Decoding the importance of Victoria's India Strategy
The strategic framework is an important example of how the sub-regions of Australia and India can come together to deepen the mutual ties even further.
The Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews visited India for the official launch of Victoria's India Strategy.
The past few years have been particularly crucial for the emerging economies of the Indo-pacific, with special emphasis to India and Australia. The reason for this assertion is that there has been a heightened consciousness of the importance of the region among the states that are the major stakeholders. This consciousness can be partly due to the rapidly unfolding security questions in the broader geopolitical domain and also to the countries in the Indo-Pacific themselves who understand the significance of a secure and stable region in their backyard that would provide a heightened sense of brotherhood.
This recognition of the importance of Indo-Pacific in the international space has also led to players from outside the region such as China and the United States to try and develop their footprints by increasingly engaging with the countries of the region. However, the main spotlight still remains on the states that hold prominence and can become the flag-bearers of a secure and peaceful regional cooperation mechanism through bilateral and multilateral initiatives. This has been the driving force of the rapidly strengthening partnership between India and Australia which has skyrocketed in the last few years owing a lot to the mutual endeavours and priority placed on the bilateral relationship.
The two countries have, over the years, laid emphasis on expanding the different facets of cooperation. This is also evident in the steps taken on both sides on exploring the untapped potential that lies within and making use of the resources that already exist. One of the most significant of the said resources is the strong presence of the Indian diaspora in Australia. It was in 2018, that the Australian state of Victoria unilaterally recognized the huge potential that lies with its relationship with India and developed a broad based “India Strategy” that would provide a framework on how to tap on to this relationship further.
A robust framework
Victoria remains to be the state with the highest Indian diaspora and the Victorian government has taken cognizance of the fact that the mutual relationship of economics and culture can seek to benefit both sides. This India Strategy formulates a structure of the various segments that can be enhanced in order to reach the fullest potential of this relationship.
As the state with the largest Indian population, Victoria has benefited from the contribution of the Indian diaspora as well and this is reflected in one of the agendas of the strategy. The state embarked on the project of developing cultural precincts for the Indian population and supporting the cultural and creative industry in order to provide a distinct voice to the cultural expressions of the Indians in Victoria.
A very novel yet important endeavour in this regard was also to create a harbour between the educational institutions in Victoria and those in India. Deakin University can be an important case in point in this regard. In 1994, the University became the first Australian University to establish an office in India and has expanded over to research, academic as well as corporate partnerships between Deakin and India. The Deakin India Research Initiative (DIRI) has also developed a prominent avenue for research partnerships across both sides.
The vast knowledge exchange can also be enhanced further through the establishment of a Victoria India Relationship Dialogue that forms an integral part of the India strategy framework. The state of Victoria is already an exclusive Australian state government partner to hosting the Australia India Youth Dialogue committed to building youth engagement in improving the state level partnership.
Not just cultural or people to people links, Australia’s interest in India also hails for India’s growing reputation as an economic giant in the region and this is further reflected in the India strategy as well. The idea is also to improve upon the knowledge base that exists about the business conditions, operating environments and supply chains within India and how Australia can extract the maximum benefits of the commercial relationship. Victoria’s India Strategy aims to deepen the engagement by building capacity through mutual understanding of the cultural contexts and also improving upon the investment opportunities consequentially. One important way to do this is to support Australian business to develop conditions to connect with Indian businesses better. Driving deeper engagements across priority sectors of education, healthcare, urban development, entrepreneurship and e-commerce as well as sports infrastructure is also an integral part of the strategy.
Shifting the focus to creative industries, Australia is also a major consumer of Indian language films and art productions and this can prove to be an important point to focus on for developing cultural links further. The other major aspect of the bilateral relationship that can improve community engagements is the much important attention to the tourism industry. At the time this particular strategy was being developed, Victoria alone had 128,500 visitors from India as per the 2017 tally. The number has only risen substantially over the last few years, about 178,000 in 2019 according to the latest data.
The India Strategy of Victoria is a prime example of regional states taking initiative to develop a broad based framework for cooperation. The regional integration of Australian states with the specific Indian states can also be an important point of development for a deeper partnership that goes beyond just the state level integration. Although it was formulated in 2018, the strategy aims to provide a ten year period for working substantially on the goals listed within. This strategy can be taken as an important example of how the other states in Australia as well as in India can develop a strong framework on improving the relationship further.