Advancing common bonds and shared interests of Australia and India
If one were to say being a visionary is a variant of fortune telling, then Lisa Singh, the new director of the Australia India Institute is a fortune teller.
In the coming years, she wants to see the Australia India Institute (“institute”) as the preeminent body in Australia, deepening understanding engagement and creating expertise on and becoming a very prominent Australian institute that is highly regarded internationally in the Australia India space.
At a time when Australia-India bilateral relationship has just taken off, this new appointment will inject fresh oxygen the institute needs. Its previous two directors were extraordinary scholars and the institute has now added a political engagement skillset – a leader with a deep understanding of India to the benefit of Australia-India relations.
Hence the choice – the Hon. Lisa Singh.
A former politician, a passionate Australia-India bilateral relations promoter, a recipient of Pravasi Bhartiya Sammaan – the highest civilian honour India bestows on people of Indian heritage living abroad, Ms Singh brings a new set of skills to provide direction to the institute.
Speaking to Dinesh Malhotra of Bharat Times on day 2 of her new role, Ms Singh said there was “shallow understanding of India in Australia compared to China. That needs to change.
“I do want to accentuate the common ground between both nations, both politically and economically.
“And the institute needs to be at the forefront of that.”
Inspired by Bob Hawke, former Australian Prime Minister who wanted Australia to “engage in its region”, Australian born Ms Singh comes from a family of Thakurs from India who had moved to Fiji where her grandfather rose to be a parliamentarian.
That explains the leadership and her passion to see Australia and India even closer.
With Masters in International Relations, a stint in the Tasmanian Cabinet, (as Minister for Corrections and Consumer Protection, Minister for Workplace Relations, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Climate Change) and a stint in the Federal parliament as Labor Senator for Tasmania, Ms Singh said she is ready for the role.
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“This role has come along for me at the right time in my life. I very much enjoyed being a senator and representing diaspora through the parliamentary process, but this is about actually taking the Australia India relationship to a whole different level.
“And I do feel that sense of responsibility. My interest in the institute has always stemmed from my passion to (improve) the Australia-India relationship. And now as director this role gives me that opportunity to really follow that passion”.
Looked closely, only the security side of Australia-India relationship has been getting the most attention thanks to Quad summits and Australia re-joining the Malabar exercises.
The political and economic elements of the bilateral relationship have lagged behind ignoring the fact that India offers limitless potential on economic and jobs front.
With a population of more than 1.2 billion, India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35.
What is needed was to bring about the economics of bilateral relationship to the forefront which would necessitate a closer look at the politics and narrative of it. Thus, it is not surprising that Ms Singh has taken note that ‘India of today is doing things differently, domestically and internationally’.
“… India and Australia are, much more aligned today in how they see the world, compared to the time when India achieved independence 75 years ago… At that time, they were both on the opposite sides of power blocks during the Cold War. Today, we share common ground on an open Indo Pacific.
“And I think we are becoming much more aligned on the importance of an open economy as well.
“There is a lot for me, to, to engage on… We need to look at not only the economic side, but also the political, the strategic, and the people-to-people links’ side”, Ms Singh told Bharat Times.
Lisa Singh spoke highly of the work being done by the institute. She also said the new ARCH-India Researcher Cooperation Hub will add value to it.
But if her stints in politics is any indication, the institute is in for a closer look. It will not be surprising if some corrections or additions are made to the area of work by Lisa Singh.
“I think the institute needs to align some of its priorities and plans around that shared vision of both nations”, Ms Singh said.
–with inputs from Dinesh Malhotra