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‘Relax travel restrictions first,’ says Indian community as ex-PM Abbott leaves for Delhi to boost trade ties

Former PM Tony Abbott at Amritsar's Golden Temple during his last visit to India in 2019. Source: AAP Image/Sameer Sehgal/Hindustan Times/Sipa USA

Former prime minister Tony Abbott will head to India today on behalf of the federal government in a bid to strengthen economic and trade relations between the two countries. While an Indian business body has welcomed the initiative, the local community says travel restrictions with India must be revisited and relaxed first.

Former PM Tony Abbott will commence his five-day visit to India today to boost ties between the two countries.

While this move to bolster trade and investment between the two strategic partners has been welcomed in general, Mr Abbott’s visit during the ongoing pandemic has attracted mixed reactions from members of the Indian community and also a bilateral trade body.


Highlights:

  • Former PM Tony Abbott to start five-day visit to India today to strengthen trade and investment ties
  • India-Australia trade bodies and experts welcome visit, Indian community questions timing during pandemic
  • Travel restrictions to India must be relaxed first, say Indian-Australian community members 

Over the weekend, trade minister Dan Tehan announced Mr Abbott’s visit to India.

“Mr Abbott will travel to India in early August to meet Indian ministers and business leaders. This will be an opportunity to progress Australia’s ambitious agenda to energise and expand our bilateral trade and investment relationship with India.

“The Australian government has partly supported Abbott’s travel to India. Mr Abbott will not be remunerated for his work,” Minister Tehan stated, adding that the former prime minister’s visit aims to progress the economic and trade relations between the two countries under their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. 

Tony Abbott
Jim Varghese, National Chair of Australia India Business Council (AIBC),
Supplied by Jim Varghese

However, the visit has attracted mixed reactions from Australia’s Indian community and a prominent India-Australia business body.

Welcoming the news, the Australia India Business Council (AIBC) called the former prime minister “a champion” of such trade initiatives. 

AIBC National Chair Jim Varghese told SBS Hindi, “AIBC welcomes any initiative to foster increased trade and investment with India. Tony Abbott has been and is a champion for this outcome,” Mr Varghese said.

Tony Abbott
Prof Amitabh Mattoo, Chair Australia India Leadership Dialogue, also former director of Australia India Institute.
Supplied by Prof Amitabh Mattoo

Prof Amitabh Mattoo, an honorary professor at the University of Melbourne and Chair of the Australia India Leadership Dialogue, told SBS Hindi that Mr Abbott's visit will offer a historic opportunity to both countries to further cement their ties.  

“As former prime minister, Mr Abbott brings great political gravitas to the task of negotiating a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA), or more specifically, a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA),"  Prof Mattoo told SBS Hindi over the phone from New Delhi.

"He is known as a friend of India and enjoys great chemistry with prime minister Narendra Modi, and it was during his leadership that the bilateral relationship had scaled new heights," he added.

Stating that a breakthrough was required in political weight and direction, Mr Matto added, “as a starting point, the FTA or CECA can be a limited one which skirts bilateral contentious issues and focuses on key common areas. In the months and years ahead, the two sides can build on the core agreement. It is a moment to be very optimistic about bilateral ties”.

While academic experts have welcomed the visit, the news has not gone down too well with the Indian community at large.

Nilesh Bansal of Melbourne, who is currently in Mumbai to care for his ailing parent, feels it is time to do more to allow Indian nationals to travel to India.

“I feel more needs to be done by the Australian government to facilitate the travel of Indian nationals to India who may need to do so due to family emergency or commitment,” Mr Bansal told SBS Hindi.

“The government also needs to assist Australian nationals and permanent residents stranded in India with paid repatriation flights like they did last year,” he added.

“My family had to wait for days to get an exemption to travel to India when my father was critical and admitted in ICU,” Mr Bansal said.

“Those were very difficult days for all of us. Had I been permitted to come earlier, I may have been able to get better help for him and things would have been different,” he added.

Ash Raina, an IT professional from Brisbane feels that while the government's moves to boost the economy are all the more important during the pandemic, the country’s health, safety and security should be of paramount importance.

“Technology can surely be used for such meetings. There is no excuse to make such exceptions when almost every Australian state is in lockdown,” he added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to SBS Hindi that upon his return, Mr Abbott will be subjected to a COVID-safety plan like any other international traveller.

“[Mr] Abbott will comply with all applicable requirements on his return to Australia, including entering government approved mandatory quarantine for at least 14 days,” the spokesperson said.

According to the Department of Home Affairs individuals seeking an exemption to travel to India will only be approved under limited circumstances. 

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