Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on the State Visit of Australian PM to India (March 10, 2023)

March 10, 2023

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us for this special media briefing on the occasion of the State visit of the Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese. The discussion with Prime Minister has just concluded and to give us a sense of the conversation as well as the visit that has been taking place since yesterday, a day before evening, we have the privilege of having with us, Foreign Secretary sir Shri Vinay Kwatra. Also joining us on dais today, Shri Manpreet Vohra, High Commissioner to Australia as well as Paramita Tripathi, Joint Secretary looking after the Oceania Division. Sir, may I hand over the floor to you sir.

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you, Namaskar and very warm welcome to friends from the media for this special briefing on the ongoing State visit of His Excellency Mr. Anthony Albanese, the Honourable Prime Minister of Australia. The Australian delegation, in addition to the Cabinet Ministers and senior officials of Honourable Prime Minister Albanese, also includes top CEOs of the Australian companies. This is Prime Minister Albanese's first official visit to India since assuming office in May last year, but his third official interaction with Prime Minister Modi. They have both met once in Tokyo last year on the sidelines of the Quad Summit and more recently in Bali Summit of the G20. Prime Minister Albanese's three-day three-city visit to India underlines his enthusiasm and commitment to India-Australia ties. It is also the first Annual Summit between India and Australia at the level of the Leaders. The summit mechanism itself was established as an outcome of the 2nd Virtual Summit that was held in March last year. Prime Minister Albanese arrived in Ahmedabad on 8th of March on the day of Holi, visited Sabarmati Ashram then attended a Holi festivity-filled welcome reception at the residence of Honourable Governor of Gujarat, which was organized in his honour. In the evening Prime Minister Albanese also attended an Education Event marking India-Australia cooperation in this field through ongoing discussions in particular leading to the establishment of campus of Australian Universities at the GIFT City in Gujarat. This particular event on 8th evening focused on establishment of campus of Deakin University of Australia in Gujarat.

Next morning on 9th, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi joined Prime Minister Albanese at the opening day of the 4th and final Border-Gavaskar Test match at Ahmedabad, still ongoing, we are in day 2 of the test match. Prime Minister Albanese thereafter left for Mumbai where he had three principal engagements. The first one, India-Australia CEO forum that was held on 10th morning in Mumbai which was addressed both by Commerce and Industry Minister, Shri Piyush Goyal Ji and Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell. In the afternoon of the 10th, Prime Minister Albanese visited the Western Naval Command Headquarters in Mumbai wherein the Indian Defence Industry at the Indian Naval Station, Kunjali was showcased to him. Prime Minister Albanese was particularly appreciative of his visit to INS Vikrant. We are told the first foreign leader to do so, since the first indigenously built Aircraft Carrier was commissioned last September.

Today was the official program of the State visit, began with the ceremonial reception at the forecourt at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, followed by a visit to Rajghat which was then followed by the first India-Australia Annual Summit between Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji and Prime Minister Albanese during which they discussed the entire range of our bilateral relations as also discussed issues of regional and global importance that are of mutual interest. Several bilateral documents, four of them to be specific, were exchanged. Prime Minister Modi also hosted a banquet lunch in honour of the visiting dignitary. Earlier during the day, prior to the commencement of official discussions, External Affairs Minister Dr. Jaishankar called on Prime Minister Albanese at his hotel. In a little while from now, Honourable Prime Minister of Australia would also be calling on the Honourable Rashtrapati Ji this afternoon.

In terms of brief highlights of discussions and the conversation that took place between the two leaders as also the outcome documents that were exchanged, I would just very briefly summarise them in five-six key bullet points. First of all, both leaders assessed very clearly and noted with great satisfaction, the strong all-round progress across the range of areas including science and technology, strategic and security domain, renewable energy, partnership in critical minerals, trade and economic engagement. The full set of progress, comprehensive progress that the two countries have achieved since the relationship was upgraded to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2020. Second, the intensity of political exchanges, as I mentioned although this was the first Annual Summit between India and Australia at the level of the two Prime Ministers, the two Prime Ministers have already met, since Prime Minister Albanese assumed charge in May last year, three times. We have had in last year alone at least 18 ministerial level exchanges between the two countries and innumerable official level exchanges to pursue and progress various elements of bilateral cooperation. Three, economic exchanges, I would only list four or five of them which have been very significant achievements since the last year. One is the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement, which is ECTA, which is really expected to bring about significant changes to the nature and extent of our bilateral trade cooperation. Second is the ongoing discussions and negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, CECA. Three, significant progress in the discussions on Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement. Fourth, multiple ways including in particular through ECTA especially since its ratification in December last year, to advance our trade and investment partnership. And fifthly, the CEO Forum as I mentioned to you that the meeting of the CEO Forum took place in Mumbai on the 9th morning which was addressed by the two ministers.

The leaders in their discussion also appreciated the considerable progress that has taken place in the field of defence and security cooperation between the two countries. In this context Prime Minister Modi encouraged the Honourable Prime Minister of Australia to avail of the full range of opportunities that are available in India, deriving out of Make In India initiatives and Atmanirbhar Bharat Program for defence manufacturing. Both Prime Ministers particularly welcomed the first batch of officers participating currently from both countries in New Delhi, in the operationalisation of General Rawat Officer's Exchange Program which was announced during the last Virtual Summit of March 2022 and got started earlier this month. Diaspora and contributions of diaspora, issues relating to Indian diaspora in Australia also came up for discussions between the two Prime Ministers. Of significance in our people-to-people ties were also the discussions on disturbances created by Pro-Khalistani outfits in Australia. Prime Minister Modi expressed strong concern on the incidence of vandalism and violence, targeting the Indian Community and temples in Australia. You must have all heard him say so in his press remarks just a short while ago. Prime Minister Albanese assured Prime Minister Modi that his government has deep understanding and appreciation of India's concern and will be taking all necessary measures to ensure that peace and harmony prevails in their society.

In terms of the outcome documents, after the discussions concluded, four documents were exchanged in presence of the two Prime Ministers. First on audio-visual cooperation, second MOU on cooperation in sports. Third, cooperation between Atal Innovation Mission and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and fourth, establishment of two task forces one on solar, solar task force and second on Green Hydrogen. The summarised details of these exchanges as also the other discussions would also be put out in a little while in the Joint Statement that the XP would be putting out on the website. An additional significant outcome of cooperation between the two countries, which although was not exchanged today but was concluded a week or 10 days ago, is the understanding and a mechanism agreement on mutual recognition of educational qualifications between the two countries that would of course open up greater opportunities, not just for cooperation in the field of education, but also would facilitate the larger objectives related to migration and mobility of skilled personnel.

Prime Minister Modi also invited Australia to join our Mission LiFE, Lifestyle For the Environment. Prime Minister Albanese expressed Australia's strong support for India's G20 Presidency and in particular appreciated India's hosting of the Voice of Global South Summit in this context. In return, Prime Minister Modi extended an invitation to Prime Minister Albanese to visit India for G20’s Leaders’ Summit in September. You would know that this invitation has officially been extended some time ago and in today's discussion was just another opportunity for Honourable Prime Minister to reiterate that invitation and to get another opportunity to welcome Prime Minister Albanese later during the year.

The discussions between the two leaders also covered a range of regional and global issues of importance and in this context, the leaders discussed a strategic convergence and common interest between our two countries, including in the Indo-Pacific region. The overall atmosphere of discussion was extremely positive, productive and engaging. The leaders were happy with the progress achieved in our multifaceted bilateral cooperation, with engagements and outcomes revolving around sectors of education, energy, sports, defence, innovation and technology. The visit is a very strong step forward, a successful step forward in advancing India-Australia cooperation and taking them to new higher level.

I would stop here and if there are questions, I would be very happy to take them.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: One by one. As always, please introduce yourself and the organization that you represent. We will start from Pranay here.

Pranay Upadhyaya: Sir Pranay Upadhyaya ABP News se. Pradhan Mantri Modi ne aaj jab jikr kiya is chij ka ki mandiro ke upar jo hamlo ki ghatnaye hui hai, usse Bharatiya dukhi hai, pareshan hai. Pradhan Mantri ki is baat ke kahne ke baad Australia ke Pradhan Mantri ki taraf se kya ashwasan diya gaya aur security jo agencies hai wo aapas me kaise coordinate karengi agar aap thoda vistaar se bata sake.

(Question in Hindi: Approximate translation) Sir, Pranay Upadhyaya from ABP News. Prime Minister Modi today mentioned that Indians are worried, are distressed with the attacks on temples in Australia. What assurance was given by Australian Prime Minister after this matter was raised by Prime Minister? Also, how are the security agencies going to coordinate on it? Could you can tell us in detail?

Siddhant Mishra: Hello FS sir, Siddhant Mishra from CNN News 18. Sir taking a follow-up on Pranay sir's question, you know, there are two major concerns of NRI community in Australia. One is regarding the prosecution of Khalistani terrorists, they still roam scot-free, and in many of the cases the criminal charges were not slapped on them- A. B, the most important one is the team. So, is government planning to set up a team on the government level for a smooth dialogue --

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Sorry, could you repeat the last part, the most important element is the team?

Siddhant Mishra: Prime Minister sir mentioned about the teams will will stay in touch. So, the formation of new team is on cards?

Parul Chandra:
Parul Chandra, I am an independent journalist. Is it China's increasing belligerence and growing expansionism in the region that is propelling the India-Australia strategic convergence?

Sudhi Ranjan: Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg. Sir, you mentioned the two leaders spoke about critical minerals, and rare earth if you could give us some more details on what the discussions were and what the two countries can expect going forward?

Mukesh Kaushik: I'm Mukesh Kaushik from Dainik Bhaskar. Sir my question is pertaining to Malabar Exercise, which was started between India and U.S., then Japan joined this Exercise. Now, Australia has announced to host this Exercise for the first time. Do you think that the Quad arrangement is now taking a military kind of shape? And how it is going to affect India-China relations which are already, you know, in the tension because of Quad also. China has been objecting to Quad. So, is it going to aggravate?

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you. Thank you very much for those questions. Pranay jaha tak apka prashn hai mandiro pe jo bhi waha par vandalism ki ghatnaye huwi hai us ke prati aashwasan jo Pradhan Mantri Albanese ne diya aur jo Siddhant apka, your question regarding the concerns of the Indian diaspora in Australia relating to the pro-Khalistani activities in Australia.

Ek prakar se dono prashn apas se jude bhi hai, ek parakar se bhinn bhi hai. Dekhiye aapne Pradhan Mantri ji ka press remarks ka vaktavya spasht roop se suna. Pradhan Mantri ji ne spasht roop se kaha ke apni aupcharik varta ke dauran unhone jo bhi dharmik sthalo pe vandalism ki ghatnaye, temples par jo Australia me hui hai us se sambandhit jo bhi humare vichar aur chintaye hai wo Pradhan Mantri Albanese ko spasht roop se vyakt kari. Jawab me Pradhan Mantri Albanese ne purn roop se aashwasan diya ki Australia ke kanoon ke antargat wo aisi kisi parakar ki ghatnao ke prati jo bhi kanooni karwahi aawashyak hogi wo usko karenge. Varta ke dauran ye bhi spasht kiya gaya ki is tarike ki ghatnaye samaj me sadbhawnao ko ast vyast karti hai aur isi liye samaj me ek vyawastha, peace aur harmony ke liye iska ek santulan aur aise jo samajik tatwa hai jo ki inn gatividhiyon me sammilit hai unke prati karwahi nitant ek aawashyakta hai to ye aashwasan jo hai Australia ke taraf se mila.

(Answered in Hindi: Approximate translation:) Pranay, regarding your question about the acts of vandalism on temples and Prime Minister Albanese’s assurance on it, and also Siddhant your question regarding the concerns of Indian Diaspora in Australia relating to ro-Khalistani activities in Australia.

In a way, both questions are connected and also different in other ways. Look, you heard Prime Minister’s press remarks statement clearly. Prime Minister clearly stated that during his formal conversation, he apprised Prime Minister Albanese about our thoughts and concerns about the acts of vandalism on temples in Australia. In response, Prime Minister Albanese assured that he will take appropriate action against such kind of acts as per the Australian law. During the conversation, it was also made clear that such acts disturb harmony in society, and for a balance of order and peace & harmony in society, it is extremely necessary to take action against such anti-social elements which are involved in these vandalism acts. This assurance was given by Australian side.

On your specific point relating to the activities of the pro-Khalistani elements in Australia. This also was brought up and Prime Minister mentioned to the Honourable Prime Minister of Australia, that this is something which disrupts the peace and harmony of both our societies and there is a need to take cognizance of the challenge that this represents. And again on this also, the Australian side, Australian leadership showed appreciation for our sensitisation and assured us of suitable response which they would take in this context. They also agreed that the officials on both sides would stay in regular touch, with each other, between the two systems.

Parul Chandra, I think your question was whether increase in India-Australia relationship is a derivative of China's increasing belligerence. I just read out to you various elements of cooperation between India and Australia that got covered between the two leaders in their discussions. And you will see there are multiple pillars of positive engagement between India and Australia. I just listed four or five of them here in my opening remarks. As I mentioned in density of political exchanges, robust trade and economic partnership, growing defence and security cooperation, people to people ties, particularly involving Indian diaspora, large number of Indian students in those country. And four, of course, increasing convergence on understanding on the need to develop resilient supply chains, reliable supply chains, ensuring smooth and open running of the sea lines of communication. All these are important constituents of very comprehensive India-Australia engagement. And naturally, in this cooperation, one of the elements always is the challenges that both our countries face in the maritime domain. And you heard Prime Minister Albanese himself speak in his own press statement that the maritime domain cooperation is a very important segment of India-Australia cooperation. So, I think it is best that we position what India and Australia do between them as a bilateral ecosystem of engagement and partnership, and frankly, not a derivative of what a third country does.

With regard to Sudhi, your question on the critical minerals. I'm sure you'd be aware that an MoU on co-investments in critical minerals was signed between KABIL which is the entity on our side and CMFO, Australia, this was in March last year, and discussions between the two sides have since been ongoing. I would simply underline here that you know, growing cooperation in the entire matrix of critical minerals based on of course the complementarities of the two economies and what are the strengths on the Australian science, what are our needs in terms of our own requirements, so those discussions and how do then we reduce those discussions into specific elements of cooperation in the field of critical minerals, they have been progressing based on this MoU which was signed between the Indian entity and its Australian counterpart.

Mukesh Kaushik ji, to your question on the Malabar Exercise and the Quad exercise, you know I mentioned that probably did not mention it in my opening remarks. India-Australia defence cooperation is multi-layered. So, at one level we have a set of bilateral and regional exercises. At second level, we also have exchanges between the top senior Army, Navy and Air Force officials between the two countries. Three, we also partner very strongly on operational issues between the two Navies, between the two Air Forces, to some extent even between the two Armies. I also spoke of operationalization of the General Bipin Rawat Exchange Program, this is a program under which 15 Australian defence officials at various levels of seniority, have come to India, 15 from India would join and this is the first cohort of that exchange program. And our defence cooperation also includes several regional exercises. Malabar is one of them. So, when you look at one particular exercise, you need to position it in the larger rubric of defence partnership and not just pick up one element, amplify it and then extrapolate it to another context. Our defence cooperation is strong, it's robust, it's dynamic, it is multifaceted, it is growing and it is growing in a manner that, as I said, meets the convergences that both countries have in the maritime domain and also seeks to address the challenges that both of us face.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you sir. Srinjoy.

Srinjoy: Sir, it is very reassuring to hear the Australian Prime Minister promising India that action would be taken against all those responsible for the attacks on the temples, several temples have been attacked over a period of time. The last one was a few days ago, quite some time ago, have the Australians told us if there have been any arrests and how many there have been?

Kavita Joshi: Sir, main Kavita Joshi hoon, sir mera sawal actually ek to Pranay ka jo shuruwati sawal tha usi me sir ki jo aapne kaha ki ek toh mandiron ka toda jana Australia mai, sir kya jo Khalistan samarthak log hain, wo janmat sangrah kara rahain hai wahan par Khalistan ki mang ko lekar ke, kya isko lekar ke bhi Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modi ne apni taraf se koi chinta jahir ki hai janmat sangrah ka shabd kya unhone istemal kiya hai? Sir, chhota sa ek clarification, kya dono Pradhan Mantriyon ke bich mai jo batchit hui hain usmai Adani Hindenburg Report ke baare mai bhi koi concern Australia ki taraf se jahir kiya gaya hai, kyu ki Adani group ka bahot jyada investment hai Australia mai, kya kuch concern Australia ki taraf se? hamare koi jawab?

(Question in Hindi: Approximate Translation) Sir, I am Kavita Joshi. My question is in reference to an earlier question from Pranay on vandalism of temples in Australia. Sir, the Khalistan supporters are organising public referendum there regarding the demand of Khalistan. Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi express any concerns regarding the same, did he use the word, public referendum? Sir, I just wanted some clarification. Sir, during both Prime Ministers’ conversation, was there any concern from Australian side about Adani Hindenburg Report, because Adani Group has quite a lot of investment in Australia? Was there any concern from Australia? And any response from our side?

Manas: Sir, Manas from PTI, Press Trust of India. Sir both the Prime Ministers mentioned about their keenness to enhance the already strong defence cooperation between the two countries, and you mentioned about India's highlight of Australian companies taking advantage of the Make In India Policy. So, was there any specific discussion to enhance our defence cooperation apart from the joint projects or joint collaboration for military production?

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Manas, taking up your question first, I already sketched out before you various elements of our defence cooperation. So, when the two leaders discussed defence partnership between India and Australia, each of these elements featured in terms of its importance and significance in our cooperation. Naturally it is the effort of both sides, in this case also the defence forces on both sides, to further boost this already strong cooperation between our two countries, particularly in the maritime domain space.

Srinjoy to your question and Kavita Ji aapka prashan, wo samikaran ke dono ek hi taraf ke prashn hai, but I'll just say that on both these issues, you heard Honourable Prime Minister himself very clearly in his press remarks that our concerns, our sentiments, both relating to the incidence of vandalism on temples and the activities of pro-Khalistani activities in Australia. These were shared very frankly with the Honorable Prime Minister of Australia who in turn assured that they would look into this and take whatever are the suitable measures they need to take to address and mitigate this challenge.

With regard to your last question, I have already laid out before you all the elements of discussion that took place between the two leaders on the bilateral space, in the regional space and on global issues.

Your last question?

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Specific to Adani, was it raised?

Shri Vinay Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: I really don't recall any such thing being raised. It was not raised.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you very much sir. Thank you also to High Commissioner sir, Manpreet Vohra, and also thank you to Paramita Tripathi, Joint Secretary (Oceania) for joining us. Thank you. Good afternoon.


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