India and Australia: A relationship of mutual benefit

Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen with Department of Immigration and Citizenship staff in New Delhi

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Hon. Chris Bowen on his visit to India addressed FICCI (The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) on May 2,  2012. Mr Bowen is on a trip to the region including Sri Lanka after 14 years when he last visited India in 1998.

He said in his address, “My visit is the latest in a long line of visits which underlines the strong ties between our respective governments. Since 2008, there have been 31 Australian ministerial visits to India and 24 Indian ministerial visits to Australia. And we hope that our two Prime Ministers can visit each other’s country later this year.

During my current visit, I have enjoyed my discussions with Minister Chidambaram and Minister Sibal and with members of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and I look forward to my meeting with Minister Ravi this afternoon. I also had the pleasure of meeting other members of the Government and representatives from business and education last night.

Chris Bowen with Kapil Sibal

My colleague Kate Lundy, the Australian Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Minister for Sport and Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, is also currently visiting India and I am delighted she is joining us today.”

Mr Bown talked about India and its rising significance in the region as an economic as well as a political power and a player.

Here is his speech which he gave to FICCI:


India has always been one of the world’s great civilisations. In 1947 it took its rightful place as one of the world’s great nations.

Now India has taken its place as one of the world’s great economies, having recently overtaken Japan as the world’s third largest economy in purchasing power parity terms.

Of course, Australia celebrates and congratulates India on its remarkable economic transformation. It is good for India, good for the world and good for Australia.


Rapid economic growth in India has lifted millions of people out of poverty and supported a remarkable rise in living standards. The transformation of the Indian economy is a reminder that economic reform and trade are the ultimate aid and poverty alleviation program.

And as India continues to undergo this economic and social transformation, Australia stands ready to fulfil our commitment to forming a Strategic Partnership with India, as agreed by our two Prime Ministers in November 2009.

Indeed, the changing face of the Indian economy makes it essential that our partnership be strengthened.

Our interests are converging like never before. This is being driven by trade complementarity, rising investment, common geo strategic outlooks and closer multilateral cooperation. It is also driven by significant business relationships, rich people-to-people links and a common heritage that will continue to bring our two countries closer together.

Organisations like your Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry will continue to play a key role in fostering the significant business relationships being built across the broad spectrum of economic activity.




For well over 60 years, Australia and India have shared a strong and cooperative relationship spanning many issues of mutual interest and concern. We collaborate on defence, security, trade and customs; we work together in many international fora including the G20, East Asia Summit and Bali Process; and our trade relationship continues to grow rapidly.

Just last week, Australia and India co-hosted a Bali Process workshop on biometrics.   Australia committed to furthering India’s involvement in the Bali Process as part of joint efforts to further regional cooperation between our two nations.

While it’s important that our governments maintain their good links and mutual collaboration, it is people-to-people links ”“ strengthened very much by immigration ”“ that are the key to further strengthening the relationships between India and Australia.


It is people ”” not just governments ”” who forge the close ties that are essential for the wellbeing of both nations. They arise from the greatest cross-cultural and economic development program of all: immigration.

Migration between Australia and India will help us respond to the significant economic, social and demographic transformations being experienced here in India, in Australia and in our region more broadly.



One of the great strengths in our relationship is the Indian diaspora in Australia.

The Indian-Australian community, including second generation Indian-Australians, is one of the largest and fastest growing ethnic communities in Australia.

In June 2010, there were 340,600 India-born people living in Australia, equivalent to 5.7 per cent of Australia’s overseas born population and 1.5 per cent of the total population.

Blacktown City, a suburb of Sydney not far from where I live, can now boast ’Singh”˜ as its most common surname: something for which it is justly proud.

The contribution Indian migrants and their offspring have made to Australian society and to our economy cannot be overstated. The Indian diaspora brings a great richness to Australian society as a whole and through the unique people who have made singular and collective contributions across all facets of Australian life.

I’ll give you two examples to illustrate my point.

I’d particularly like to acknowledge Mr Arun Jagatramka, who is here today. Arun is Chairman and Managing Director of Gujarat NRE Mineral Resources Limited. Under his guidance, the business has become the largest independent producer of coking coal in India and the only Indian entity to own and operate coking coal mines in Australia. His leadership and investment is very welcome in the Illawarra community and by Australia.

I’d also like to mention Mr Neville Roach, a highly respected Indian-Australian business and community leader. Mr Roach has made a significant contribution to Australia’s IT industry, education and research sector, the development of social policy, especially relating to immigration and multicultural community relations, and Australia’s overseas relations, especially with India.


Last year, in 2010-11, India was Australia’s third largest source of permanent migrants, after China and the UK. It has held this position for several years.

And now, in 2011-12 to date, India is the largest source of permanent migrants, ahead of both the UK and China. However the final figures come out at the end of the year, India will be very strongly represented in our migration program.

India is also Australia’s second largest source of overseas students, representing around a quarter of all international students.

Australia is also becoming a popular destination for temporary visitors from India with over 100,000 Visitor visas being granted by my department’s New Delhi office in 2010-11. This was the first time this figure has ever been passed in a single program year.

We will always welcome and support the people of India ”“ whether permanent settlers, tourists or students ”“ as part of Australia’s multicultural society.

I would like to think that the Australian diaspora in India is similarly valued by your country, your businesses and your people in general.

I know from speaking to many Australians that the experience of living in India, the knowledge and wisdom they gain, and the friends and connections they make is truly a life changing experience and highly prized by them.

While the scale of these interactions has been influenced by our historical political relationship, our joint membership of the Commonwealth and our mutual love of cricket; our future links will be shaped by the increasing connections we make between our two nations driven by greater flows of people and trade.




Skilled and business migrants from India and the rest of Asia help increase our trade links and our understanding of the region.

Australia’s skilled migration program provides an immediate gateway to building closer ties between India and Australia.

India is now consistently one of the top three source countries for skilled permanent migration and temporary skilled workers. Over the last two decades, 223,000 permanent migrants from India have arrived in Australia, with over three-quarters on skilled visas.


It is a very positive indicator of our growing economic relationship that India has become such a substantial part of our skilled migration program. Indian migrants are both welcome and successful in Australia and benefit us by filling our labour and economic needs. But it is not only Australia who benefits.

Students from Asia now comprise 68 per cent of all student visas for Australia.

There is no doubt that India is a key partner for Australia in its international education engagement activities. Dating back to the Colombo plan of the 1950s, Australia and India have a long history of engagement in international education.

Education presents one of the most valuable opportunities for both countries to lay the foundation for an enduring partnership at an economic, social and political level.

It presents enormous opportunities to deepen collaboration between institutions across the education and training sectors, business and industry, and our governments.

But perhaps more importantly, having thousands of young Indians furthering their education in Australia means that ”“ if we get it right ”“ they will go through life as firm friends of Australia with fond memories of their Australian education, maintaining links with Australia and Australians and understanding our perspectives and interests. This is a great benefit for bilateral relations.

We value the diversity and richness international students bring to our country. We also appreciate our education sector’s responsibility to respond with innovation and vigour in meeting their needs. As such, it is not just in the area of immigration that our interests intersect.



Strong levels of immigration have obvious benefits for both countries. Having more Australians of Indian heritage means that we have more people who understand both Australian and Indian economies and how trade between both nations can best be further developed.

Skilled migration more generally is also consequentially to Australia’s benefit.

Australia’s ageing population and the associated decline in workforce participation are projected to reduce the future growth rate of the Australian economy. The number of Australians at retirement age is projected to double by the year 2050 and the proportion of people in the labour force will decline, as will national productivity.

At the same time, government expenditure will grow so as to support the health and aged-care needs of an increasingly older population.

There is no single answer to this challenge. Improved productivity and enhanced training are key to the Government’s approach. But equally, strong migration will be part of the response.

Migrants will help us to moderate the effects of an ageing population by adding to the number of people of working age, increasing the proportion of people in work and contributing to increased productivity.

Without migration, Australia’s labour force is projected to contract by 2050. Australia would not have enough people to keep the economy growing.

In contrast, India possesses a significant pool of people in their prime working age, the so-called ”˜demographic dividend’. Studies suggest that size of this group will continue to expand, as will people’s aspirations to migrate.

It is therefore likely that India’s comparatively youthful population will increasingly seek out opportunities for work, study and other life experiences overseas.



While Australia is interested in addressing the economic challenges of an ageing population, India is interested in providing opportunities for its citizens and in deriving the economic benefits of increased migration. Our interests are intersecting.

This reinforces the need for our two countries to remain strong partners and to continue to build our links for the future.

India’s impressive economic growth, Australia’s own economic and labour needs, and the demographic transitions both countries are experiencing due to global movements and advancements in technology will mean even closer links in the future.

Our nations have already made significant progress in increasing our collaboration and further strengthening our relationship.

To facilitate the movement of people, my department’s New Delhi office runs two very successful visa fast track processes: the Preferred Agency Scheme with Australian specialist travel agents in India and the Business Fast Track program for key Indian companies that regularly send businesspeople to Australia.

As of August last year, Australia and India have sought to foster higher education linkages through a range of initiatives, including new exchange programs for academics and college principals.

Forums such as the Bureau for Vocational Education and Training Collaboration, established by Australia and India in 2010, are designed to facilitate linkages in the skills area and are evidence of continuing collaboration between our two nations to build highly-skilled, well-trained workforces.



In 2010-11, the two-way trade of goods and services between Australia and India totaled over $21 billion with the top three exports being coal, gold and education. India is the fourth largest destination for Australia’s goods and services exports worldwide.

As at 31 December 2010, the level of Australia’s investment in India was $4.8 billion with Australia exporting $2.5 billion worth of services to India in 2010-11.

India’s demand for Australian resources is also raising Australia’s profile across the Indian economy. We are seeing significant opportunities in other sectors, including biotechnology, tourism, infrastructure and construction, financial services, agribusiness and health-related services. Australia and India are also cooperating in critical new areas, like water management, new and renewable energies, and food security.

Currently, the level of India’s investment in Australia is in excess of $5 billion. Projects already in train will see this figure surpass $20 billion by the end of the decade. Indian companies are investing vigorously in Australia and making strong contributions in the information technology, agribusiness, mining, manufacturing and services sectors.



In conclusion, let me reiterate my message on the importance of migration.

Of all the links between our two countries, it is migration that most ensures our enduring friendship.

From the Australian point of view, we value the economic and social benefit of people movement. We value the cultural contribution of Indians in our multicultural society. India particularly contributes to our rich multicultural mosaic because India is itself one of the most multicultural societies in the world. We know that India also benefits from, and welcomes, migration both to and from Australia.

The strong links already established between our two nations ”“ supported by the movement of people, the commitment of our governments and the work you do ”“ will ensure that our two great democracies continue to build even closer ties.

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