India and Australia have a bright future ahead: Julia Gillard


‘India is a good friend’ – PM Julia Gillard

Third Eye by Rekha Bhattacharjee

Rekha Bhattacharjee interviews Julia Gillard for The Indian Down Under about various current issues, including uranium sale to India.

If there is one individual who can seek some gratification for getting credit for changing Labor policy on uranium exports to India, it has to be the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She understands the increasing importance of India not only for the Australian economy but also for the strategic alliance to maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific region.


First, I must congratulate you for removing a major roadblock in the way of bilateral ties with India by getting Labour uranium export policy to India changed. What prompted you to make such a significant change in the Labor policy platform?


PM: Australia and India have strong and deep ties from trade and investment to education and science. We also share significant people-to-people links that underscore the closeness and warmth of our relations. Yet, despite these links, in one important regard we had treated India differently in relation to selling uranium for peaceful purposes. I believed it was time for the Labor Party to modernise its platform and enable us to strengthen our connection with dynamic, democratic India by changing the policy.


How difficult was it to persuade some of your own fellow Labor Party members to toe the line?

PM: There was a genuine, passionate debate around the issue – exactly what there should be at National Conference and that’s a good thing. There should be a debate on ideas that are the subject of interest, concern and differing views within the community and consequently within our political party.



As far as we are aware, Australia under your leadership has agreed to export uranium to India because of the macro economic reasons and not for lobbying by some individuals as it is being claimed among the Indo-Australian community. Is this a fair statement?

PM: Not selling uranium to India made sense when it was part of a widely-supported international strategy to bring India into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But the US-India civil nuclear agreement of 2007 changed that strategy.  Against that background, it made little sense for Australia to stand alone as a country that will not consider nuclear trade with India.


With two of the most chafing bilateral issues – assaults on Indian students and uranium exports – out of the way, there seems to be realignment in the region, favouring India. Any comments?


PM: India is a good friend of Australia and an important and valued member of the community of nations. The breadth and potential of our relationship is enormous as we continue to strengthen our ties. Together, we have a bright future ahead in this Asian Century.


With Australia firmly committed to export uranium to India in the near future, how does Australia maintain the balance with China, and especially with Pakistan who’s clamouring for a similar exchange?”


PM: This policy is an exception which recognises the compelling rationale and national interest for a change in relation to India only. In the case of Pakistan, the issue does not arise as it does not have an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.


Julia Gillard ”“ Rise of an Australian Iron Lady

By Rekha Bhattacharjee


“I’m extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end”: Margaret Thatcher

With Maryl Streep giving another Oscar-worthy performance, the ”˜Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher is back once again at the centre of many intellectual conversations in the Australian living rooms. As if some divinity had preordained, the release of the much-acclaimed Hollywood diva starrer has coincided with some propitious signs of the rise of Australia’s own Iron Lady ”“ Julia Gillard.

But while Margaret Thatcher may have enjoyed the luxury of pushing through some tough reforms, thanks to the numbers in the British House of Commons, Julia Gillard has been struggling with every piece of legislation due to the minority nature of her government.

After being on the receiving end for most of the year, the last quarter of 2011 yielded some pleasing outcomes for the Australian Prime Minister.

From the Indo-Australia community perspective, the most gratifying of all these outcomes was when Julia Gillard managed to get the consent of her Labor colleagues to change the party platform on uranium exports to India.

Julia Gillard and her team were also lauded for keeping the Australian economy, unlike her US and some European counterparts, in good health. Passing of carbon and revamped mining tax legislations, in spite of the minority status of the Labor government, would have required political acumen which her predecessor Kevin Rudd probably lacked.

As accolades flew thick and fast Julia Gillard’s way, many political pundits could not resist the temptation to compare her with the former Conservative PM of the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher who was also known as the ”˜Iron Lady’.

The validity of this comparison is borne out by the functioning styles of the two Prime Ministers from the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Of course, Julia Gillard would have needed nerves of an iron lady, and Machiavellian chutzpah, to get no less than 250 pieces of legislation without suffering a defeat on any of those.

The last quarter of the year 2011 also saw Julia Gillard playing gracious host to two of world’s most powerful persons, US President Barak Obama and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.

While charming the above-named dignitaries, Julia Gillard also managed to pull off a difficult Cabinet reshuffle and in spite of low numbers, her position as the head of the Labor government in troubled times is not looking too shaky.

The Labor hardships are far from over with a number of promises made to the Greens and Independents to get their support continue to undermine Julia Gillard’s government.

While Julia Gillard had to eat her words and renege over Carbon Tax, Independent MP from Tasmania Andrew Wilkie has once again put the Labor Government on tenterhooks.

While many political pundits would describe the Tasmanian parliamentarian as only indulging in a face-saving exercise, the episode has once again exposed the fragility of the Julia Gillard government.

Coming back to Julia Gillard’s pragmatic and typically resolute decision to lift ban on uranium exports to India is one significant step which is already being hailed for heralding a new era in the ties between the two, as described by Lowy Institute’s Rory Medcalf, Indo-Pacific countries.

It would not be inappropriate to say that the bilateral relations between India and Australia were never this good. The burgeoning bonhomie between two former British colonies has been set on the right course by the long-awaited nod to the uranium exports to India. With bellicose Harbhajan Singh excluded from the Indian cricket team currently getting pulverised Down Under, there is hardly anything which can go wrong in the relationship at least in the short term.

What many political observers see behind Canberra making a serious, unprecedented effort to have stable program of engagement with India is Julia Gillard’s visionary leadership.

“Sale of uranium to India will be good for Australian economy and good for jobs,” Gillard told reporters after the motion to lift the uranium export ban to India was carried through in the Labor National Conference last month.

“It will be a way we can take a step forward in our relations with India; we have a good relationship with India. It is the largest democracy in the world, a stable democracy,” Prime Minister told the media.

With China increasingly looking overbearing trading partner in many respects, Julia Gillard is not alone in looking at India as an answer to many of the Australian quandaries.

“India will be central to almost every issue of consequence to Australia in the 21st century: managing Chinese power, maintaining US strategic engagement, dealing with Islamist terrorism, the future of Afghanistan and of Pakistan, re-balancing the global economy, the issue of global warming and the environment, universalising democratic norms, and a host of others,” Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of The Australian wrote in his column recently.

Greg Sheridan has also given credit to Julia Gillard led Labor of not only removing the hypocritical ban of uranium sale to India but also creating a “critical and invaluable momentum in this relationship and it offers great opportunity”.


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