Thursday, 20 June 2013
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee; Report
I would like to make some comments about the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee's report, The importance of the Indian Ocean rim for Australia’s foreign, trade and defence policy. The Indian Ocean rim encompasses some 2.3 million people and a vast array of countries with different religions and cultures, but it is there on our doorstep—particularly in the case of Western Australia. We undertook this inquiry into our relationship with the countries of the Indian Ocean rim because Australia is about to become the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation. The inquiry revealed that there is huge potential for Australia in developing trade links in the Indian Ocean rim with countries like India and those of East Africa, where there is a growing middle class with which Australia could involve itself in education and financial services and other such things.
Also, from a strategic point of view, there is a change in what is happening in the Indian Ocean, which has been a very quiet area, and now the Chinese have an increased naval presence there. About a third of the world's energy traverses the Indian Ocean in the form of oil and gas. The committee felt that, while the sense of community in the Indian Ocean is not great, there was great potential in the future for it to develop into a much more closely integrated area. Just as with APEC 20 years ago, we saw the Indian Ocean as having the potential to be of great importance to Australia. Australia is going to take over the chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation in a year's time from India, and then, after Australia, Indonesia will take it over. We felt that the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation was a vehicle through which we could work to greatly strengthen the links between the countries in the rim and begin to realise the potential that the Indian Ocean rim offers us in economic terms as well as political and other terms.
Western Australia, of course, is very interested in the Indian Ocean, and we found there was something of a cultural divide, in that in Western Australia the need for the interest in the Indian Ocean was immediately recognised but, when we held our first hearings here in Canberra, the witnesses from ANU came and spoke to us afterwards and said, 'But, why are you holding this inquiry? Our interests end at India.' Well, the world is bigger than just India, in terms of the Indian Ocean, and so this has been a very useful inquiry.