Oct 20, 2014

India’s Bid for a Permanent Seat on the UN Security Council Speech – 20 Oct 2014

I rise in this chamber tonight to discuss and to talk about the very important India-Australia relationship, a relationship between Australia, the oldest and most stable democracy in the Asian region, and India, the world’s biggest democracy. I also want to highlight how Australia has been enriched by Indian migrants to Australia and to discuss and to point out a long-running grievance that both India and the Indian people have shared for many years. This is their lack of success in gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The 21st century is shaping to be the Asian century. Both Australia and India are growing economies located on the Indian Ocean rim, which is home to more than 2.6 billion people, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population. According to 2011 modelling by the Asian Development Bank, Asia’s GDP will increase from $17 trillion in 2010 to $174 trillion in 2050, or half of global GDP. India and Australia are positioned to benefit from this extraordinary growth.

In Australia there is a rapidly growing Indian community. This is certainly true in my electorate of Holt. According to the 2011 census, approximately 295,000 people living in Australia were born in India, and there are about 390,000 people of Indian ancestry. In 2011, those migrating from India were the largest source of permanent migration to Australia, forming 15.7 per cent of the total migration program in 2011-12. According to the 2011 census there were 11,116 people of Indian ancestry residing in my federal electorate of Holt.

Indian migrants have made a profound contribution to Australia. We see the contribution that the Indian community makes in so many forms, be it in the fields of science, medicine, law or other fields. You also see the richness and the vibrancy of their culture in festivals like the Holi festival at the Carrum Downs temple, or the Diwali festival, the festival of lights, which is coming soon. It will be held this Saturday at the same temple. I celebrate those events with the community at this temple, which is called the Shri Shiva Vishnu temple, in Carrum Downs. It is an exquisite, almost iconic temple, and one that attracts many visitors from all over the world.

Today, India and its 1.25 billion citizens can no longer be described as a middle power. Rather, on any objective assessment, it is on the threshold of gaining substantial power status, and the international community is recognising this. It is clear that India’s size and global importance justify a place or a position where they are warranted recognition in world politics. India is set to overtake China as the world’s most populated country by around 2028. It is the world’s biggest democracy. Its economy is the world’s third largest in terms of GDP purchasing power parity. India is currently the world’s third largest military spender in purchasing power parity terms, and this is growing significantly, with the country being the world’s largest arms importer. India also has an independent capability to place satellites in orbit, including production of the necessary launch vehicle, as well as having one of its satellites reach and orbit Mars just last month.

As a long-time leader amongst the developing world, India has consistently advocated for another equality inspired focal point of the UN: global poverty alleviation. The country is now an emerging aid donor itself. India is also one of the largest constant contributors of troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions, with more than 100,000 troops having served in UN missions during the past 50 years.

My confidence in India’s growing power is also shared by US President Barack Obama, who stated in his address to the Indian Parliament in 2010—and I would mirror these sentiments:

India’s treasured past—a civilization that’s been shaping the world for thousands of years. Indians unlocked the intricacies of the human body and the vastness of our universe. It’s no exaggeration to say that our Information Age is rooted in Indian innovations—including the number zero.

Of course, India not only opened our minds, she expanded our moral imaginations—with religious texts that still summon the faithful to lives of dignity and discipline, with poets who imagined a future ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high’ and with a man whose message of love and justice endures—the father of your nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

An ancient civilization of science and innovation; a fundamental faith in human progress—this is the sturdy foundation upon which you have built ever since that stroke of midnight when the tricolor was raised over a free and independent India. And despite the skeptics who said this country was simply too poor, or too vast, or too diverse to succeed, you surmounted overwhelming odds and became a model to the world.

Instead of slipping into starvation, you launched a Green Revolution that fed millions. Instead of becoming dependent on commodities and exports, you invested in science and technology and in your greatest resource—the Indian people. And the world sees the results, from the supercomputers you build to the Indian flag that you put on the moon.

Instead of resisting the global economy, you became one of its engines—reforming the licensing raj and unleashing an economic marvel that has lifted tens of millions of people from poverty and created one of the world’s largest middle classes.

Just as others, including the United States, supported Indian independence, India championed the self-determination of peoples from Africa to Asia as they, too, broke free from colonialism. And along with the United States, you’ve been a leader in supporting democratic development and civil society groups around the world. And this, too, is part of India’s greatness.

It is interesting that we in the Labor Party have a direct and profound linkage with the Indian community. John Ashmore Evatt was born in Kanpur India, in 1851, just six years before the famous Indian rebellion against the British in that town. Eventually Evatt would move to Sydney and raise a family. It is unlikely he would have had any idea the great heights his son Herbert Vere would reach in the new country. HV ‘Doc’ Evatt, of course, went on to play a crucial role as Australia’s representative in the establishment of the United Nations.

Evatt’s relevance for our relationship with India is not confined to his family history. More importantly, his achievements on the international front reveal a moral overlap between India and Australia, particularly under the Labor Party. Throughout the lifetime of the United Nations, two of its greatest supporters have been India and Australia. This enthusiasm for multilateralism was no coincidence. It was a product of our shared interests.

Another value shared by Australia, India and the UN is equality in the international realm. India’s first leaders had cut their political teeth fighting for equality and independence, a fight supported by Australia under Labor Prime Minister Chifley. This struggle fired India’s support for a multilateral system that offered a more democratic and egalitarian model for international relations than the ‘survival of the fittest’ thinking that led to two world wars.

India enthusiastically supported the UN’s role in doing away with the vestiges of colonialism and racial inequality, in every corner of the world. This was particularly so in relation to apartheid in South Africa, a fight that had arguably led to the politicisation of Gandhi himself, during his time there. Australia’s Labor government under Hawke played a lead role amongst Western nations in applying the economic pressure that helped to ultimately undo the repressive apartheid regime.

India occupies a unique position and gives enormous weight to the Indo-Pacific region—our region, the new centre of world growth. India has been elected seven times to the UN Security Council. It is not only the world’s largest democracy, as I have said. It has the third largest armed force. But it is also the world’s largest Hindu nation and the world’s second-largest Muslim nation. But an incongruity remains, and that is: this large, emerging democratic power—the largest democracy on the earth—does not have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

I know that there has been some discussion, particularly led by my predecessor, Gareth Evans, about reforming the UN Security Council. But I would ask, in the shadow of Deepavali, that magnificent festival that is going to be held very shortly—in fact, this weekend, as I have said, at the Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Carrum Downs—might it be time for the world community to seriously recognise India’s unique and evolving role in the world architecture, the architecture of the United Nations, and set aside a place for it as a permanent member of the UN Security Council?

I have laid before this place India’s unique history, its unique place in the world, and its growing, substantive status in world affairs. It plays a key role in this emerging Asian era, and I would strongly urge that it be given a seat on the UN Security Council as a matter of priority.


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