Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell said that the government is making every effort to ensure that those who deface or attack places of worship in the country will be prosecuted. Speaking on the recent attacks on temples and violent protests by pro-Khalistani groups, O’Farrell said that those who engage in violent protest will be held accountable.
Barry also said the best part of his tenure in India was his relationship with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and called him the most effective in delivering results and an expert in his area.
The High Commissioner also spoke about the Indian diaspora in Australia and the way in which it is shaping the bilateral ties between the two nations. He added that the recent Sydney visit of PM Modi and the way the huge crowd chanted his name was very uncommon in Australia.
Barry O’Farrell, whose tenure is coming to an end on 30th of June, in an exclusive interview with CNN-News18 spoke on a range of topics including BRICS, PM Modi’s recent visit to Australia, threat from China and the attacks on temples in Australia by Khalistani sympathisers.
Here are edited excerpts from the interview:
Q. How do you look at the India-Australia relationship and what more could be done in terms of bilateral ties? Secondly, does PM Albanese only thinks of Prime Minister Modi as the boss or the entire Australia?
It was an extraordinarily positive and exciting visit particularly the event at the arena where all of Australian politicians were in the room. I wish they could speak to an audience like that. The way so many people chant his (PM Modi’s) name, it was very uncommon in Australia.
The Indian diaspora is the largest in the world in every country. So, the event was tremendous and both of our Prime Ministers were keen for greater ambition. It’s a partnership. My Prime Minister also joked about the arena being noisier than Bruce Springsteen’s concert he had gone to. It is a genuine partnership between two countries and we’re getting closer and in a large way because of growing diaspora in Australia.
We’re a country of just over 25 million people, a million of those are either born in India or have a parent born in India. They are energetic, ambitious and influential and they are the greatest salespeople for the Australia-India relationship.
There are Australian citizens telling Australian businesses about opportunities that exist in India for investment, business and tourism. It’s a win-win situation whichever way you look at it, but both Prime Ministers are demanding, both of them want results, not rhetoric and each time they meet they set bigger agendas.
Q. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, there were some people in Australia asking PM Albanese about why the Opera House and other important buildings in Australia lit up with Indian flags and the same didn’t happen during Kings coronation? PM Albanese replied that Indians in Hyderabad and Bangalore will invest in Australia and will get some more dollars to the country. Is India more important to Australia at the moment compared to the UK?
Two things. As a former Chief Minister of New South Wales, the decision around lighting up the Opera House and coronation was one for the state government, not the Centre. As Prime Minister Albanese said there are 1.4 billion reasons why we would light up the Opera House in honour of PM Modi. Both Prime Ministers understand importance of economic relationship.
The fact that we have complementary economies, we can assist each other to grow our economy, to create jobs, to lift living standards in both countries. And that’s what driving this partnership as well as our shared interests and also the shared challenges in Indo Pacific. So, from defence to trade, from tech to agriculture, we’re helping each other in a world which is increasingly competitive and, in a region, where we are both committed to deliver.
Q. India is not part of any military grouping in Indo Pacific. Efforts are being made to make India join the NATO plus. Australia is a member of NATO+. Do you think India’s current position of playing a neutral role between two blocks is good or if India joins NATO plus, would it be more effective with regards to open and free Indo Pacific?
No friend of India is going to push it to do anything outside its national interests and certainly not Australia. Countries will always make decisions according to their national interests. QUAD is not a military congregation. It’s about practical things like healthcare, climate change like infrastructure.
The fact is that when India had its borders incursion from China is 2020, I had my first visit with Dr Jaishankar, we delivered our support for India. We don’t support any change in the status quo because we understand when you try and unilaterally change boundaries, it increases risk and increases the likelihood of poor outcomes.
So, we will support India in a variety of ways across our region. If India wants to join NATO or something else that will be a matter for India. Frankly, we understand that if you’ve a border incursion or a trade dispute, you need to talk to the other party to try and stabilise your relationship but stabilising relationships with any party does not mean you give up your national interests.
Q. This year there’ve been several attacks on temples in Australia. When I spoke to people from the Indian community, they said that though cases are registered but there is no proper prosecution to break the morale of such groups. What do you’ve to say on this?
The Australian government is making every effort as Prime Minister Albanese promised PM Modi when he visited in March to ensure that those who defaced or attacked places of worship in Australia, whether a Hindu temple or a Jewish synagogue will be prosecuted because that is our law. Those who engage in violent protest will be held accountable. Those who engage in hate speech in Australia, which is also outlawed will be prosecuted.
There have been arrests, there have been prosecutions but of course, it’s also in every democracy, hard at times to track down the ultimate culprit. The state and centre are working hard on this because this is not an attack upon a religion, but it’s also attack upon our multicultural, multi faith community which is a vibrant, peaceful community.
Q. How has been your experience working with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar? There have been several meetings that we personally saw you attending with Jaishankar. What’s your opinion about him and how’s been your relationship with him?
It has been one of the best parts of my time here because it’s rare in a democracy like ours that people who are specialists in particular area, get to become ministers in that area. During the time that I’ve been here in India, he has not only shown how intelligent he is, but also how visionary effective he is in achieving results.