India is the world’s most populous democracy and will by 2030 be the most populous country, overtaking China.
And it is young — there are more Indian 10 year olds than there are Australians.
With more than a dozen distinct languages, scripts and religions, India is multiculturalism on the grandest scale; unlike China, its only rival for scale, it had never existed as a single nation before its independence in 1947.
And to sustain a vibrant modern democracy — surely India is one of the greatest political achievements of our times.
Once you appreciate its size, you see its potential. Think of all those 10 year olds who will one day be voting in India’s elections and who will also one day belong to India’s middle class, the engine of its booming economy.
Put all that together and it’s easy to understand why India will play a central role in our region and the world and, I hope for Australians, it is easier to see why the relationship between our two countries has never been more important.
That formal relationship began for many Australians in 1950, when Robert Menzies became the first Australian leader to visit independent India.
Since then both countries have been transformed.
Now we must turn our attention to transforming the relationship to one that matches India’s huge needs and its enormous potential with our people, Australia’s best assets, as well as our resources and our shared democratic traditions.
I am delighted to be taking up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to make my first official visit to India as Prime Minister, from April 9 to 12. During the visit we will focus on three areas of our relationship that show great potential: our economic, knowledge and strategic partnerships.
India is inspiring the world with its explosive economic growth. Its economic takeoff is lifting millions out of poverty, transforming the country into the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with forecast growth of 7.5 per cent this year.
This is a stunning result for India, and a rare opportunity for Australia. From Mumbai to Melbourne, from Bangalore to Brisbane, India will be in the market to buy some of the best things Australia has to offer.
Two-way trade is growing, and approaching $20 billion, but that’s far too low and there’s so much more we can do.
This will be a key focus of my visit.
I’ll meet with executives from some of India’s biggest companies, and speak with Australian entrepreneurs in India who are expanding their market reach into this extraordinary country.
The government will announce the results of the 10th round of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund. Worth more than $100 million, this initiative has enabled our sharpest minds to collaborate in areas such as food security and health, and advance the boundaries of human knowledge in quantum computing, nanotechnology and astronomy.
By combining our talents, we can add to the technological achievements already made in both our countries.
For decades our citizens have been criss-crossing the Indian Ocean in search of knowledge. Last year, Australia was the second-most popular study destination for Indian students — 60,000 came to Australia to learn.
Through the government’s New Colombo Plan, I want to see more and more young Australians choosing India as a place to study and boost their own qualifications and experience. India’s demand for our minerals and resources remains high. But education is a new pathway to shared prosperity.
Consider the numbers — the Indian government is aiming to train 400 million people by 2022. We can help them achieve this goal, both here and in India.
Having met twice already, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and I know that our close economic co-operation is also matched by shared strategic priorities.
The security and stability of the Indo-Pacific is fundamental to both of us and my visit provides an opportunity to discuss key regional and geostrategic issues and strengthen our engagement. As liberal democracies, we can work together to encourage free trade and prosperity and to help safeguard security and the rule of law in our region.
At home, we are lucky that India — its culture, its art, its food, its people — have become such a large and important part of Australian life. Half a million Australians are of Indian descent. That number increases each year. Whether it’s Little India in Melbourne, Diwali celebrations in Brisbane, or the long established Sikh community on the North Coast of NSW — modern Australia, the most successful multicultural society in the world, could not be imagined without the contribution of Indian Australians.
This opinion piece by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was first published by The Australian on Monday 10 April 2017.