Australia-India collaboration: unpacking the ubiquitous phrase ‘Shared Values’
Sonia Khosa, PhD, Lecturer at University of Sydney
In recent years, the Australia-India story has been continuously marked by significant developments and efforts to deepen bilateral relations. The 2018 Varghese Report, 2020 CII Report and, finally, the Australia-India ECTA were worthy outcomes of this aspiration.
While the reasons for strengthening Australia-India ties are aplenty, ‘shared values’ along with a ‘complementarity of strengths and needs’ are repeatedly cited as the key drivers of this strategic partnership. Developing a comprehensive appreciation of these drivers, particularly ‘shared values’, is essential not only for forming a richer understanding of each country but for shaping the very policy towards further engagement.
As a first step in this direction, it is imperative that Australia develops a realistic, nuanced, and replete understanding of India encompassing all its’ unique facets: ancient, current and the fast-changing. It is also worth recognizing that India is significantly different to Australia’s other strategic and collaborative partners, particularly China – essentially, that India is neither transactional nor a China 2.0. India in fact is a very complex cookie and the way to connect with India is through concerted, sincere, and consistent efforts directed towards a mutually beneficial partnership. Nurturing a long-term relationship with India effectively translates to Australia offering to empower and collaborate towards building a fast-developing India by catering to its very vast needs. If done correctly, this could mean decades of work ahead for Australia in India. So, the opportunity is huge!
As essential as it is to have a nuanced understanding of India, it is equally and more important to work on developing an accurate picture of Australia in India. The focus of this exercise need not be on being ‘better liked’ but ‘better understood’ in India. Indians predominantly view Australia as a wealthy, smallish (by population) country that simply tows the United States line-of-thought. The popular belief has been that if India simply focuses on the US, Australia will follow suit. Hence, there is no need to waste diplomatic energy on Australia. Only recently, this view is slowly but thankfully changing.
Closely tied to the issue of Australia’s international image in India are perceptions about Australians that require changing. Generally, there is still a very poor understanding of Australians in India. Although many Indians recognize Australians as easy-going, there is a prevailing sense (chiefly among common Indians who have not interacted with Australians) that Australians are arrogant, aggressive, somewhat spoilt, and adversarial. Most of these notions could well have emerged from team sports like cricket and hockey in which Australia excels (several Indian films project Australia as the ultimate adversary in sports!). With such superficial and inaccurate opinions about Australians, sometimes rare and isolated incidents in Australia are capable of flaring up an outrage in India.
And so, in reaching out and building stronger Australia-India ties, the priority needs to be on dismantling negative perceptions through deeper and meaningful engagement and a process of genuine relationship building by recognizing our ‘shared values’. First we must recognize the overarching, foundational features of our two countries: our vibrant democracies, applicability of rule of law as well as adherence to international law, a rules-based order and principles of natural justice. Second, recognizing the commonalities within our political, regulatory, and legal systems: a Parliamentary form of government, federal system, common law principles, judicial review, issuing of speaking or reasoned orders including at all regulatory/government levels. These common features enable both nations to relate better to the challenges associated with these systems and develop a more comprehensive collaboration approach for mutual benefits. Third, we must acknowledge the obvious advantages of a common work/official language (English / Indian English) that is extremely relevant and useful for developing collaboration projects at multiple levels.
Finally, this enumeration of ‘shared values’ is incomplete without adequate reference to the human, societal, work, and environmental aspects valued in both countries. To strike a more meaningful cord with India, we need to swiftly navigate the focus beyond “curry, cricket and cinema” and draw attention to a fast-changing, multicultural, linguistically, and ethnically diverse, pluralistic Australia, much like India! This entails weaving interesting discussions and conversations around every day and household living values and interests common to Indians and Australians. For example, Indians know almost nothing about the strong family bonds that Australian families treasure (including with their grandparents), the strong community ties that Australians nurture to make their life more purposeful, the culture and importance of volunteering in Australia, how Australians value simplicity, have a great work-ethic yet cherish a work-life balance, look after/engage with nature in myriad ways, and so forth. There are tens of such parallels that we need to draw to connect deeply and organically with India.
Covid and other geopolitical events of the past two years have accelerated the need for a stronger Australia-India partnership to ensure an open and safe Indo-Pacific region. India’s newfound proclivity for collaboration is a great opportunity for Australia. The Australian government authorities, Universities, and think-tanks, such as the Australia India Institute, are in a good position to play a critical role in building trust and a sense of Australia’s long-term commitment and friendship towards India. Establishing these will allay any doubts, inhibitions and misunderstanding in India towards Australia, in turn paving the way for umpteen business development opportunities, greater numbers of quality Indian students and closer country ties with India.
Sonia Khosa is a Lecturer at the University of Sydney, Australia. She was conferred her PhD by the University of Sydney Business School in 2021. Sonia’s thesis titled “Deeper, Strategic Collaboration in the Securities Sector: India and Australia” compares and analyses the regulatory framework for securities markets and its implementation in both jurisdictions and proposes a strategic partnership between the two countries. Prior to her academic and research focus, Sonia worked as Assistant General Manager (Law) with the Indian securities market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) (ASIC’s Indian counterpart) and served from 2007 – 2021 (the last 5 years on Study Leave to Australia).