step for India, but it is an even bigger step for Australia, given all the resistance earlier. Are you convinced that you have political consensus on this deal, to sell India uranium, even without the NPT signing?
India has been, under successive governments an absolute model international citizen. From the time of independence, India has scrupulously followed international regardless of the ups and downs of the political situation in New Delhi. There is a very high level of trust between us, and that’s why we are signing this agreement.
How soon will we see Australian Uranium on Indian shores?
Well obviously that is for the market to decide, but now this can happen, and I hope it will be soon.
And will Australia back India for the NSG membership it hopes to apply for next year?
Certainly India deserves to cross that hurdle, and they will be supported by Australia.
You wrote an op-ed for the Hindu
It’s not just Adani, GVK has been the biggest investment, but if the Adani deal goes ahead, and I hope it does, it will be the biggest coal mine in our country ever, and will help power up the lives of some 100 million Indians, so I do hope it will go through.
The deal has come under severe criticism from environmental groups, especially as it is close to the barrier reef, does that concern you?
Environmental groups are very hard to please and we have very high environmental standards in Australia, and I am confident that there can be no reasonable objection to the current proposal. Adani group is speaking of $16 billion for this mine, and India’s investment of under $20 billion will almost double the total amount. We welcome foreign investment, we think we are a safe and secure home for overseas investors, and lets hope there are more Indian investors in the months and years ahead.
Previous Australian governments used to speak of the India-Australia-US-Japan quadrilateral, but no longer.. why is that?
I certainly would like to see stronger relations between Australia, India and Japan, and I believe PM Modi is keen to see that as well, and inevitably given the relations Australia and Japan have with the US, there is some potential for that quadrilateral to resume. On the other hand, the last thing I’d want anyone to talk about is a them and us situation…..in this region we should all advance together, or none of us would advance at all.
Is it then because of China? Many point out that Australia-China bilateral trade at $150 billion is 10 times Australia-India trade, and you wouldn’t want to upset that?
But no one is talking about a “them and us” situation. What I am very keen to do is promote the strongest possible relationships. There are dimensions to our relations with India that we don’t share with other countries given our heritage and history, but I want the strongest possible relations with all countries in Asia
Australia led the countries criticising India’s turnaround and decision not to sign on the WTO framework. Are you hopeful India will change its mind ahead of the G-20 in Australia this year.
Well let’s wait and see. Certainly we want a strong freer trade environment,and would like to see a free trade agreement with India. We will keep speaking to India about multilateral trade issues, but as far as I am concerned, lets crack on with the bilateral free trade agreement by next year. I understand India’s concerns (on WTO) and lets see what can be done to address them.
On another note, what made you decide to bring the 2 Natarajas and hand them over personally?
They were effectively stolen from India, and Australia doesn’t want to be a receiver of stolen goods. Once we had worked out they had been stolen, obviously they had to come back.
Finally, what has been your lasting image of this visit to India?
Dynamism. Dynamism. This is a remarkably dynamic country and I hail India as a rising democratic superpower.