Address to the Australia India Business Council, Canberra

Simon Birmingham:

Sanjay, thank you so very much for that introduction. For those of you receiving your meals, please do eat and continue to eat during my remarks. I apologise that I am sort of rushing the agenda or program for lunch today just a little. The joys of changing parliamentary schedules as they are mean that whilst theoretically I have an hour, hour and a half, to be with you, I now have about 30 minutes, and the risk of opinion, divisions and legislation.

But ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for the opportunity to be here in addition to, of course, acknowledging Sanjay and his welcome. Your Excellencies, thank you all for joining us. In particular, at this event, of course, Dr Gondane, the High Commissioner of India, and also your colleagues from elsewhere in the region. To, of course, my parliamentary colleague, Dr Mike Kelly. Distinguished guests all, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a wonderful opportunity to be back, as it is, at the Australian-Indian Business Council, an entity that I’ve engaged with I think across multiple cities of Australia, and of course had the pleasure of engaging you in India as well.

It was now a little over six months ago that I was in India, together with Prime Minister Turnbull, to speak with and listen to people there about our ongoing collaboration across the education, training and research landscapes. And that was a wonderful visit, and it seems hard to believe now that it was six months ago. There were many great outcomes from that visit, both big and small, from the MOUs that were signed for collaboration between governments, between education and research entities, to of course the exchange of business cards and connections that I know will forge further waves of collaboration and partnership across all areas of education, training, research, and business.

Certainly, what that visit helped me to do was really crystallise in my mind the importance of what we’ve come to call knowledge partnerships, which was a key thing of the mission that the government took. Australia and India share many ambitions, ambitions that we can’t necessarily reach alone. Each of our nations, ambitious to be smart, skilled, quick thinkers, and have the opportunity to reach our potential, both as nations and as individuals. Ambitious to be ahead of the curve, the extraordinary technological change that’s transforming how it is that our communities and peoples live, work, and communicate. Ambitions, of course, of having newer and better medicines that can improve the quality of life for those affected by diseases. Ambitions of living more sustainably, in healthy environments. Ambitions of ensuring vibrant and productive economies that underpin the improved, high quality lifestyles of peoples across our countries. The challenges and starting points for those various ambitions differ across our communities, but the ambitions themselves have many common elements.

As Prime Minister Turnbull said to the Australia India Business Dinner in Mumbai during that visit, each of us does better and walks further when we walk together, and that of course is the heart of the knowledge partnership that we seek to have as a nation. Australia’s aspiration is truly to be India’s knowledge partner of choice, so that we can harness the best research and the best thinking to deliver on all of the promises that the 21st century offers to our nations.

Today I’m going to touch on in some of the thriving partnerships between Australian and Indian businesses, researchers, and education providers which are truly crossing borders and breaking new ground. Research is the bedrock for almost every profession in every industry and every economy. It may not always be recognised as such, but the breakthroughs, the findings along the way have come to shape, of course, so many professions across the landscape. The more we share our ideas, expertise, and resources, the better the results we have for researchers. And the better results that we have for researchers, the better results for businesses, communities, governments, and people – whether you’re in Adelaide or Agra.

Australia and India are already working side by side, with more than 400 formal research partnerships occurring between some 33 Australian universities and some 250 Indian institutions. Since 2011, pleasingly those research partnerships and activities and collaborations have seen around 7500 co-authored publications between Australian and Indian researchers.

To back this, to help drive this, the Australian Government has invested more than $60 million in some 240 collaborative research projects, workshops, and other activities between both Indian and Australian researchers, involving around 100 Australian universities and research institutes across both countries through the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund. That fund is just one of a number of frameworks we have in place to give structure and purpose to our ever-evolving collaboration, which does go far beyond the research space.

There’s also the Australia-India Knowledge Partnership, the Australia-India Education Council, the work, yes, of the Australia-India Business Council, the Indo-Australian Chamber of Commerce, and our shared position as lead countries in the Indian Ocean Rim Association. These represent an array of long-standing, well-integrated, successful partnerships and frameworks that are testament to the strength of our bilateral relationship.

I was delighted to witness for myself just what research collaboration can look like in a best practice way when I visited the new energy and research institute – TERI, as it’s known – the Deakin Nano Biotechnology Centre in New Delhi in April, after it was officially opened by prime ministers Modi and Turnbull during our visit. It boasts 50 world-class laboratories and space for up to 100 researchers, including 50 PhD students.

While the facilities are fantastic and the opportunities for those researchers immense, what’s really exciting there is, of course, what’s actually happening; that TERI Deakin is poised to be undertaking collaborative research that will benefit both Australia and India by developing innovative nano biotechnology-based solutions to address challenges in the field of agriculture and the environment. It does that by bringing together the expertise of TERI, this partnership, across agriculture, across biotechnology, green energy, and nanotechnology – truly interdisciplinary work – pairing that with Deakin’s expertise in material, chemical and physical sciences.

It’s a great example of working together for the betterment, ultimately, of farmers, farmers to ensure they’re more resilient: the crops they plant, the manner in which they produce, for the vagueness of climate patterns and weather patterns. To ensure they’re more productive, which are cause for enhanced productivity by farmers, by agricultural producers, we ultimately can address a range of different social and economic problems through the production of more food, greater volumes at cheaper prices.

That’s, of course, just one example of the type of very practical research partnerships and collaborations occurring. Other areas of research collaboration between India and Australia cover everything from clean energy technologies, transport, cyber security, advanced manufacturing, environmental change, health, artificial intelligence and image processing, astronomical and space sciences, geology, the law. The list is almost as rich and diverse as of course the list of our own domestic research undertakings, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to do more, more opportunities that we can grasp.

Last year, the Australia-India Institute released publication on research potential between our two nations. It outlined opportunities for further research collaboration in the growth sectors of agriculture, medicine, and sports science. Indeed, sports science is one of the rapidly growing sectors in India and is a discipline in which a number of Australian universities excel.

There are already some great examples of partnerships happening in this area, such as Deakin signing an agreement with the Pune Supergiants Indian Premier League cricket team to provide research and master classes. La Trobe University also has an agreement with an IPL team, the Kings XI Punjab. And while cricket is an obvious example, and perhaps a sore point sometimes for Australia lately, there are many other sports where these partnerships are also rich and diverse – badminton, hockey, soccer – that we would necessarily expect, but where again we’re seeing leadership in sports sciences and research visions.

It was great to see that a number of MOUs signed at April’s Knowledge Partnerships Roundtable in New Delhi will move us even further in that direction. I note that a few of those involved in such agreements with Australian universities and India’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports are seeking to enhance cooperation on various activities that support progress towards establishing India’s first National Sports University.

The Turnbull Government wants to support this type of expansion in research cooperation in new and emerging fields, increasing our applied research, with its focus on solving real world problems linked to industry needs or community needs, which can allow us – both of us as nations, as businesses, service providers in those nations – to maintain and develop an edge in the global market place.

We’re also seeing great advances in the efforts of our PhD students working collaboratively or studying across institutions. As the Chief Executive of Australia’s Group of Eight universities, Vicki Thomson, put it recently: our joint research successes have not translated into increased numbers of PhD students seeking to study in Australia, nor to more of our Australian PhD students seeking to study opportunities in India. So I was very pleased that the G8 made the move to set up a taskforce to address this and to illustrate to PhD students of both countries the true benefits of study mobility, so that our national economies both can benefit from the experience that our highest level of students, like the researchers, can undertake through greater mobility and exchange.

Mobility is, of course, the firm soil on which so much of our collaboration as nations has been taking place. The more easily people can move between our two countries, the more opportunities there are for research collaboration and cross-pollination, allowing new ground-breaking ideas to take root and grow. And not forgetting, through greater mobility, especially student mobility, that we can get an enhanced, better understanding and appreciation of our respective cultures and hopefully, in doing so, strengthen ties and make great new friends along the way.

The Turnbull Government’s mobility program – such as the New Colombo Plan and the Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships – are instrumental in helping to make these connections happen. Over the last decade, the Australian Government has backed almost 500 Indian students through an Endeavour Scholarship or Fellowship to undertake study, research or professional development in Australia. Equally, last year we funded and supported almost 1500 Australian undergraduate students to study in India under the New Colombo Plan. And almost 400 Australian masters and VET students received funding and support to undertake Endeavour Mobility Grants projects in India.

The last point is particularly important, because whilst we spend and I’ve spent today significant time focussing on research collaboration and university partnerships that exist, our knowledge partnership would be utterly one dimensional without also the significance of the skills component, the vocational component. That’s why it was terrific to see the AIBC and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry jointly host a workshop as part of our Education and Skills Mission in April.

As part of that discussion, we examined future skills needs for the mining sector. We were joined by Brendan Carlson, one of our Australian Apprenticeship Ambassadors, as well as industry representatives from Australian and Indian mining and education sectors. It was an outstanding showcasing of Australia’s expertise in training design, delivery and assessment. One of the workshop’s great successes is simply an enhanced conversation we were able to have between industry, education and training sector, and government about how collaboration could enhance the development of mining and energy sectors in India, in Australia, through greater sharing of skills development and support.

There’s enormous potential for Australia and India to deepen our skills collaboration not just in mining, but of course in sports administration, retail, tourism and hospitality, the various care sectors. Because while automation and artificial intelligence are impacting and changing manufacturing and construction sectors, we know that in a knowledge economy, in the services sector, there continues to be significant growth and demand. That’s why in Australia we are moving our focus to provide our graduates with clear sorts of employability skills that equip them for the jobs of today, but also give them transferrable and client focussed skills in entrepreneurship and innovation. And it is in these areas, again, where we can learn much from each other, and of course where we can support each other in meeting our skills objectives for the future.

None of this can be achieved without investing and a focus on the requirements for trainers and assessors, who are at the cornerstone of modern vocational education. I was particularly delighted to launch in New Delhi the new International Skills Training Course for Trainers and Assessors. These are innovative approaches to providing skills training in terms of building the capability in India to enhance delivery of skills training.

Seven Australian registered training organisations were involved in the piloting of these courses to more than 250 students in India. The International Skills Training courses can be delivered by Australian registered training organisations working in partnership with Indian counterparts to help skill trainers and assessors for India. If we look at the ambitions that Prime Minister Modi and the Government have set for skills development in India, one of the great impediments to their success in meeting those ambitions is of course ensuring requisite numbers of trainers and assessors to provide the skilling and the training opportunities to individuals in the future. This type of train the trainers program is a very practical example of how we can help build capacity, capability to meet human, human resource, social capital, and economic and business objectives.

If I can finish by mentioning some big-picture planning work, our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is right now working on the India Economic Strategy, which is building a vision for how Australia can work with India as it continues its economic rise. It recognises the enormous potential for Australia – whether as individuals, as business owners, as researchers, as service delivery operators, as governments – to be able to grow together into the future as our economies strengthen and our shared needs expand.

That high-level strategy dovetails neatly with so much that exists in the building of our knowledge partnership. Knowledge that is pulled, knowledge that is forged together, will pay dividends for people, for industries, for communities, economies, governments. It’s a priority for our Government to continue to build on this cooperation in research, in higher education, and in training and skills between businesses and industry. We want to see the outcomes of our research collaborations continue to be put to use in our hospitals, on our farms, in our schools, in our factories, in our laboratories, to drive our economies and strengthen our strategic partnership.

The opportunities are immense and the opportunity is strengthened by the type of collaboration and engagement that is evident from gatherings such as this one. Thank you so much, not only for the chance to speak with you today, but also thank you so much for your coming together as representatives across Australian business, Indian business, and the Australian society and government, Indian business, society and government. Together, of course, you create the type of strengthened relationship that gives us the best opportunity for success in the future, and as a government we look forward to working with all of you to do so.

Thanks so very much.