Speech to Parliament: Indian Election

I am pleased to rise in support of this motion moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition noting the recent election victory by Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, but also congratulating the people of India for a very successful election and the largest democratic exercise in the world.

From 7 April through to 12 May, one-thirteenth of the world's population went to the polls in what was an extraordinary period for democracy and, of course, a landmark election for India.

On the final day of the five-week election cycle, more than 535 million Indians had had their say on the future of the world's second most populous country and largest democracy.

I wish to congratulate the officials involved with conducting the election but also the people of India for what was by all accounts a very successful election period. That is a remarkable figure, made even more remarkable by the fact that it represents 130 million more voters than in the previous election, in 2009.

The result of the world's largest exercise in democracy was a resounding victory for the leader of the BJP, Narendra Modi, whose party won a parliamentary majority in its own right, the first time that this feat has been achieved since 1984.

As a close friend of this great nation, Australia has watched as India has built a successful secular democratic government. The first Indian election, in 1952, was described by some as the biggest gamble in the history of democracy. Clearly that paid off.

Fast forward six decades, and India has just held the biggest election in the history of democracy. That achievement speaks volumes as to how far this nation and these people have come.

With one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, India has experienced a steady increase in its standard of living, driven rapidly by a growing middle class, which at last count was close to 300 million people.

It is pleasing to note the increased confidence in India's economic future that has come on the back of this historic election, with the stock market jumping more than six points in the wake of the victory and the rupee surging to just under 60c against the US dollar.

Recognising India's important place on the world stage, the former Labor government worked hard to strengthen Australia's relationship with India.

In 2009 the Rudd government signed the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation, which took to a new level strategic relations between Australia and India.

There is a strong tourism market between both nations. India is one of the largest sources of tourists for Australia. In migration, India is the largest source of skilled migration for Australia.

And of course educational cooperation is one of the great strengths in the relationship between Australia and India, particularly around vocational education and training and higher education. I am pleased to say that many of those Indian educational migrants are studying in my electorate.

This is the background behind the previous Labor government's focus on Australia in the Asian century, through the Asian century white paper.

If Australia is going to be part of Asia, we need to be able to communicate with Asia. A particular focus in the Asian century white paper was on languages in schools, and one of those languages was Hindi.

We urge the current government to continue the good work of building stronger relations, through communications and through teaching Asian languages, particularly Hindi, in our school system.

It is encouraging to hear that the new Indian Prime Minister has a keen interest in foreign affairs, with expectations that the new government's foreign policies will be backed with greater resources.

There are a number of challenges for India, of course. Their economy has experienced stagflation in the past. The relationship with Pakistan is a key strategic challenge. But, based on the success of this election, we wish the Indian government all the best and look forward to working with them.

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