Speaking at the third Annual Indian Executive Club (IEC) Awards at the Melbourne Town Hall on 9 November, former Prime Minister John Howard said he is optimistic about the Australia-India relationship. While acknowledging ties between the two counties have not always been as strong as they should have been, he said he believed there is “enormous opportunity for the future”.
“Australia and India have a lot in common,” Mr Howard said. “We have a common language, essentially. We have some common history. We have a common love for the greatest game in the world. And we broadly speaking have a common legal system,” said the former Liberal-Coalition Prime Minister.
Mr Howard, Australia’s longest serving PM, and an advocate of closer Australia-India ties, said India had a great advantage due to its booming, youthful population.
“India remains a very young society – the age cohort between 15-25 is the largest of any country in the world – the total number exceeds the total population of Indonesia,” he said.
Mr Howard said that by contrast the rest of the world was ageing, with statistics projecting that by 2030, for the first time in mankind’s history, the total number of people over the age of 65 will exceed the number under the age of 14.
“What both of these realities represent for Australia and India is an enormous opportunity for the future,” he said.
“India has an enormous contribution to make not only to the future of Asia but also of the world. But it’s a partnership that I want to see her make with her friends in Australia,” he said.
Mr Howard acknowledged India had to overcome many hurdles on the road to development but said trade opportunities and new business would be the greatest enabler.
“In places like India there is still an enormous amount of poverty and there are great challenges not just for the Indian government but for the rest of the world,” he said.
“You won’t take those people out of poverty unless you continue to have a strong economic and business environment. Nothing makes a greater contribution than expanding trade opportunities, creation of new businesses that employ people by their hundreds and thousands and millions,” he added.
Mr Howard also thanked the Indian Diaspora in Australia for their contribution to society and business, saying he was inspired by the numerous stories of small business success and entrepreneurship being told during the IEC awards ceremony.
Mr Howard’s optimistic view of the Australia-India relationship seems to have rubbed off on his former Liberal Party colleague, Australia’s new Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Mr Abbott articulated his desire to strengthen Canberra’s relationship with New Delhi on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in October, where he met with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Mr Abbott called for early closure of the discussion on nuclear cooperation — historically a bone of contention between India and Australia, which refused to trade uranium with India on the basis that New Delhi had not signed the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Mr Abbott also told Dr Singh he was keen to have Australian students view India as an education destination to help build a better understanding of Asia in Australia.
The pair also discussed defence and security cooperation.