In this Idea Exchange moderated by Associate Editor Y P Rajesh, Peter Varghese, Australian High Commissioner to India, speaks about improving bilateral ties, his new assignment and why he is bemused at the popularity of Masterchef Australia
Y P Rajesh: When you came here at the beginning of 2010, you said it was a very difficult period in bilateral relations but you could deal with it. How well do you think you have dealt with it in the last three years?
Peter Varghese: What we have done in the last three years is to remove two very big obstacles that were in the way of the relationship progressing. The first was the students’ safety issue which, I think, we can now put behind us. At the government level, it’s no longer an issue and even on the ground we are seeing a large measure of confidence among the students. The second big obstacle in the relationship was uranium. Our Prime Minister led the effort to change her party policy and succeeded in that. Now the government policy has also changed. So, as I leave, I think we have cleared the air in the relationship. Prime Minister (Julia) Gillard’s visit in October was a very important step. It signalled a new phase in the relationship. We have agreed that our two Prime Ministers will meet every year. We also agreed on a ministerial-level dialogue on energy security. We also agreed on a water technology partnership—Australia is the driest continent in the world and India has big water challenges. I think we have now got a geo-political agenda which focuses on the big question of Asian security as well as maritime security in the Indian Ocean. We are going to be chairing the G-20 in 2014. We want to work with India on building an agenda there. And then we have this enormous growth in the people-to-people relationship. India is our largest source of skilled migrants, our second-largest source of temporary skilled workers and our second-largest source of students. At any one time, there are half-a-million people of Indian origin out of a population base of only 22 million. That’s a significant community, one with income and education well above the average.
Y P Rajesh: How did you go about managing and changing the perception on safety for Indian students?
Peter Varghese: We had to do a number of things, One, we had to