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Carry on the good work

By Rupakjyoti Borah - posted Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Apart from a common language in English and a passion for cricket, Australia and India now also have similar type of governments-coalition governments. Prime Minister Julia Gillard will preside over Australia's first minority government in 67 years, ending two weeks of uncertainty after national elections that had all the makings of a Bollywood potboiler. However, the independents who have lent their support to Prime Minister Gillard’s government are sure to keep her on the tenterhooks, with the defection of a single lawmaker being enough to bring down the government. The ruling Labor party has the support of 76 members in the 150-seat House of Representatives while the Liberal-National Coalition has 74. The new Australian government may have a few things to learn from the Indian government regarding how to manage coalition governments.

However, there are many other implications of this new government in Canberra for India. First, Julia Gillard was the Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations besides serving as the Deputy Prime Minister in the previous Labor government. In those capacities, she visited India many times and has interacted closely with the Indian leadership and bureaucracy. The Indian government would also find it easier to deal with her than with a completely new entity.

Second, Kevin Rudd has been appointed as the Minister for Foreign Affairs by Prime Minister Gillard. It was during Kevin Rudd’s term as the Prime Minister that the Australia-India relationship was pitchforked into a strategic relationship during his visit to India in November 2009.


Third, the issue of attacks on some Indian students in Australia has not yet died down. But the good thing for India and the Indian students is that the new government is expected to continue many of the measures started in its earlier term with regards to the safety of foreign students.

Fourth, with India growing closer to Japan in the last few years and Japan already being a close ally of Australia, there is scope for further co-operation between India, Australia and Japan, especially as a way of tackling an increasingly belligerent China. Though the Quadrilateral Initiative (QI) between the US, India, Australia and Japan has fizzled out, something similar could be worked out.

Fifth, there was a fear in some circles in India, however unfounded it may be, that the Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd had attached much more importance to China rather than India. With Julia Gillard taking over the reins as the Prime Minister in Australia, those doubts have been laid to rest.

However, there are quite a few challenges for the new government as well as the Australia-India relationship. One huge challenge is that domestic compulsions may take much of Julia Gillard’s time and energy and she may have less time to devote to external affairs, including the development of closer relations with India.

One of the issues which is sure to come up before the new Australian government is the supply of uranium to India. With the Lok Sabha having passed the Nuclear Liability Bill, India would surely require uranium from Australia. Both the Indian government and the public will be waiting to see how Julia Gillard deals with this issue and would be hopeful that she would make an exception for India given its unblemished status as a mature nuclear power.

The then PM Rudd had also reaffirmed Australia’s support for India’s membership of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) when the membership moratorium ends this year. The Indian government would certainly look forward to the Gillard government keeping the pledge.


Australia economic ties with India have also been on the upswing. Two-way goods and services trade were to the tune of $20.9 billion in 2009 while India was Australia's 3rd largest export market in 2009. A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and India is also being deliberated and the two countries hopefully will be able to ink the same in the near future.

Australia and India have been co-operating in the field of energy, climate change and water and hopefully this will continue. Canberra had agreed to provide A$1 million for a solar cooling and mini-grids project being jointly undertaken by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Australia’s premier research institution, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

India and Australia can move forwards from where they had left off earlier. The relations between the two countries have been a case of missed opportunities and hopefully this time round, there will be a complete break with that unpleasant past.

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About the Author

Rupakjyoti Borah is a PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge, UK.

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