10 July 2020

The Morrison Government has formally admitted that it is failing to deliver the recommendations of former diplomat Peter Varghese’s landmark 2018 report, An India Economic Strategy to 2035.

The 500-page report by Mr Varghese, a former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was released two years ago this week.

It was intended as a blueprint to boost our economic ties with India and to diversify our trading relationships.

The report found that no single market over the next 20 years would offer more growth opportunities for Australia than India. 

It took several staff more than a year to complete and cost taxpayers about $1.5 million.

But two years later, in answers provided to Senate Estimates, the Government has admitted that little has been done in response to the report’s 90 recommendations.

This is not surprising.

As reported in The Australian Financial Review at the time, the report was “buried” by the Government upon its release in July 2018.

It languished for several months until Scott Morrison formally launched it in November 2018, when he promised “in principle” support to Mr Varghese’s 20 priority recommendations.

In October 2019, DFAT told Senate Estimates that the Government was “making good progress” on 43 actions it planned to implement in its response.

Then last month, in response to further Estimates questions about those actions, DFAT said it had implemented only one of the report’s priority recommendations – to set up a new Consulate-General in Kolkata.

It made no mention of any response to the report’s other 19 priority recommendations.

In February, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham ruled out Mr Varghese’s key recommendation for the Government to adopt a target of lifting Australian investment in India almost 10-fold – to reach $100 billion by 2035.

A few weeks ago, Mr Morrison held a “virtual summit” with India’s Narenda Modi, but little attention was given to the trade and economic relationship.

Labor calls on the Government to reveal whether it plans to implement the report’s recommendations.

This is a Government that is not serious about strengthening Australia’s economic ties with India or in seeking to diversify our export markets in the region.