PM: I am delighted to have just arrived in India and I will be here over the next few days. This is a very important relationship for Australia.
In 2009, we entered into a strategic partnership with India. That was recognition that we are two countries with a history of shared values and a history of mutual interests, but that we needed to broaden and deepen the relationship.
Now is the right time for my first visit as Prime Minister because we can broaden and deepen the relationship as our interests converge. Our economic interests are certainly converging with a spectacular growth in trade between India and Australia.
But whilst we have seen that spectacular growth in trade, I do want to see a broadening and deepening of the economic relationship. India is one of those nations that in our region of the world, in this Asian century, we will see grow spectacularly in economic weight. We will see the rise of its middle class.
And so I do want to see a deepening of our economic relationship, and I am also pleased that during the course of this visit, I will be able to meet with a number of Australian CEOs who are particularly focused on working with their Indian counterparts to strengthen the economic ties between our two countries.
Our interests are also converging because we have got a shared strategic outlook on our region of the world. Our interests converge as we work together in multilateral forum including the G20 and the East Asia Summit.
And the Indian community in Australia is Australia’s fastest growing migrant community. We have more skilled migrants from India than we do from any other country in the world. That gives us a good opportunity to strengthen our people-to-people links.
In terms of objectives for my visit, I do want to see us working on a deepening of our economic relationship as I referred to. That will include work with CEOs; it will also include discussions about a comprehensive economic partnership agreement.
I will want to be talking to my Indian counterparts, including Prime Minister Singh, about strengthening the bonds between our two countries, the diplomatic architecture and relationship between our two countries, and strengthening our work together in the G20 and in the East Asia Summit.
I will also be focused on strengthening our knowledge partnership. We welcome to Australia Indian students in very large numbers. They are the second biggest source country – India are the second biggest source country for international students – and there are many partnership arrangements between Australian universities, vocational education and training institutions and India, and I will be focused on the strengthening of that knowledge partnership.
And finally I will also be focused on two issues, which are big domestic challenges for India. They are the issues of water and energy security, where I believe Australia can make a contribution.
I will tomorrow night have the very delightful job of launching Oz Fest. This is a cultural festival presented by Australia in India, in a range of locations across India.
For many Indians when they think of Australia, they think of cricket. We want to make sure that the full panorama, the full kaleidoscope of our country is on display, so there will be a set of events involving music, theatrical performance, book writing and beyond, for Indians to understand what contemporary Australia has to offer.
With those words, I am happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: PM, how much will the uranium exports feature in your discussions during this trip?
PM: I anticipate that I will have some discussions on uranium. Just taking this back to the start, I formed the view as Prime Minister that it was appropriate for us to sell uranium to India, and that it had become an obstacle in our relationship that we were not.
So I went to our ALP national conference and ensured that the party changed its policy.
Since then the Government has changed its policy too. We are now open to selling uranium to India. In order to do so we would need to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that would go to civil nuclear arrangements. So during the course of being here I am sure the issue will be raised.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what do you say to the critics in Australia who say no matter what safeguards you negotiate, that India can’t be trusted on the use of Australian uranium?And how will you absolutely assure the public that uranium will only be used for peaceful purposes, it won’t in any way be used for weapons?
PM: Well, we know how to negotiate these agreements because we have done it in the past and we have done it on the basis that Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes. That the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is involved in oversight, and that the nation that we sell uranium to has an appropriate protocol with the IAEA.
All of these things would be part of the kind of agreement we would negotiate with India.
I do note that India is a party to a range of international security arrangements – safety arrangements I should say – for uranium, and indeed the world is strengthening those arrangements post the Fukushima incident.
So we will work these issues through as we work through with India an appropriate agreement.
JOURNALIST: Indian authorities have shot dead at least two anti-nuclear campaigners in the last few weeks. Is that really the kind of a country we want to sell uranium to?
PM: India is a robust, liberal democracy. It’s the largest democracy in the world. It is governed by the rule of law. And to the extent that there is an allegation that laws have been breached in any circumstances then people can take complaints about that.
But let’s be very, very clear, we are standing now in the world’s largest liberal democracy.
JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for Australia to be encouraging investment from a company like Adani enterprises which has serious allegations of corruption leveled against it by (inaudible)?
PM: Well I think allegations about anyone or any company need to be dealt with by proper authorities. We don’t act on the basis of allegations and nor should we. Due process should be followed and any allegation made should be dealt with.
JOURNALIST: Given the serious allegations, should the Australian Government be accepting sponsorship money for Oz Fest from a company like Adani Enterprises?
PM: Well I have just indicated I don’t think it is appropriate to act on the basis of allegations. If allegations have been made then they need to be dealt with properly by the relevant authorities.
JOURNALIST: Will you be meeting with Mr Adani during the visit here?
PM: I’ll be meeting a wide range of people. The answer is I anticipate I probably will. I can’t summon to mind every detail of my program and every person in attendance at every event. But I would make the point that we don’t deal on the basis of allegations.
JOURNALIST: Back to the nuclear issue, the Indian Auditor General raised some serious concerns about the regulation of the civilian nuclear industry, saying that they are headed towards a possible Chernobyl-style disaster. How do you think (inaudible) by selling uranium?
PM: It’s in India’s interest to have the most robust safety standards for its own civil energy generation program out of nuclear energy. I also note that the Indian Government is in the process of legislating a new regulator in this area, and that India has a national interest in making sure its nuclear program is safe, and seen to be safe by the world.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what is your anticipated timeline for all this. When would you see safeguard negotiations beginning and when is the earliest you can expect actual exports to commence?
PM: Well we have done the first two steps, which is changed our party policy and made a Government decision that we are open to selling uranium to India.
On the rest of it we will keep working through and I will let you know time frames when that is possible. But these agreements are complex ones and they do take some time to negotiate.
JOURNALIST: India has a large and growing disparity between live births of boys and live births of girls. Given your status as a female leader in the world, is this, the killing of lots of girls in utero a thing that you think might come up? Might be appropriate to raise at any level?
PM: It may be raised during the course of discussions. I am going to see some of our aid and development projects here in India, and it may be the kind of issue that some involved with the aid community want to talk to me about.
But as I made clear when we had the parliamentary launch in Australia last week of the International Year of the Girl Child, that has been sanctioned by the UN, as a way of directing the world’s attention to the way in which discrimination against girls matters at every level.
And certainly in many societies, the fact that girls are less prized than boys has an implication right from birth, from whether or not children are abandoned, whether they are cared for, whether they get the opportunity for a school education, and all of these things I think should weigh on us and are matters of conscience for us.
I made the point when I spoke at the event for education champions at the UN, that we will never see true equality for adult men and women in our world until we see true equality for boys and girls. That is the foundation stone for us having a world in which men and women are truly equal, and so to the extent girls are discriminated against in any way that does concern me.
A big part of our aid program is directed towards gender equality, a big part of it is directed towards securing education for children. And around the world that means that there is a special mission for involving girls in education, because too often they’re the ones that are left outside formal education.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister is there a lingering strain on the Australia-India relationship from the student violence, particularly in Melbourne? And how will you be addressing that on this trip?
PM: That is a good question and I will obviously be interested to hear the views of people here in India as I move around over the next two days. But my sense is, and I obviously had a very big insight into this as Education Minister and in fact traveled to India on the last occasion as Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister because these issues have been such a huge moment in India and so spectacularly reported.
My sense is since then that we have addressed these concerns, we have got a comprehensive student welfare strategy that has has been agreed between the federal government and state governments, which goes to issues about housing and treatment of Indian students, making sure that they are facilitated.
Number two, we’ve worked long and hard on quality questions. We had within our vocational education and training sector particularly a number of operators who weren’t at the right quality standard and they have been cracked down on.
And I think we did see, as a community in reaction to that violence, the community stepping forward to strengthen their embrace of Indian students. I certainly know that in my own local community in Melbourne’s west that a shocking incident of violence that happened near the Werribee train station actually then meant community members in Werribee and Hopper’s Crossing went out of their way to create ways of supporting Indian students who live in that local community.
So I think the Aussie character was on display as we responded to it. I think those actions by government, by education institutions and the community have been sufficient to respond to Indian concerns, but I will obviously be keen to hear the feedback from people as I move around.
JOURNALIST: On an issue at home, Fair Work Australia has pushed ahead with the charges against Craig Thomson in federal court. I understand you probably won’t comment on that matter given it will be coming up before the courts. But given it is a civil case, will the outcome have any impact on whether or not Mr Thomson is able to remain in parliament?
PM: Look I am not going to comment on a matter that is before the courts, and I am also not going to war-game a lot hypothetical questions about a matter that is before the courts.