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|AIC Chairman Michael Abbott QC|
1998-99 was a year of significant change for the Australia-India Council, with a large influx of new members, a new Chairman, the retirement of several longstanding members, some exciting new directions in Council activities, and important developments in the bilateral relationship.
The visit to India of then Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade Tim Fischer in February 1999 helped open the way to forward movement in bilateral relations, following the Indian nuclear tests of May 1998. This bolstered the valuable 'second track' diplomacy undertaken by the AIC during this period.
The value of bilateral trade remained robust during 1998-99, signifying the fundamental strength of the relationship. Australian exports to India were worth $1.858 billion in 1998-99 ($1.852 billion in 1997-98), and Indian exports to Australia were worth $666.5 million ($687 million in 1997-98). The growing business, investment and joint venture links between the two countries augur well for continued substantial growth in Australia-India trade.
The Australia-India Council welcomed the improvement in the bilateral climate and the continuation of the strong trade relationship. The Council sought, through its projects and activities, to support existing areas of the bilateral relationship and to develop new areas of cooperation that offered prospective 'add-on' benefit to the growing commercial relationship. These areas included agribusiness, environmental management, law, health, mining and energy, technology, and heritage conservation.
The Activities section of this report, which provides a summary of Council-supported projects during 1998-99, amply demonstrates the breadth and reach of recent Council initiatives.
The Council gained six new members during the year: Dr Cameron Battersby of Brisbane, Professor Suzanne Crowe of Melbourne, Mr Mike Mitchell of Perth, Dr Hemchander Rao of Sydney, Dr Ric Shand of Canberra and Ms Safina Uberoi of Sydney.
I was honoured, as a founding member of the Council, to be appointed Chairman for a three-year term. In addition to my appointment, two other Board members were reappointed: former Chairman the Hon Jim Kennan QC, and founding member Associate Professor Kenneth McPherson.
The Council farewelled three other founding members, Ms June D'Rozario, Mr Rob Meecham and Associate Professor Marika Vicziany, all of whom have made a lasting contribution to the Council's work. In addition, Mr Shabbir Wahid resigned his membership in September 1998 following his appointment as Australian Consul-General and Trade Commissioner in Mumbai. I thank them all for the valuable contribution they have each made to the work of the Council.
In particular, I would like to record my appreciation of the contribution of the Hon Jim Kennan QC, my predecessor as Chairman of the AIC from 1995 to 1998. Under Mr Kennan's chairmanship, the Council moved in important new directions and made a vital contribution to the major Australia India-New Horizons promotion in India during 1996.
As Chairman, I hope to promote a strong sense of what the Council has achieved so far and, building on this, to maintain a clear vision of what we can achieve in the future. I believe that the Council's record shows that it has consistently initiated and supported projects that have served to realise its essential purpose of broadening and deepening the Australia-India relationship. I look forward during my term as Chairman to helping the Council maintain and enhance this record.
Although the Council often faces difficult choices as to which of many possible initiatives it should support, it has always gone to considerable lengths to ensure fairness and consistency in its funding decisions. This is an essential consideration in the allocation of public funding.
The Council continues to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which provides secretariat services and other support, and with the Australian High Commission in New Delhi. I would particularly like to express appreciation to High Commissioner Rob Laurie in New Delhi for his wholehearted support for the Council's activities, and to all of the members of the High Commission staff for their assistance.
During 1998-99 the Council continued to work closely with Indian Government representatives in Australia, especially former High Commissioner Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, who during his four years in Australia actively assisted the Council in its activities. Members looked forward to working with new High Commissioner C P Ravindranathan, who was due to present his credentials shortly after the end of the period covered by this report.
The Council also worked closely with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and with the Australia-India Business Council and the State-based Australia-India chambers of commerce and business associations in encouraging closer business relations between the two countries.
The AIC has continued to explore and develop collaboration in a number of areas of the bilateral relationship with the Council's Indian counterpart, the India Australia Council, under the chairmanship of Lt Gen (Retd) AM Sethna, and with Indian government officials and other key contacts.
I would like to thank all of my colleagues on the Council for their ideas, support and help during the year. Finally I would like to thank the staff of the secretariat for their essential contribution to the Council's work.