SUBJECTS: Australia-India relationship; Assistance to Sri Lanka. 


AVANI DIAS: Deputy Prime Minister, thanks for joining us.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Pleasure, Avani. Nice to meet you.

DIAS: So, you’ve been in Government for just a few weeks, nearly a month. Why did you make India such a priority?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t think there’s ever been a point in both of our country’s histories where we have had such a strong strategic alignment in the sense that, for India and Australia, China is our largest trading partner. For India and Australia, China is our biggest security anxiety. We’re both trying to reconcile those things, which is not an easy problem to solve. This is a time to be comparing notes with friends. And that is the next point; India really is a close friend. We have shared values. We are both democracies that value the rule of law.

DIAS: Are you hoping to increase defence ties between India and Australia?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We are. We want to deepen our operational engagement, and to see a greater operational engagement between our two nations’ defence forces.

DIAS: There was a bit of commentary in India about the relationship with your government and China’s, and there’s been a lot of people watching, especially, the meeting that you have recently had. What message do you think that meeting has sent to the Indian Government in particular?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We’ve made clear that the substantive issues in our foreign policy – the substantive posture of our foreign policy – there is a continuity between the last government and ours. But there is a change of tone. We’re not out there trying to beat our chest.

DIAS: It is a tricky balance though, isn’t it? And, you know, that tonal shift, are you worried that could jeopardise the strong relationship that was built between Modi and Morrison, and before that Abbott and so on?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No, because I think in the conversations that I’m having, India and indeed all countries really understand how important dialogue is, particularly when relationships are difficult and complex.

DIAS: I’m keen to just get your thoughts before we finish up on the broader region, and Sri Lanka is a big issue for India. Australia’s now stepping in. There’s been a lot of pressure for the Quad partnership to work as an alliance. In fear that China could step into Sri Lanka – it’s had a big hold in Sri Lanka in the past, it’s a crucial vantage point in the Indian Ocean – will you do that? Will you work with your Quad partners to help Sri Lanka?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think there’s an opportunity to work with the Quad partners in terms of assisting Sri Lanka, but right now our focus is on how we, in a bilateral sense, can help Sri Lanka. Our Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, is in Sri Lanka right now looking at ways in which we can do more to help. And we understand India is the lead here, and we want to talk to India about their views of how we can help.


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