New Delhi: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull begins an official visit to India starting on Monday, aimed at shoring up ties with Asia’s third largest economy that Australian officials say is a foreign policy priority for their country.
Turnbull who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday is on his first visit to India after taking over from Tony Abbott in September 2015. During his first year in office, Turnbull focused on improving ties with countries in the immediate neighbourhood with visits to Indonesia and major trade partner China. This is a far cry from the tempo of India-Australia ties set by Abbott, who visited India in September 2014—just months after Narendra Modi took office—and the Indian Prime Minister returning the visit in November 2014.
Modi and Turnbull met bilaterally on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in China last year. This time around, the two leaders could exchange notes on the new Trump administration in the US and its strategic and economic implications for the Asia-Pacific region.
According to a statement from the Australian high commission in New Delhi, Turnbull’s visit “will cover the full breadth of the fast growing Australia-India relationship including education, trade and defence".
“India is one of Australia’s most important international priorities. Our relationship has expanded dramatically since we established a Strategic Partnership in 2009, followed by two-way prime ministerial visits in 2014. We are taking forward an active and ambitious agenda," Australian high commissioner to India, Harinder Sidhu, was quoted as saying.
According to Jaideep Mazumdar, joint secretary in charge of India-Australia relations in the Indian foreign ministry, a number of agreements in the fields of security, environment, sports, science and technology and health are to be concluded during the visit. Australia has invested $7 billion in India and is keen to ramp up investments, Mazumdar said. Australia is also a key partner in education and skills development, and some 60,000 Indian students currently study in Australia, according to Indian figures.
Turnbull’s visit comes as India’s Adani Group is facing opposition to its plans to invest $16.5 billion in a coal mine in Queensland. Australia’s largest coal project—which could fuel power generation for 100 million Indians and create 10,000 jobs in Queensland—has ignited protests from environment groups who are concerned that the development will increase carbon pollution and endanger the health of the Great Barrier Reef marine park in northern Queensland. Environmental opposition to the mine, which could begin production in 2020, has delayed the first phase of the project and prompted the company to cut underground capacity by 38%, according to a Bloomberg news report. Carmichael coal mine project, one of the world’s largest, will start construction this year after being given the green light by the federal and Queensland governments.
The project involves dredging 1.1 million cu. m of soil near the iconic Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which will then be disposed of on land. A person familiar with the developments said Turnbull would be meeting with Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani in New Delhi, before flying to Mumbai for a meeting with Indian business leaders that will focus on growing two-way trade and investment in especially in education and energy.
Other elements of Turnbull’s schedule in New Delhi include calls on President Pranab Mukherjee and vice-president Hamid Ansari.
“Coinciding with the Prime Minister’s visit, Australia’s minister for education and training, senator Simon Birmingham, is bringing one of the largest Australian delegations of skills providers and higher education representatives to visit India. Together with Birmingham, the Prime Minister will address a dinner convened to celebrate Australia’s knowledge partnership with India," the statement from the Australian high commission said.