‘Defence deals key to India-Australia ties’, says Australian envoy

Against the backdrop of a significant increase in defence and strategic engagements, Australia is keen on signing an agreement with India for reciprocal access to military facilities for logistics support, Australian high commissioner Harinder Sidhu said on Wednesday.

Sidhu, set to return home after a four-year stint in New Delhi, said in the context of protests against India’s new citizenship law that Australia is closely watching the situation and would like India to continue to be a “champion for democracy”.

Noting that trade, investment, education, and tourism grew in double digits in 2018 alone, she said in an interview the new India Economic Strategy, which aims to make India the third-largest export market by 2035, had identified ten sectors where Australia “can bring real change in terms of investments, know-how, and genuine mutual partnerships”.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick in the strategic relationship, that’s actually what’s led the charge, the defence and strategic engagement that we have has just grown tremendously,” Sidhu said, adding strategic dialogue has expanded on issues such as maritime and cybersecurity and counter-terrorism.

Asked if the proposed Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA) would be signed during Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s planned visit to India, she said, “We’re very keen to conclude such an agreement, and of course talks have been underway. So hopefully we will see that also come to a conclusion.”

Morrison’s visit to India in January was put off because of the bushfire crisis, and Sidhu said she is “optimistic it will take place in the coming months”. The visit will bring focus to bilateral ties and take various elements to “lift the relationship up a level”, she said.

Responding to a question on the CAA, Sidhu said, “We’re watching it closely and with a lot of interest like a lot of our people who are around.

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