Political and strategic ties between India and Australia have made great strides in the recent past, and the next steps in the bilateral relations will have to focus on economic cooperation, said Lisa Singh, former Australian Senator and CEO of the Australia India Institute (AII).
“I am happy that we are in a sweet spot for India –Australia ties, but there is still a long journey,” Ms. Singh said, pointing out the lingering scepticism in Australian boardrooms about India.
“There is a question of trust, there is a mindset which thinks of India as a place where it is hard to do business. That is an outdated mindset ... Part of my remit has been to change that mindset,” she said, citing the recent Track 1.5 Leadership Dialogue that brought together business and government leaders from both sides to Delhi.
Mining billionaire and philanthropist Andrew Forrest and tech billionaire Michael Cannon-Brookes who cofounded the software company Atlassian were part of the Dialogue. “Both of them see huge potential in India-Australia ties. The forthcoming visits of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell, who have 25 CEOs of big Australian companies coming with them will be a turning point. Australian pensions funds are massive and looking for investment opportunities, but they have not done any India. That needs to change, as India is a big opportunity,” Ms. Singh, whose great-grandfather was one of the thousands that left India as indentured labourers for Fiji during British colonialism.
Australia has an ‘India Economic Strategy to 2035’ prepared by former Australian High Commissioner to India Peter Varghese which outlines a 90-point action plan to “lift India into its top three export markets, the third largest destination in Asia for Australian outward investment, and to bring India into the inner circle of Australia’s strategic partnerships”.
India-Australia trade and economic partnership is currently grossly underperforming, and understanding of each other is needed to overcome this, according to Ms. Singh. “For instance, we have a huge reserve of critical minerals that India needs for its new growth ambition such as in semiconductors. There’s a beautiful marriage possible there,” she said.
There is also a mindset in India about Australia that is misplaced, according to the former Senator. “Even a Minister once asked me whether Australia was a racist country. I think we have a job in Australia to project ourselves as a modern, multicultural country and its fastest growing diaspora community is Indian. They are a huge asset for us,” she said of the Indian origin people in Australia that is currently at 7,00,000.