06 Dec 2017 16:47 IST

The buck stops with Adani now: Australian envoy Sidhu

'Adani has met all terms... Australia will welcome such an investment'

Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner to India, believes that the $16-billion Adani coal mine and rail project will generate substantial jobs for the locals there.

In an interview with BusinessLine, the Indian-origin envoy stated that the Australian government has also cleared the way for commencement of Uranium shipments to India. She also spoke about the abuse of the Temporary Work Visa programme and reasons why her government is introducing a new regime instead. Excerpts:

Adani Carmichael Coal Mine Project is seeing massive protests, but the Australian government seems to be supporting it. What is the current status?

The Australian government supports the Adani project for a very simple reason that it represents a massive economic development for the country. It will attract jobs, it will bring in investments, it will open up a part of Australia’s resource sector that has yet to be opened, it will be very dynamic for the local economy once it’s up and running. So any government I think faced with an investment of that sort on the kinds of terms, because Adani has met all the requirements in Australia, will be very welcoming of such an investment. So there is no question why the Australian government supports that.

How soon do you expect the project to be up and running?

That’s a judgment for Gautam Adani to make. Again these are now down to commercial decisions for the Adani Group to make and they will make those decisions based on the circumstances before them. There’s not a great deal more the federal Australian government can do in this circumstance.

Do you think the Adani project will stand up to your expectations on job generation or hiring the locals there?

They have mentioned the number of jobs that could be in thousands. But, in the end, it is our expectation that a substantial number, if not a majority of those jobs would come for the local people. Australians are very well-qualified and I think the Adani Group had been at pains to assure the Australian system that they will employ locals to the extent possible. Equally, a thing to remember is that the thing that generates jobs is not just the actual running of the mine but it’s all the other investments and all the other indirect economic impacts that happen from establishing an office or a hub in a particular town, which then generate jobs and opportunities of their own right just by the virtue of that investment. So there are many spin-offs from this investment.

What is the status of India-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) or Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA)? Why is it stuck?

FTAs always take many years to negotiate. They are large and complex documents. So ours is not exception. And you are right to say that on both sides there are things we want from the other that are challenging for us. Now that is not insurmountable. But finding a path through those challenges is going to take time. What we are saying is that we still think an FTA with India is a good and important thing to have and we will continue to make efforts towards concluding the CECA with India. But, we also recognise that the economic relationship between us is bigger than an FTA.

When is the next round of formal talks?

I am certain that there will be a formal negotiating round when the time is right.

What is it you are trying to do with the 457 Temporary Work Visa (TWV)?

For the last few years, the largest source of skilled migration to Australia has come from India. The Indians are largest source of skilled migration. We continue to take large numbers of migrants to Australia. In Temporary Work Visas, Indians are the largest cohorts of people working in Australia. And, we are constantly adjusting our visa regime to suit our own circumstances. Where we have made those adjustments, for example, tightening the English language requirement, Indians have generally been able to get over that hurdle. Of all countries, India is doing the best. So, I think that the perception is actually much tougher than the reality.

When are we going to see the commencement of uranium shipments to India?

The government has done all the work to put the agreement in place, to put the implementing arrangements in place. The path is now clear for commercial shipments of uranium to India from the Australian side because uranium mining and uranium exports are entirely conducted by the private sector. Government has no role in that. There is from the Australian government’s side, no impediment to the sales happening. There is considerable interest amongst Australian exporters to export uranium to India and obviously those exports have to meet the usual commercial requirements of quality and price.

India seems to be in focus for the first time in Australia’s White Paper on Foreign Policy…

India’s very rapid development will have strategic impact around the globe. It does focus on those countries that are particularly important to us in the current environment. India is one of those. I don’t recall India being in this position in any major foreign policy paper for Australia as this one.

What is it you are seeking from India in this?

The White Paper is not about what we want out of India. It’s more about recognition, about the value of the things we have always talked about. So what we are looking for is working more closely with India to meet the challenges that the current global environment presents.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)

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