Thursday, 18 October 2018
Treaties Committee; Report
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I present the committee's Report 183: report of the committee visit to India and Indonesia.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
by leave—This report gives an account of the visit by a delegation of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties to India and Indonesia in August, under the program of committee visits to the Asia-Pacific region. In its letter requesting the visit, the committee noted that Australia is currently negotiating trade agreements with both India and Indonesia. As a result, JSCOT believed the delegation would enhance its ability to examine these treaties—and other trade agreements—in any future inquiry.
Over the 22 years of JSCOT's operation, several themes have emerged from inquires into trade and economic cooperation agreements.
The aims and objectives of the delegation were: to inquire into the challenges and rewards of Australian businesses accessing, or attempting to access, the Indian and Indonesian markets; to examine the broader economic context of both India and Indonesia, including opportunities for Australia's further investment and trade; to obtain detailed information on the perspectives of both the Indian and Indonesian executive governments; to examine the mechanisms for parliamentary oversight of treaties, trade and foreign affairs; to identify successful examples of Australian businesses in Indonesia and Indian markets; and to ascertain the factors or criteria that contributed to their success. Discussions were had while we were there with a broad range of government, parliamentary, local and Australian businesses, and these gave the delegation a very nuanced picture of the trade and investment relationships in both countries.
The delegation expected India to be multifaceted and complex. Even so, the delegation was struck by the sheer scale of the Indian economy, by the complicated regulatory environment and by the cultural and economic differences across the states. This complicated political and economic environment underpinned everything that we, as the delegation, saw and heard, and explains that this complexity requires a careful process of negotiation. The delegation really saw that the opportunities in India for mutual benefit are great and growing, and JSCOT now has a much better understanding of both the trade agreement process and the steps that will be required for Australian businesses to really take full advantage of the opportunities in India.
In Indonesia, we had the opportunity to gain a different perspective on Australia's international trade relationships. We are really pleased to see that since the visit Australia and Indonesia have successfully concluded negotiations on the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. It's clear that there is potential to strengthen our economic and security cooperation with one of our major trading partners, that being of course, Indonesia. It is a country that has tremendous potential for economic growth, and the delegation was particularly pleased to meet with New Colombo Plan scholars and to see the growth of person-to-person—people-to-people—contacts and links to match our already strong links in security, tourism and education in Indonesia.
The delegation would like to thank DFAT officers for what was exceptional support provided by them in each location—a great program—and to thank everyone who made the time to meet the delegation with the warm hospitality the delegation was shown on so many occasions. We appreciated not only the expertise but the exceptional candour and frank assessments of everyone who we spoke to and who spoke to us. I want to acknowledge all the members of the delegation for their time and effort, and thank them for all the time they put into this particular delegation. I want to thank the then chair and also the secretary, Lynley Ducker, for her outstanding efforts during this delegation.
It really was a great privilege for the delegation to travel and engage at a personal level with a wide variety of people and organisations. We not only heard about India and Indonesia but also had the opportunity to explain the parliamentary role and the important oversight that is conducted by JSCOT. I thank the House.
by leave—I want to join the Chief Government Whip in expressing my appreciation of this important visit by JSCOT to India and Indonesia. Unfortunately, I was only able to participate in the Indian section of the visit. I think that as Australian MPs we learnt a great deal of important things, particularly from my point of view, about India.
We observed the Indian parliament in action, and it was a particularly interesting session that we attended. There was a debate on a proposed amendment to their constitution, with a 123-amendment bill. The bill sought to grant constitutional status to the National Commission on Backward Classes. That sounds a pretty arcane term in this parliament, but it refers to castes which are socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged. It is very interesting to see, as part of India's progress, that the disadvantaged castes are being legally addressed by the Lok Sabha and are being brought into equality—a very, very good thing from India's point of view.
We had a chance, as the Chief Government Whip said, to observe economic reform in that great country and to look at the possibility of a free trade agreement with Australia. I have to report—I think it was the view of the delegation—that that FTA is going to take a great deal of further work, because most of the Indian economic policymakers were interested in focusing on their huge economy rather than even trade with the outside world or the importance of FTAs with Australia or, indeed, other countries.
I would say, however, from our meetings with Australian businesspeople operating in India, that the abolition of different GSTs by states and the consolidation of them by the Lok Sabha has had an amazingly productive effect—just like the change in the Indian currency. The Indian government is to be congratulated on doing this, and it's made the doing of business between states in India—some of which, of course, are bigger than Australia, certainly in population size—a great deal easier, and we heard many commendations from Australian businesses about the benefit of that.
We had an extraordinary insight into Indian culture. We had a tour of the National Gallery of Modern Art in India under the auspices of Adwaita Gadanayak, who was a great host. Also, in Mumbai, we met the Governor of Maharashtra, C Vidyasagar Rao, who took us through the governor's palace.
The last point I would make is that we also gained an extraordinary insight into the political developments in Pakistan, being very close to them at the time of their national election. The widespread view was that the new Prime Minister of Pakistan is very close to the Pakistan Army and that little progress can be expected of the new government of Pakistan, in engagement on security issues with India and the rest of the world, unless the Pakistan Army is involved in those discussions, because the impression, certainly throughout India, was that they were the people strongly behind him.