I want to say thank you to Dr Virk, to all of our participating colleagues, and I want to say thank you very much, in particular today to the Centre for India-Australia Studies and the O.P. Jindal Global University more broadly for this speaking opportunity.
I pay tribute to the life and to the legacy of Om Prakash Jindal.
O.P. was a pioneer, an entrepreneur, a businessman, a statesman, and a visionary who helped forge modern India.
But most importantly, he was an immensely proud father of four sons.
During this trip, I had the great honour to meet his son, Naveen.
Naveen is, of course, very much his father’s son, the founder and first Chancellor of this marvellous university and a world renowned businessman, philanthropist and patriot in his own right.
Now, I’m eager to hear from you shortly, and I’m sorry that you have to put up with me in stereo up on the screens here – one vision is enough, let alone three! So, please persevere.
Like me, I’m sure you’ve been looking at events around the world with increasing concern and no doubt with more concern than we’ve seen in recent times.
In Eastern Europe, Ukrainians continue to fight valiantly to repel Russian forces from their territory. That war is now lasted more than 600 days. Ukraine is fighting for its freedom.
In the Middle East, 27 days ago, death worshiping terrorists from Hamas attacked Israel.
For the Israelis, October 7 was their September 11.
It was the greatest loss of Jewish life on a single day since the end of the Holocaust, where six million people were gassed to death.
Israel, as we know, is fighting for it’s right to exist.
In the Indo-Pacific, tensions remain very high.
Most recently, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel rammed a Philippine supply ship near the Spratly Islands.
It is yet another reminder that all is not well in the state of our own region.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, many prophesied the coming of a world of democracies.
They called it the ‘End of History’.
But they were wrong in their forecasts, regrettably.
Whether it’s in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, or in the Indo-Pacific, we’re actually seeing a ‘Return of History’.
The days of despots are not gone.
The age of autocrats is not behind us.
Times of terrorism have not disappeared.
And recent world events are a reminder that civilisation doesn’t tilt naturally towards democracy.
Democracy is always under threat.
Democracy does not thrive on its own.
Democracy needs to be nurtured and defended.
The first leader of an Independent India knew this all too well.
Back in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru said, that the ‘future is not one of ease or resting, but of incessant striving’.
At one level, he was speaking about building ‘the noble mansion of Free India’.
But at a deeper level, he was speaking about democracy more broadly.
Mr Nehru said, and I quote, ‘We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest’.
His message was one about the need for will, about the need for determination, about the need for continual courage through endeavour.
It was a warning against idleness, a warning against complacency, and a warning against the becoming supine.
And his message is one we must heed today.
Indians, Australians and citizens of other democratic nations are all beneficiaries of our forebears.
Those who came before us helped to forge the democracies which we are so lucky to live in today.
But we’re more than just beneficiaries.
We are also custodians.
And as custodians, it’s our job to preserve and, indeed if we can, to improve what has been gifted to us.
If there is such a thing as an inter-generational duty, and I believe there is, it is to pass on to our children something better than that which was bequeathed to us.
But that which was bequeathed to us is at risk.
Our children risk growing up in a world which is darker than the one we know.
The flashpoints around the globe are the tests of our generation.
And just as previous generations rose to the occasion, I’m supremely confident that we can rise to this one too.
This is a time not just for democracies to say they stand together through their words.
This is our time as democracies to show, that we together, can perform great deeds.
This is a time for India and Australia to demonstrate the strength of our democracies.
Australia and India’s camaraderie was cultivated in 1915 on the hills and in the valleys of Gallipoli.
More than a century on we have a deep and abiding bilateral relationship.
In my 22 years in public life, I’ve seen India and Australia’s bond grow even tighter – a statement of expanding economic security and social ties.
So let me outline just a few areas where I think we can and indeed must do more together:
First and most importantly, it’s in defence and security.
In these precarious times, we should aim to increase the tempo and the frequency of our joint training activities and deployments.
And not just at the bilateral level, but also multilaterally with our other partners in the region.
And these initiatives, as you know, do two things:
They help the components of an individual military force – a navy, an army, and an air force – to operate more effectively as a joint force.
And they help each of our joint forces – the Australian Defence Force, the Indian Armed forces and those of our partners – to operate more effectively as a ‘combined force’.
These two levels of interoperability with the single military force and between multiple military forces are critical at this time.
Any increase to the tempo and frequency of our training activities and deployments sends a clear message of deterrence to adversary.
In 2020, the former Australian Coalition Government, of which I was a senior member, signed two defence agreements with India:
The Defence Science and Technology Agreement, to improve collaboration between our research organisations and to facilitate greater industrial base partnerships.
And a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement to enhance our military engagement.
I think such arrangements are just foundations for what we can do together.
Speaking, of course, of bigger initiatives – like reciprocal access agreements and greater industrial collaboration.
As we’re seeing in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the character of war continues to change.
In modern warfare, there is a growing emphasis and importance on asymmetric capabilities, especially drones, missiles, autonomous craft and cyber.
Unlike planes, ships, submarines and tanks, these capabilities are smaller and can be produced in quantity, relatively quickly and more inexpensively than other comparable platforms.
Indeed, greater engagement between the small businesses in our defence industrial ecosystems will hasten rather than hinder our mutual defence capability objectives, particularly towards developing asymmetric platforms.
Right now, we need to be taking steps to scale up our military industrial capacity, to strip away the concerns that those businesses have, to scale up their businesses, at a time when our countries need them most.
We also need to be realistic about the true nature of authoritarian regimes. This is not a time for appeasement.
They have no interest in providing any transparency regarding their actions.
They have no desire to provide strategic reassurance regarding their behaviours.
Authoritarian regimes will use inducements, and threats, and bribery, and force to realise their ambitions.
They tend to target nations sequentially, one state at a time, and their position is stronger when they encounter little resistance.
And this is why, whenever we witness authoritarian coercion and aggression, it is vital that nations – large and small – rally together to unequivocally condemn such behaviour.
If one nation’s sovereignty is being threatened, then a chorus of nations needs to have that nation’s back.
Australia and India’s collaboration with Japan and the United States, as part of the Quad, is an emphatic statement of our desire for peace in the region.
Indeed, most nations across the region – some democracies, some not – share in this goal of maintaining the stability which has been the motor of human progress for the last eight decades.
And that’s why India and Australia have an increasingly important role, a very important role to play in buttressing relationships in the region.
Australia’s relationships of depth, considerable depth, with our family in Pacific neighbours, we continue to cultivate that, given our shared interests, and I truly hope that India recognises the sheer magnitude of its own influence to do good.
The trip by Prime Minister Modi to Papua New Guinea was inspiring and he deserves full congratulations for that initiative.
India does have a defining role to play in promoting the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.
Your country is one of the greatest accomplishments of growth and advancement of any nation in modern history.
India has emerged as the world’s largest democracy, and as we know, it’s one of the fastest growing major economies.
The success story of this great country is an inspiration from which others draw confidence.
Of course, the strength of Australia and India’s democracies also lies in strengthening our economic relationship.
Under Australia’s former Coalition Government, our two nations elevated our bilateral relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership in June of 2020.
Then in April of ’22, we signed an historic Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement, which is creating new ventures between our industries and businesses.
Some segments of that trade, at least on early evidence, indicates a 40 per cent increase in some commodities, and that is a very significant achievement in a short period of time.
The agreement, of course, means that while the beginning of 2026, 100 per cent of imports from India into Australia will be tariff free.
Today, our two way trade in goods and services is valued at almost $47 billion.
Now there are nations today, including some of our allies and partners, who are being tempted to return to the protectionist policies of the past.
This is a catastrophic mistake.
Protectionism is a product of a bygone era.
In our modern, hyperconnected and digitally driven era, protectionism is regressive.
Yes, the world has changed with the resurgence of authoritarian regimes, great power, competition, and now conflict in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
And yes, nations are looking to develop their sovereign capabilities to bolster their resilience and their resistance against future shocks.
But that doesn’t mean all nations should, can, or indeed are abandoning economic liberalism. On the contrary, democratic economies are simply reassessing their type and depth of engagement in particular risky markets.
The term ‘friendshoring’ might be new, but favouring certain supply chains with allies and trusted partners is not a new concept.
So I truly believe that Australia and India are just beginning to unlock the vast potential of our economic and trading relationship, and we should find confidence in tried and tested economic principles which have underpinned the success of our two nations for generations.
One area where I believe there is enormous potential for future mutual economic benefit is in energy and security.
India is, of course, a nuclear power nation with some 22 reactors in operation and a further eight being constructed.
Australia at this point in time is not a nuclear power nation.
Onshore nuclear power production was banned in Australia by law in 1998, yet in the 2030s we will acquire the first of the fleet of nuclear powered submarines under the AUKUS deal.
At home I’m pushing for a sensible debate on the role that zero emission new nuclear technologies can play in our energy mix, providing baseload to firm up renewables into the system.
Our particular focus is on small modular reactors and nuclear batteries.
If we don’t lift our moratorium to accommodate these new nuclear technologies, Australia risks becoming a nuclear power pariah.
It also puts us at considerable risk of achieving our emissions reductions, which we’ve committed to internationally.
Both Australia and India, of course, have similar goals: our citizens want cost effective power, consistent power and clean power.
And as nations around the world look to shut down coal generators or phase out gas, nuclear power is the only feasible and proven technology which can firm up renewables at the scale that is needed.
More than 50 countries are currently exploring or investing in the development of new nuclear technologies.
Indeed, the World Nuclear Association says the demand for reactors is expected to climb by 28 per cent by 2030 and almost 100 per cent by 2040.
And here is the most bizarre fact from an Australian perspective.
Australia holds the world’s largest uranium deposits, yet we only supply about 8 per cent of global demand.
In terms of energy policy, there’s so much Australia and India can continue to do together.
Your nuclear power industry can play a critical role in telling Australians about its benefits, and if Australia is wise enough to lift its nuclear power ban, as well as restrictions on new mining ventures, we are exceptionally well positioned to unleash our uranium export potential and support India’s growing demand.
Finally, we strengthen our two democracies by growing our people to people connections. That is evidenced here today and within this amazing institution.
For seven years, I was Australia’s Minister for Immigration and then Home Affairs.
During those years, Indian migration to Australia blossomed and our diaspora grew.
Between 2015 and 2022, Indian temporary visa holders increased from around 140,000 to 283,000, an average of more than 32,000 Indians migrated permanently to Australia each year and more than 209,000 Indians became Australian citizens.
Tellingly, the number of Australians with Indian ancestry today numbers more than 780,000. Some 164,000 more since the 2016 census, something of which I’m incredibly proud.
In that financial year, more than 100,000 visas were granted to Indians to study in Australia. A great outcome for the individuals and a great outcome in our two countries.
Indeed, there is a strong bipartisan support between the two major political parties in Australia when it comes to nurturing migration with India.
When Prime Ministers Modi and Albanese met in Sydney in May, they finalised the Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement.
That arrangement will facilitate a greater two way flow of students and graduates of academics and businesspeople.
It’s an initiative I welcome wholeheartedly.
It will open new pipelines of friendship, opportunity and enterprise, which multiply the connections between our two nations. A true sign of the growing strength of our democracies.
Ladies and gentlemen, I earlier quoted India’s first Prime Minister. Let me conclude by quoting your current Prime Minister.
In 2016, Prime Minister Modi profoundly said:
‘There were many who doubted India as a newly independent nation… Indeed, wagers were made on our future. But the people of India did not waiver.’
Friends, let us not waiver now, when the challenges facing democracy around the world, require our will, our determination, and our courage through endeavour.
Let us take steps to broaden the relationship between Australia and India and show that our two great nations, comprising two great democratic people, can accomplish so much.
May our example be one of many.
As has always been the case, demonstrating the strength of democracy will see us prevail over any difficulty.
Thank you very much.