Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull paid a four day visit to India, meeting his counterpart Narendra Modi and senior business leaders in the month of April in an attempt to enhance business relationship between the two countries.
India, in its attempt to achieve economic transformation, needs further developments in infrastructure, education and sources of energy and the talks mainly concentrated on these sectors.
Malcolm Turnbull, however sought extension of trade links to other sectors as well. Unfortunately, prospects of free trade deal between the two countries stalled as according to Australian PM, the tradition of protectionism runs very deep in India.
Agricultural market access is a major sticking point. Australia’s ongoing search for bigger and better markets for its agricultural produce, India is near the top of the list. However India wants to protect its small land-holder farmers, many of whom live below the poverty line.
India is Australia’s fifth largest export market with Australian merchandise and services exports valued at approximately $ 13.5 billion in 2015. The Australia-India bi-lateral trade is valued at $19.8 billion. Indian foreign investment into Australia was valued at $11.6 billion, with Australian investment in India valued at $1.5 billion.
Malcolm Turnbull also met with executives from the Indian company that wants to build Australia’s biggest coal mine with the help of federal funding. Senior executives of Adani, including the founder and chairman, Gautam Adani, discussed India’s growing need for energy.
The company’s $21.7 billion Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland was approved last December but has faced serious opposition from environmental and Indigenous groups.
Mr Adani requested an early resolution of native title issues surrounding the mine, which was hit by a Federal Court ruling that invalidated deals with traditional owners across Australia. Legislation dealing with the problem is before the Senate and Mr Turnbull is understood to have assured the company that the issue would be resolved any time soon.
Ironically, upon his return from the Indian visit, Malcolm Turnbull announced axing of the popular 457 work visa used by over 95,000 foreign workers constituting 25% Indians, 19.5% UK citizens and 5.8% Chinese.
This programme allowed businesses in Australia to employ foreign workers for a period up to four years in skilled jobs where there is a shortage of skilled Australian workers.
There were more changes announced in provisions of permanent residency which will discourage Indian students to come to Australia for higher education, a blow to Australia’s booming education industry.
Indian IT workers as well as young Indians aiming to study and settle in Australia were dismayed by the announcement which forced Indian officials to threaten its impact on trade talks with Australia.
Couple of days later, Turnbull government announced major changes to Australian Citizenship laws as well affecting new migrants but specifically perceived to target Muslims in a copycat manner similar to Trump administrations rhetoric on immigration and border protection.
Under the changes, migrants will face a tougher citizenship test that will assess their commitment to Australia and their attitudes to towards religious freedom, gender equality and harmonious living.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the government resorted to “hardline, nationalist rhetoric” with “vague allusions to Australian values” whenever it was “in trouble”.
Many feel that the Turnbull government, in a shift from centre right, seem to be shifting to further right trying to please the One Nation voter base.