Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi have agreed to make it easier for students and businesspeople to move between the two countries as they concluded a two-day visit that showcased the increasingly close India-Australia relationship.
Albanese defended his appearance beside Modi at a raucous rally in Sydney on Tuesday night, pushing back on claims the leader of the world’s largest democracy is a tyrannical ruler who has gone soft on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
After signing a labour force and mobility agreement with Albanese and announcing a new joint green hydrogen taskforce, Modi said: “In the language of cricket, our ties have entered the T20 mode.
“In my meeting with Prime Minister Albanese today, we talked about taking the strategic partnership to greater heights in the next decade.”
The Australian government said the migration agreement would “promote the two-way mobility of students, graduates, academic researchers and business people, while also enhancing cooperation to prevent irregular migration and people smuggling”.
Australia will issue short-stay visas to Indian nationals travelling to Australia for business or family reasons, while Australians travelling to India on a short-term visa will no longer need to formally register their presence in the country.
In a reference to the rapidly growing Australian-Indian community, Modi said the agreement would “further strengthen our living bridge” between the two countries.
Modi said Albanese had “once again” assured him that he would take “strict actions” against the vandalism of Hindu temples in Australia.
“We will not accept any elements that harm the friendly and warm ties between India and Australia by their actions or thoughts,” said Modi, who also briefly met with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.
Albanese and Modi wrapped up the visit by posing in front of the Sydney Opera House, which was later lit up with the colours of the Indian flag.
As some commentators expressed unease with the populist flavour of the rally at Sydney Olympic Park, Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the rally was a vivid demonstration of the strength of the Australia-India relationship and the vibrancy of the Indian diaspora.
Albanese lavished praise on Modi at the event on Tuesday night, saying his counterpart had received a more rapturous reception at Qudos Bank Arena than Bruce Springsteen before dubbing him “the boss”.
Albanese said it was “not up to me to pass a comment on some of the internal politics in India which, as a democracy, has a range of views, which is a good thing”.
“The economic growth that we’ve seen in India is extraordinary,” Albanese said, saying the nation had achieved remarkable progress since he travelled there as a backpacker in 1991.
“And Prime Minister Modi is certainly popular, not with everyone; it’s a democracy, but he’s popular with a majority of people.”
Albanese was later asked on Channel Nine’s show if Modi had “gone a little soft on Russia” over the war in Ukraine and whether Australia could rely on India’s military if there is a “dust up” with China.
“India and China have a fraught relationship,” Albanese replied.
“There have been skirmishes on the border and issues between them.”
While Australia has denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government and supplied Ukraine with weapons and financial aid, India has abstained from several high-profile United Nations votes condemning Russia’s invasion.
India depends on Russia for over half of its defence equipment and has dramatically increased its purchases of Russian oil and gas since the war began.
Leading human rights groups have accused India of democratic backsliding under Modi, accusing him of persecuting India’s sizeable Muslim minority and restricting media freedom.
Questioned by ABC presenter James Valentine about whether the Modi rally was “a little bit frightening” and “not something we associate with our favourite leaders”, Wong said: “Look, we have a different political culture here, different style of democracy. But it is important to remember India is the world’s largest democracy”.
Wong said the government “will continue to put our view, respectfully, about the importance of human rights, about the importance of freedom of expression and other rights”.
“We take that position whether it’s in this relationship or in any other relationship,” she said.
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