Event ReportsPublished on Jan 22, 2008
The High Commissioner of Australia to India, H.E. Mr. John McCarthy, delivered a talk at ORF on "The new administration in Australia and Asia" on 22nd January, 2008. He gave a comprehensive account of the new administration's foreign policy.
New Australian govt is internationalist in outlook

The High Commissioner of Australia to India, H.E. Mr. John McCarthy, delivered a talk at ORF on “The new administration in Australia and Asia” on 22nd January, 2008. He gave a comprehensive account of the new administration’s foreign policy. A gist containing the salient points of the lecture is given below:

Since November 2007, a new Government under the Labour Party has been at the helm in Australia. The Labour Party replaced the earlier Liberal/National coalition administration, which had held power for over a decade. Even when there is a change of Government, foreign policy remains the same to the extent of 80 to 85 per cent. But 15 per cent changes can still make a lot of differences. In the case of Australia, some significant changes have been noticeable since the new Labour administration under Kevin Rudd took over as the Prime Minister.

The Second World War had exerted a profound impact on Australia. The Japanese bombing of some parts of Australia created a sense of insecurity, which drove Canberra closer to the US.  The end of the war set in motion strong trends towards decolonization in Asia, and the dawn of independence in India, Indonesia, etc, woke up Australia to the newly unfolding security and economic scenario particularly in Southeast Asia. But Australia’s closeness to the US by means of a security alliance kept it away from India, which then strongly advocated the policy of nonalignment in international relations. Alliance with the US led to Australia’s participation in military ventures like the Vietnam War then and Iraq war after 2003. Some argue that even if the Labour party had been in power in 2003, it might have done the same thing. But it might have been a different sort of commitment than the one made by the Howard government.

There are no differences between the two parties with regard to fighting the post 9/1l issues of terrorism. Australia is having a network of relations with like-minded countries, which are combating terrorism. Australia wants to draw India into it since India has long been fighting terrorism. The present Kevin Rudd government differs from the previous government in that it is more internationalist in its outlook and it has a strong disposition to work within multilateral institutions like the UN.

Australia and India: The dynamic between the two countries has been changing very fast due to several reasons like greater flow of information about each other, greater Australian recognition of India’s economic growth and technological capabilities, higher volume of people-to-people exchanges, etc. Australia is now the second biggest destination for Indian students seeking higher studies. Bilateral economic interactions have grown quite significantly along with more intense political engagement. Indian private investment in Australia has grown to mark about 2 billion dollars. For Australia, India is the fourth biggest market for merchandise, and the biggest growth rate in Australian exports has been with India.

At the official level, the new government, like its predecessor, supports India’s admission to the UN Security Council as a permanent member. Its support to India’s membership of the APEC is equally strong and it believes that it is hard to conceive of a major Asian regional body that does not include India.  Indo-Australian cooperation in the maritime field has also started evolving in a significant way. But the bedrock of the bilateral relations in the coming years would be centered on resources. As India continues to sustain its current economic growth, it will need more energy resources and one major source that can bond the two countries would be gas.  Australia is also rich in uranium, but its supply to India has political implications since Australia does not sell uranium to any country, which is not a signatory of the NPT. The previous Howard government wanted to make an exception in the case of India, but the Labour Party has always taken the position that uranium will not be supplied to any non-NPT country. Whether the present Government will change its policy cannot be predicted as much would depend on the political dynamics.  As for Australia’s position in the NSG, the final decision whether to support India will be taken by the Government. Australia attaches utmost importance to the NPT regime and it will have a say in any attempt to restructure that regime.

About the idea of a four-power understanding (between the US, Japan, India and Australia), the present Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda does not show much enthusiasm; on the contrary he is keen to promote good relations with China.  Similarly, India also seems to be rather lukewarm to the idea.

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