Australia looks to strengthen economic ties with India

Sean Kelly, the Australian Consul General based in Chennai, is a career officer with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and has a wide range of experience serving in many Asian countries.

He has the responsibility for the four southern states and the union territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Puducherry, which collectively contribute more than a quarter of India’s GDP. Sean Kelly, who was in Bangalore recently, shared with Prashanth G N of Deccan Herald the status of Indo-Australian ties and how South India is a major destination for collaboration between the two countries.

What brings you to Bangalore from Chennai?

This is my first visit to Bangalore. I was here to be part of a two-day Defence expo to understand India’s defence concerns. I will work toward strengthening the economic relationship between Australia and India. We’ve been working in Northern India and its time we address the vast potential in Southern India in trade. I plan to visit Bangalore regularly here on.

What has Bangalore to offer Australia?

Australia looks specifically at hi-tech co-operation with Bangalore, which is its unique selling point. We are aware Bangalore is home to IT majors like Infosys, WIPRO, TCS, SAP, IBM, HCL and the like. Eighty per cent of India’s hi-tech expertise in IT is in Bangalore. Infosys and WIPRO are big names in Australia. We would like more co-operation in the IT domain.

Life sciences and bio-tech are two other areas Australia is looking to work with Bangalore and South India. Australia is home to 15 Nobel Laureates specialised in sciences. It is also strong in bio-medicine which we would like to share with India. In bio-tech, the Biocon head is an alumnus of Australian academics, and we want more collaboration with Biocon.
Aerospace is another area where we will push for strong co-operation. India is an established space power in the world having developed highly complex space systems. Mahindra company has acquired the Australian small aircraft maker Gippsland, which is a sign that civil aviation may have a good future in India.

Why has India become significant now for Australia?

India is a big market and offers vast potential. While we have interest in space, we want to be part of India’s defence sector too. We understand India is the largest defence importing country. It’s not that Australia will offer a fighter aircraft or a space system, but will definitely offer platforms on which defence arsenal can be built. We are particularly good at niche technologies and manufacturing components for larger systems. Definite partnerships will happen between the two countries on niche technologies. For instance, we already collaborate on combat management systems for the Indian Navy deploying Australian technologies and platforms. We want to invest in Indian defence and Indian defence to invest in Australia. We want a share in the defence sector given the huge requirements India has. We would like to have a strategic partnership with India. Our project partnership now is around 100 million dollars.

How and why is South India coming in for Australian attention?

Nearly 43 per cent of our projects in India are based in South India and of these 23  are in Karnataka. IISC alone hosted 11 projects in technology co-operation. South is strong in science and technology with major science institutions being based here. The ongoing mars mission has an Australian connection in which one of the stations tracking India’s mars orbiter is located in Australia. One of our Nobel Laureates, Brian Schmidt visited the Raman Research Institute for interaction on telescopes.

We are collaborating on satellite making and its launch and control with Manipal University. We are also looking at aeronautics collaboration and SIBER, an Australian aeronautics company, will share host of niche technologies. We also work in the area of mining, with an Australian company, NSL Consolidated, extracting 100 grade iron ore in Andhra Pradesh. Of the 400 MoUs that we have with Indian universities, 66 are in Karnataka alone and we have scores of exchange programmes.

Australia is an arid country and yet agriculture does well. What can be shared in agro sector?

In arid countries like ours, water is crucial. India too has vast arid areas. Water rejuvenation technologies can be used to make use of the land. We plan to enhance co-operation in dryland farming which we carry out on a vast scale using new agricultural technologies. We’d like to help in the food sector too, to be able to increase productivity of land and to develop foods that are not fatty or invested with carbo-hydrates.


Dairy farming is another co-operation area, in which we look at genetics, fodder and the milk industry. The largest milk producing country is India. We would like to make cattle in India as productive as ours. Fisheries have an important place in both countries. We need to work out how fisheries can be made more productive.

One of your concerns is to promote Australian open culture, welcoming people from all over.

Our visa approval rates from the Consulate General in Chennai is 90 per cent. The growth rate of Indians getting visas is nearly 165 per cent at the Chennai consulate. We also now have a programme that allows under-graduates to work 40 hours every fortnight. We want to further education ties given India’s vast engineering talent.

How are you trying to build Australia as a safe and secure destination given the recent attacks on a few Indians.

We are increasing policing and going for aggressive prosecution. We have set up additional CCTVs and cameras, and improved lighting. We recognise security is most important for all and we are aggressively working for a safe and secure Australia.

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