India, Australia friendship initiatives: Maitri among others

By Indira Laisram
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After the Quad meeting of Foreign Ministers, Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne held a joint press conference in Melbourne on Sunday to announce a series of initiatives that will bolster the educational and cultural ties between the two countries.

In what is good news for the student community that has borne the brunt of border closures and as economies recover from the impact of COVID-19, Minister Payne announced initiatives called the Maitri or friendship initiatives.

“Under the Maitri Scholarships Program , the Australian government will provide $11.2 million over four years to support Indian students to study at Australia’s world leading universities,” announced Payne.

“The Maitri Grants and Fellowships Program will provide 3.5 million dollars over four years to build links between future leaders, will support mid-career Australian and Indian professionals to collaborate on strategic research initiatives. We will also provide $6.1 million over four years under the Australia-India Maitri Cultural Partnership to boost the role of creative industries in our economic and people-to-people ties, a program which I think is an absolutely fabulous initiative,” she said.

Payne also announced the establishment of the Australia India Infrastructure Forum, which will match Australian finance with the enormous infrastructure opportunities in India and its near neighbours. The Forum will host workshops and generate analysis to drive results for businesses.

Importantly, the Maitri program is a strong positive for the education sector in Australia recovering from the economic impacts of COVID-19 as it is, the minister said, adding, “Like the other parts of the relationship between India and Australia, which are many and varied, I look forward to seeing the Maitri program and Australia India Infrastructure Forum grow in the coming years.”

These announcements also come at a ‘pleasing’ time with Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan in New Delhi where the ministerial team of both the countries signed an MoU on tourism. Payne further elaborated that under the MoU, India and Australia will work together to promote travel between the two markets and advanced cooperation on tourism policy, training, data sharing and industry engagement.

On his part, Dr Jaishankar, thanked Australia for its hospitality and welcomed the initiatives and announcements made by the Australian government on enhancing the engagement in the northeast Indian Ocean region and on the Maitri scholarship/fellowship and cultural partnership programs.

“Our discussions today were very comprehensive and fruitful. We looked at a very wide range of our bilateral regional global partnership and again I welcome announcements of the additional resources that the government of Australia will be committing for the deepening of our partnership.”

Dr Jaishankar said the wide-ranging and productive discussions “reflect the real and profound transformation in our ties”.

India and Australia also completed the 12th Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue and, equally importantly, the first Foreign Ministers Cyber Framework Dialogue, he said.

“The Cyber Framework Dialogue is a direct outcome of the virtual summit between our Prime Ministers which was held in June when we actually elevated our ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership. There have been other direct outcomes from that summit including the first two-plus-two ministerial dialogue when I had the pleasure of welcoming you (Payne) and Mr Dutton to India,” Dr Jaishankar said.

He welcomed the opening of borders by Australia saying, “It will help those who have been waiting in India to come back especially students, temporary visa holders, separated families.”

In reply to a question by The Indian Sun on how his government planned to facilitate the movement of Indian students to Australia, the Minister said, “It is our hope and expectation that we will get to scheduled flights very soon, that’s not my call, it’s got to be done by our civil aviation minister but it is certainly something which we have discussed and I am very supportive of that.”

He added, “There are students who are in India waiting to come back, whose approvals (some of them) are yet to come through…I have spoken to Minister Hawke (Alex) and Minister Penny (Wong). The challenge now for us is to try and normalise as quickly as we can. Therefore, the opening of Australian borders is a positive step. In India, we are normalising our travel system from the 14th of this month. So, we really all want to get on with it.”

Minister Payne said approximately 15,000 Indian students have returned to Australia between November-January, the largest cohort from any one country. “Minister Hawke and I work closely in making sure that we provide the support and welcome back our Indian students back to their campuses across Australia.”

She also added that Australia is looking forward to opening its borders to international travel more broadly on February 21 “including to all fully vaccinated business travellers and tourists. And I know that will facilitate movement of students as well”.


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