Transcript of Press Conference - New Delhi, India
WED 17 OCTOBER 2012
New Delhi, India
Subject(s): Meeting with Prime Minister Singh; Leaders’ level meetings; Defence cooperation; Indian students in Australia; India-Australia relations; Parliamentary debate; Memorandums of Understanding; Asia Century White Paper
PM: I’ve concluded my discussions with Prime Minister Singh and attended the state dinner that he hosted in my honour. I’ve had a good set of discussions with the Prime Minister and pleased that we issued a comprehensive joint statement.
Of the most important things we’ve agreed; firstly we’ve agreed that Australia and India’s prime ministers will meet once every year, that there will be annual meetings at leaders’ level between our two nations.
This is important because having an annual leaders’ level meeting keeps momentum in a relationship, gives high level oversight of how the relationship is developing and what more needs to be done.
Second, Prime Minister Singh and I have agreed that we will commence negotiations for the nuclear safeguards agreement, the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, given Australia is now prepared to sell uranium to India. So those discussions on that comprehensive agreement will now start.
Third, I’m also pleased that we have agreed on the defence side of our relationship to continue with naval exercises. I believe that this is important. We share the Indian Ocean, we have an under-developed defence relationship with India now, so I think it is good that we have agreed future cooperation in naval exercising.
We’ve also entered into a number of Memorandums of Understanding about various areas of activity from cooperating in space to cooperating on student mobility between our two countries.
Our discussions have been comprehensive ones, very warm ones, and I’m very pleased with this visit to India.
During the course of the day I did have the opportunity for a range of other bilateral meetings, including a meeting with the President, a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition, a meeting with the Minister for External Affairs and a meeting with Mrs Sonia Gandhi.
I will now return to Australia very shortly, but not before taking a few questions.
JOURNALIST: Does a reciprocal visit from Dr Singh look almost certain?
PM: I personally renewed to Prime Minister Singh an invitation to visit Australia. He said once again to me he would love to come, it’s a question of finding a time that can work given the Prime Minister’s busy program.
JOURNALIST: Apart from the naval exercises how else are you planning to deepen the defence cooperation with India?
PM: Currently our defence relationship is under-developed. Indeed we have stronger defence ties with China than we do with India. So naval exercising is an obvious way of taking the relationship forward given our shared interest in the Indian Ocean.
But we would be open to other forms of military cooperation including exchanges and training.
JOURNALIST: The issue with Indian students in Australia; did Dr Singh raise that with you, because he mentioned that in his remarks. And the Memorandum of Understanding that you’ve signed, that has been signed today on that, what exactly does that provide for in relation to students in terms of making further improvements?
PM: Sure. The Prime Minister did raise with me in our bilateral discussion, the incidents involving Indian students, but from the perspective of thanking me for the work that Australia has done to better assure the welfare of Indian students, indeed to personally thank me for that work, much of it was commenced when I was Minister for Education.
It’s work not only done at the federal level though, it’s required a partnership with state governments because they are responsible for so much of the first instance welfare issues like housing and the like.
The impression I had from the Prime Minister was that he was recognising that we had gone to considerable efforts to reassure Indian students of their safety and welfare in Australia.
The Memorandum of Understanding is not on welfare questions as such, it’s about student mobility. So it’s about occupational qualifications being recognised in both nations; occupational health and safety training and the like. So it puts people in a better position if they are going to the other nation to be able to access the labour market.
JOURNALIST: Do you think we’ve overcome the problems, do you think Australia’s image is better in India now?
PM: I certainly think it’s better than it was. I was here at the height of this, when the Indian community was very, very concerned about student welfare issues. We’ve seen some fairly sizable press packs during this visit, but actually let me assure you they were not the size as I had when I was Deputy Prime Minister and this issue was really hot in India and there was media feeding frenzy about the circumstances of Indian students in Australia.
My engagement with the Indian media during this trip has been much more measured, there’s an understanding that we’ve responded and reacted to the welfare issues and certainly there’s an understanding amongst India’s leaders, including the Prime Minister himself, about those questions.
JOURNALIST: There’s talk about greater cooperation on counter-terrorism. Can you give any details as to what form that might take in terms of intelligence sharing or any other new developments?
PM: We work strongly with India on counter-terrorism. What we’re looking forward to here is a cooperative relationship between our various intelligence agencies.
Our National Security Adviser did accompany me on this trip and it’s important in a world of globalised threats – whether they be terrorism or international crime, piracy – that we are exchanging intelligence information as appropriate.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that there are any outstanding issues in the relationship now with India, or that the action on uranium and on the students, has really cleared away all the issues?
PM: I don’t think there are any outstanding obstacles. In any relationship, there is always more and more and more to do, to keep broadening it, to keep deepening it.
Whilst in this visit we’ve worked through a wide range of issues there is always more to do, and the reason for having annual leaders’ level meetings is that recognition that there is always more to do, there is always another level to step up to.
But I do believe in terms of the obstacles that were there in our relationship that they have been dealt with, that we have reassured people about the circumstances for Indian students in Australia and we’ve changed our attitude on uranium and that has been appreciated here.
JOURNALIST: Kevin Rudd was on Lateline tonight and he said that the Labor Party needs to get back to bread and butter politics and stop some of these, at least in the Parliament, some of these personal attack on both sides. Do you think now going home that there will be a bit of a ceasefire in parliament?
PM: Well look I haven’t had an opportunity obviously to see those remarks. It was Lateline was it? Haven’t had the opportunity to watch Lateline. I am not sure exactly what time it is in comparison with Lateline right here right now.
But what I would say generally is this; we face in the Australian Parliament, the most negative opposition leader the nation has ever seen. Mr Abbott is unable to be anything else than negative and so that does affect the tenor of political debate in Australia.
JOURNALIST: You don’t take any personal responsibility for any negative comments, personal comments in politics (inaudible)?
PM: I presume that you’re referring to my speech from last week and I made it clear that if I see sexism then I’m going to name it.
JOURNALIST: The Space MoU, are we going to be launching any of their rockets or anything or is it just research?
PM: No we’re not going to be launching rockets. I think, the best way of summarising that is India’s got a specialty in the hardware, we’ve got some specialties in the software and the sorts of collaborations we’re looking at are things like better using space technology and Indian satellites when we’re trying to track the progress of natural disasters.
There is some potential for applications in looking at the landscape and the prospect for mining and of course I think we’d want the young people of both of our countries to be excited about the education, research and ultimately job potentials of what’s happening in space.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will India be a big part of the White Paper that is going to be released soon?
PM: India will certainly be part of the story of the Asian Century, a very big part of that story and consequently you should expect it to be dealt with in the Asian Century White Paper.
JOURNALIST: When will it be released?
PM: I can’t give you a scoop on the date today Michelle but we’re looking for that paper to be released relatively soon.
Okay we’ve got a plane to catch, thank you very much, travel safe.