With the regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas coming up soon on the Australian horizon, NRI Achievers made it a point to request for a meet-up with the Australia’s Charge d’Affaires to India, His Excellency Patrick Suckling, High Commissioner. Rajiv Gupta and Ajay Sood from the NRI Achievers team had an informal tête-à-tête with the career diplomat one fine autumn afternoon in New Delhi, and the conversation was engaging, lucid and wide-ranging. We reproduce excerpts from that conversation here, all in his own words, for your reading pleasure …
India is, simply put, breathtaking. Fascinating. India is so fascinating in its cultural, historical, ethnic, linguistic pluralism that you could spend a lifetime exploring it, and still find you have much much more to cover. Geographically, the diverse regions, people and culture of India provide a milieu from which there is so much to learn. For me, travel in India is very nice, I have got to know so many different communities and cultures. I have been to Jaipur, also the Mahabalipuram temple, and it’s wonderful. Wherever I go I find fascinating and interesting people. The people of India are very friendly, and they have a wonderful history. A very stabilized people.
ON HINDI, INDIAN LITERATURE, BOLLYWOOD CINEMA & INDIAN CUISINE:
I have even done a diploma in Hindi. I find it a very interesting language, and I have read many wonderful stories in Hindi. It was to know India better and learn more about the culture of India that I started learning Hindi. Many people like you ask me whether I have gained fluency in the language. “Mein Hindi padh sakta hunh lekin mujhe hindi bolne kum aati hai. Likhne mein, Jee haan. Naam likh leta hun.”
Poetry has always interested me, so one could say I am a bit into poetry, and I started this journey into the world of poetry with my brush with English literature. And when we talk of Indian literature, I could say I know Tulsidas, Premchand. I have read his books, some of the poetry of Tulsidas, but I do not recollect the names of his writings offhand right now.
I have found time to watch some Hindi movies. My last was ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, it was quite a nice movie. The actor was Shahrukh Khan and actress was Katrina Kaif, both were good, they were fantastic. I am, for that matter, quite a familiar with Indian cinema for sometime now. I remember seeing Sri Devi some 20 years ago in a film called ‘Naagin’. She had also come to Delhi that time, and I had the chance to meet her. It’s a very famous film in which she does a snake-dance. When they play the music of Naagin, she starts transforming herself into Naagin and starts dancing like a Naagin, and that was a fantastic job done by her. But I haven’t seen her latest movie, “English Winglish.”
Talking of Indian food, oh yes, we like it very much ! Indian food is not just one of the greatest cuisines of the world, it’s incredible. Imagine my astonishment when I went to a wedding, and there were around 400 different Indian dishes, all vegetarian ! Today, whenever my wife asks our daughter what she would like for lunch, she invariably quips ‘Daal & Rice’ ! As a family, we are quite fond of Indian food. It’s spicy, the texture & colour are extremely appetising, and the food is … delicious.
ON INDIA’S PROGRESS & INDO-AUSTRALIAN RELATIONS:
You could say that this is actually my second innings in India. Between then and now, I do find that there is a remarkable change in the field of development in India over the past several years. India has today got several infrastructure projects going, and many infrastructure facilities are being created across the country. India has many challenges and different problems. Some pockets of India are very challenging, but some are very world class and comfortable. India is actually growing perceptibly.Australia’s relationship with India goes back to some 50 years. As a partner in growth, India is very significant for Australia. India is also one of the top-priority countries for Australia. Looking at the ever-changing economic equations in the Asian region, I would say India has a large role to play in that story. We needed to talk about the opportunities for the rising nation that is facing many problems as well. So India is identified as one of the top-most priorities among countries our government relates with.
India, China, Japan, Indonesia, and of course USA, are some of the long-standing partner-countries of ours. You will be interested to know that Hindi has been nominated as one of the internationally significant languages too, on par with Japanese, Chinese, and some others.
Indo-Australian relationship is significant on two levels. One is a strong economic relationship, then we have great trade & investment resources. Many Indian companies are looking for investments in Australian companies. Last year Indians have invested AU $ 20 million in Australian companies. The education sector is another area. There are students from India who come to Australia, and they constitute the second largest number of foreign students in Australia after China. And another is infrastructure; India has invested AU $ 1.8 million into the Australian infrastructure sector. For those who are looking for long term investments, we can create opportunities for them to invest in. So there is very big and complex economic chain that links India & Australia. Indian people in Australia and companies are contacting and creating investments in crafts, enlarging production and indulging in several other manufacturing activities. So there is very strong and prospective economic relationship.
For all practical purposes, there is only a further intensification of our focus on India. This is largely due to the fact that both the ruling and opposition parties in Australia recognise the importance of Asia in general and India in particular, in the long-term interests of Australia. Relations with India are critical to our national interests, and I would say they do remain in excellent repair. Also, for some time now, our two countries have been negotiating a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA), besides the sale of uranium to India as part of civil nuclear cooperation. There has been a steady progress in the negotiations on both these issues. The FTA in particular will lead to a lot of two-way trade and improved market access for both the countries.
Our relations in the field of education are also in fine mettle. India in fact is a key market for education services as Australia’s second-largest source of international students. Last year, in 2012-13, the numbers of Indian students reaching Australia for higher studies accounted for 54,000 enrolments, which is 16% increase over enrolments during the previous year, in 2011-12. That makes India the second-largest consumer of the Australian education system, next only to china. There is also more in store, with Australia providing active assistance to India in shaping skill development councils in areas related to agriculture, mining, retail, media and telecommunications.
The nicest thing about our ties is that a lot of things are coming from India to Australia, which shows that it is not a one-way street. India is our fourth-largest export market, with two-way trade presently exceeding AU $ 18 Billion a year. Indian companies have made their presence felt in Australia in many domains, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals and fertilizers. On the other hand, Australia has many commercial interests and strong education links with institutions in several Indian cities. Energy, agriculture, security and education are the prime sectors and factors that will shape relations between our two countries in the years ahead. India wants energy security and is looking for long-term, stable and dependable relations, which Australia can provide. If one looks at the existing balance of trade, 75% of Australia’s trade with India is in resources like coal, gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG).
Australia is on course to becoming a leading producer of LNG in today’s world. We feel there is enormous future and potential in the energy sector and it will be a win-win situation for both our countries. Agriculture is another area where Australia remains the largest exporter of food to India, especially pulses and oilseeds. Apart from our core strengths of energy and agriculture, Australia has a lot to offer in terms of infotech, biotech and pharma as well.
ON RACISM, ANTI-INDIAN FEELINGS:
In the recent past, Australia has been receiving some negative publicity, which purports to point to some racial discrimination of Indians by other Australians. I would like to respond to these with an emphatic “No.” It’s not true. Australia is a country that has been open to immigration since 1945, where people from 200 different countries have conmingled, and live in peace and harmony. Australia prides itself as a multicultural country, a very successful democracy, and the Indian community has been there for a long long time. Indians have made a very significant contribution in manufacturing, and several other sectors, and have pride of place in Australian society. I would like to say that in Australia, there is a warm welcome for Indians everywhere. Problems do exist in every country, and there could be problems that surface from time to time in any country, that do not warrant description as well. Suffice to say that Australia is not racist on any count, and we are very proud about our multicultural identity as well.I have also often been asked if Australia means to put in place laws like what GCC countries have implemented, i.e., like ‘Nitaqat.’ Let me just say that there is no such rule in Australia. The Australian economy has been consistently growing since the last 21 years, and this could not have been achieved if not for the efforts of the Australian people, Indians included. So we have a system where we welcome everyone to work here.
ON INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES:
Regarding avenues for investment, Australia is a very open economy. We are really a very liberal and globalised economy, and we welcome investors. Every sector in Australia is open to foreign investments. There is even a specialised foreign investment firm in Australia, that can take care of all the interfacing necessary and look after all the details, say if someone wants to invest AU $ XXX million. And there are literally hundreds of thousands of investors who have come to Australia during the past decade or so. Indian investment in Australia is apropos increasing on a massive scale …
There is a department within the government of Australia, called “Invest Australia,” it is essentially a business to business link. We have Invest Australia offices in Delhi, in Mumbai, in Chennai and also in other large cities like Jaipur, Pune and so on. So the people who want to invest in Australia simply connect with Invest Australia, and that’s a one-window approach to investing into the Australian economy.
ON THE PRAVASI BHARATIYA DIVAS:
As you are aware, this year’s regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, one of India’s flagship events for its Diaspora, is to take place in Australia. India has chosen to hold this regional Disapora event in Australia this time, giving due recognition to the depth of the multifaceted relations between the two countries, and the large numbers of the people of Indian origin who are part of Australian society. In other words, the motive is to celebrate Indian Diaspora and Indian culture, Indian people, Indian business, and the Indian communities’ contribution to the economies of both states.
The focus of most PBD activities are likely to be happening in Sydney, and also possibly in some areas of Melbourne. There will be celebrations, exhibitions, business talks, and interactions exploring synergies. The Indian government is keen to listen to the ideas of their Diaspora and we too are also looking for new ideas from them. We are planning several activities to highlight India, we are working on it.
ABOUT THE HIGH COMMISSIONER:
Patrick Suckling is an accomplished career diplomat with a wealth of expertise in policy development, public diplomacy and consular service. His previous postings to New Delhi (1997-1999) and Washington (2003-2007), and graduate qualifications in Hindi have tended to serve him well indeed as the High Commissioner of Australia to India, since he took charge as Australia’s Charge d’Affaires here in January 2013. In the immediate past, he has managed international issues between 2009-2011 for two Prime Ministers of Australia, encompassing foreign, economic and international aid policy. This included Australia’s active participation in the establishment of the G20 as the world’s premier global economic forum and the expansion of the East Asia Summit to strengthen regional architecture.
Patrick Suckling has melded foreign policy with trade and economic policy throughout his career, including serving as Australia’s senior official to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 2008 and as a senior official to the Paris Club for international debt negotiations in 2003. Between 2011-12, he was head of the Consular, Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary Affairs division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), including management of media for portfolio ministers and oversight of around 1600 Australian consular cases on any given day.
Mr. Suckling joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 1994. He holds a Masters in International Relations from Monash University and honours degrees in Economics and English literature from the University of Sydney.He also holds a graduate diploma in Hindi from Sydney University. He is married with three children.