By Rekha Bhattacharjee*
While Australia’s Prime Minister changed in a dramatic leadership spat less than two weeks ago, it is believed that the elevation of Malcolm Turnbull as the 29th PM of Australia would not adversely impact the bilateral relationship between India and Australia.
After months of pulsating suspense over the imminent challenge by Malcolm Turnbull, the end of Tony Abbott’s reign as Prime Minister of Australia came rather swiftly on September 14. Ironically, the former PM of Australia had rubbished the suggestions in the morning that a leadership challenge from Malcolm Turnbull was imminent.
“I’m just not going to chase all of these rabbits down all of the burrows that you’re inviting me to go down,” Abbott told reporters in the morning while dismissing the rumours or “Canberra games” as the former Prime Minister described those. Within 12 hours or so of making the colourful statement, Abbott was defeated by Turnbull in the leadership spill.
Now as Turnbull has been elevated to the top position, the political commentators are busy analysing the implications of the ‘knifing’ of the previous Liberal Prime Minister.
In what has come to be known as the “revolving door” prime ministers, Australia has seen swearing in ceremony of no less than five Prime Ministers in just over five years.
What is bothering the antipodean political pundits is the fact that Australia is beginning to be seen as politically dysfunctional all over the world. Though the majority of the political commentators see the quick changes at the top as an aberration, few skeptics are of the opinion that “revolving door” of Prime Ministers has become a new normal.
The change of tenant at 5 Adelaide Avenue in Deakin suburb of Canberra also leads to another question: would there be a change in the foreign policy under the new occupant of the Prime Ministerial abode (popularly called The Lodge)?
Writing from an Indian perspective, the question which comes to mind is whether there would be any significant change in the bilateral relations between India and Australia post aforementioned leadership fight.
Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb is quick to dismiss any suggestion of such a seismic shift in the bilateral relations under Turnbull. The new Prime Minister, according to Robb, remained extremely focussed on further developing the relationship with India.
“There is an enormous amount of upside in the relationship at so many levels including in trade, investment and in the deepening of business to business linkages,” the minister for trade said while speaking to this writer.
“We continue to work towards the conclusion of a bilateral economic cooperation agreement where Australian services, for example, have a lot to offer in terms of helping to build capacity in the Indian economy,” the Minister said.
“Deepening our economic relationship with India is important to Australia as we seek to aid the diversity of our economy in this post-mining boom period,” Robb added.
A few months back, the Trade Minister had expressed his optimism over the proposed Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). It is most likely that the negotiations would continue with the same vigour as under the Prime Ministership of Tony Abbott.
It would be pertinent to mention here that the business-friendly Turnbull has his eyes set firmly on the way the economic reforms are being carried out under the leadership of Narendra Modi in India.
“Charismatic new leaders in the world’s two most populous nations, President Xi of China and Prime Minister Modi of India, are this year pressing ahead with ambitious economic and political reform plans,” Turnbull had said while opening a important lecture ‘Assessing the Future of the Asia-Pacific – US/Australia Dialogue’ earlier this year.
Indian High Commissioner to Australia Navdeep Suri shares the views expressed by Trade Minister Robb. He is also of the opinion that the ascension of Turnbull would not have any significant impact on the bilateral relations between the two Indian Ocean Rim countries.
“Ours is a mature relationship underpinned by strong institutional linkages. I am confident that the relationship will continue to grow under the new government as well,” Suri told this writer.
From the Indian perspective, Turnbull’s India policy would become apparent in the not too distant future when he makes a decision on the uranium sale to the power-hungry South Asian country. A joint parliamentary standing committee on treaties had recently raised objections over the uranium sale to India. However, a member said the committee had been satisfied all nuclear material in India could be easily accounted for and tracked..
*Rekha Bhattacharjee is a Sydney-based senior journalist. She can be contacted at [email protected]