Wonderful coincidence of Republic Day and Australia Day indicates our natural partnership
A little over two years ago, shortly after I became Australia’s Prime Minister, President Ram Nath Kovind visited our shores. Together, we travelled to Parramatta, in Sydney, to unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi and observe multicultural Australia in action. It was a moment I cherish.
That same day, the President spoke of “our togetherness”. When settlers first arrived in Australia in the 18th century, it was India that provided supplies to nourish and house them. This was the beginning of “the India connect” that saw us fight together – “in trenches and faraway lands” – and it continues to grow to this day.
Just over a century ago, one of Australia’s early Prime Ministers Alfred Deakin had a lifelong love of India. For a time, he lived in India, then wrote about it. He wrote this about our two countries: the distance which separates us … is being steadily diminished … year by year.
It is a remarkable history, and our times are drawing us closer. Our nations are guided by the same ideals: of democracy, freedom, and the rule of law. And we celebrate these values today – January 26 – as we both mark our national days; a wonderful coincidence of history.
The steady gains we have made over many decades, and especially in recent times, are impressive. But if there was ever a year that might have threatened that progress, it was 2020.
Covid-19 has claimed lives and livelihoods around the world. It has kept us apart from our families, friends and loved ones, and made even the smallest geographical distance seem like a chasm.
We have felt that distance here in Australia. Almost 700,000 Australians have Indian ancestry, and many of our Indian community have told me how hard it was not to be able to travel to see family, or have family visit them, during the pandemic. As a nation continent, border controls have kept Australia relatively safe from Covid-19.
I know that Indian students, many of whom live and study here, have had it particularly tough, and are eager to return. I am looking forward to when more can return.
While, for now, our people are separated, the truth is that Australia and India are closer than we have ever been. Our progress is unchecked. We’ve taken huge strides in the last year, and, despite its enormous hardship and loss, 2020 will be remembered as a pivotal moment in our friendship.
In June, I met virtually once again with my good friend, Prime Minister Modi. Together we elevated our bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
This was truly historic. For Australia, it underscores the importance we place on our partnership with India, and that we see this relationship as one of our most important. Under this agreement we are cooperating in new ways – in the fields of defence, science, technology, commerce, maritime and cyber issues. This growing collaboration speaks to our shared values, common interests, our capabilities, and the trust we have in each other.
Last year also saw Australia and India work together as part of the Quad, which also includes the United States and Japan. The collective resolve of this diplomatic network in support of an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific – the region we call home – has never been more important.
The Indo-Pacific faces unprecedented challenges, and the values we share are under enormous pressure. This will only increase as the region continues to respond to Covid-19, and we need to ensure it remains governed by rules, norms and international law, not power alone. This, of course, includes the Indian Ocean, which is more vital than ever to our security and prosperity.
But such work cannot be done by one country. It will take many of us doing our bit and understanding that we are all here to make a contribution, not just take one. As PM Modi often says: vasudhaiva kutumbakam. The world is one family.
Australia knows that, in India, we have a friend and natural partner who will help build a region where every nation can prosper.
So on this day – Australia Day and Republic Day – let us celebrate our democratic values and the gains we have made across our relationship in the past year. Our countries are closer than ever, and we will continue to close the distance in 2021 – including, I hope, by our people coming together safely once again.