India and Australia: An overview

Updated: Nov 17, 2014, 10:28 AM IST

Kamna Arora

After a largely successful visit to the United States of America, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to woo Australia.

The PM’s visit to Australia comes at a time when the relationship between the two countries are on the upside after having been characterised more by the missed opportunities than real forward movement in ties. First the Cold War and the White Australia policy, Canberra's reluctance to sell uranium to India and later the attack on Indian students in Australia, there has been a long list of issues that caused friction in the relationship.

But all that seems to be history now.

Modi will be the first Indian PM (after Rajiv Gandhi in 1986) to visit Australia in 28 years. The PM, who will be Brisbane to attend G20 Leaders Summit, will meet country's leadership and also address the Australian Parliament.

The Indian community too is eagerly waiting to welcome `their` PM, who will be hosted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground. Modi is also scheduled to visit a war memorial with Abbott. The PM is likely to address the huge Indian Diaspora both in Sydney and in Melbourne.

India and Australia share a lot of common things. Both are multi-cultural and federal democracies, and both have strategic interest in maintaining a balance in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite the differences, the ties between Australia and India have witnessed substantial advancement in recent years. The opportunities in sectors like economy, trade, security and education have led to the growth of Australia-India partnership.


Australia’s trade in goods and services with India was AUD 16.50 billion in 2012-13 with Indian exports of goods amounting to AUD 3.38 billion. As per a document prepared by the Ministry of External Affairs, Australia’s exports of goods to India were AUD 13.27 billion and have decreased by an annual average of around 11 percent over the past three years. India’s exports of goods and services to Australia have increased by an annual average of nine percent over the past three years. There are, however, strong prospects for trade and investment ties to strengthen further post Modi's visit.

India’s main exports to Australia are gems and jewellery, machinery and textiles while its major imports are non-monetary gold, coal, copper, crude and fertilizers. India is Australia’s largest export market for gold and chickpeas, second largest market for coal and copper ores and third largest market for lead and wool, the data in the MEA documents said.

Also, all the major Indian IT companies have a presence in Australia and are growing at a rapid pace.


Uranium export has been one issue that remains an impediment to closer India-Australia ties. However, Australia, in September, sealed a civil nuclear deal to sell uranium to India, paving the way for ending mistrust between New Delhi and Canberra. During his visit to India, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott also offered to increase supplies of conventional fuel to energy-starved India.

"We signed a nuclear cooperation agreement because Australia trusts India to do the right thing in this area, as it has been doing in other areas," Abbott had told reporters after he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a safeguards pact to sell uranium for peaceful power generation.

"That is why we are happy to trust India with our uranium in months, years and decades," he added.

India has not ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but follows similar agreements with the US and France. With the deal with Abbott, India has become the first customer to buy Australian uranium without being an NPT signatory.


Australian universities are gaining immense popularity among Indian students. Those who cannot afford study in relatively more expensive universities in the United States and the United Kingdom are opting Australia for higher studies. India is still the second largest provider of international students, after China, to Australia.

Although racist attacks, closure of bogus colleges, tightening of visa rules for vocational courses did lead to a fall in student visa applications from India, data seems to be improving. The number of racist attacks has declined, thanks to the remedial measures taken by the Australian authorities and police.

The China factor

In 2012, Australia's former prime minister John Howard had told a daily that his country should not be mesmerised by China's growth but should turn to India. The four-term PM had added that demographics pointed to India as a sleeping giant. In 2014, Australia is trying to cosy up with India more than ever before.

Australia and India are both cautious of China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region. As per experts, Australia hopes India will play a leading role in building a new regional order that is not dominated by China. Rory Medcalf of the Lowy Institute, a think-tank in Sydney, rightly describes new ties between Australia, India and others in the region a “ballet of hedging and balancing” against China.

PM Modi has now asserted not to just “Look East” but “Act East” to catch up with China in forging ties with emerging economies in South-East Asia. For decades, Australian foreign policy has kept its focus on ties with the countries in the Asia-Pacific region, especially the East Asian economic giants of Japan, South Korea, China. Australia's relations with India have grown warmer recently. The first joint naval exercises are due to be staged in 2015.


India is the third largest source of immigrants for Australia. The 2011 census mentions that about 2,95,362 in Australia were born in India and there were 3,90,894 responses for Indian ancestry. New South Wales and Victoria are the most popular states of residence for Indians in Australia.

The contribution of the Indian Diaspora to the Australian society and economy is very significant. In the roles of teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, researchers, software and applications programmers, chefs, ICT business and systems analysts, there are a number of Indians who are making a positive contribution to Australia through their skills, qualifications and entrepreneurial spirit.

Security cooperation

In 2009, the governments of India and Australia committed to a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in a bid to fortify cooperation in a wide range of security and related areas.

Security cooperation between India and Australia included elements such as information exchange and policy coordination on regional affairs in the Asia region and on long-term strategic and global issues, bilateral cooperation within multilateral frameworks in Asia (in particular the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum), defence dialogue and cooperation within the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation signed in March 2006, efforts to combat terrorism; cooperation to combat transnational organised crime, disaster management; maritime and aviation security, and police and law enforcement cooperation.

Australia and India had successfully cooperated in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Both the countries had also taken part, though briefly, in joint naval exercises through the quadrilateral security dialogue in 2007. The duo is planning to hold joint naval exercises in 2015.


From Indian curries to Garba dance, India's presence is quite evident on Australian streets. A number of Indian associations in Australia play a key role in promoting desi culture by organising cultural functions occasionally. This year, the Federal Parliament of Australia celebrated Diwali with more than 100 guests in attendance in Canberra.

In a bid to boost cultural ties between Australia and India, Julia Gillard, on her first visit to India as Australian PM in 2012, had launched Oz Fest -- Australia’s biggest cultural festival in India at a concert in New Delhi. The Oz Fest ran until February 2013 and involved more than 100 events across 18 Indian cities.


India is 11th largest contributor of visitors to Australia with 1,73,000 visitors in 2013, whereas 2,20,000 Australian tourists visited India last year. Keeping in mind the flow of passengers, Air India kickstarted its direct flights between Delhi and Sydney/Melbourne from September 2013.

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