The India-Australia Poll is a groundbreaking survey of Indian public attitudes towards Australia, with some surprising results. It reveals broadly positive views towards Australia, but lingering concerns about student safety.
Key issues covered in the poll include: Indian perceptions of Australian governance and society, education in Australia, the Indian media, uranium sales to India, Indian Ocean security, and cricket. The India-Australia Poll is a collaboration between the Lowy Institute for International Policy and the Australia India Institute.
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Australia-India Poll 2013
The India-Australia Poll reports the results of a nationally representative opinion survey of 1233 Indian adults conducted face-to-face between 30 August and 15 October 2012. It is a collaboration between the Lowy Institute for International Policy and the Australia India Institute.
Warmth towards Australia
Despite the bad press it has had over student issues and uranium, Australia is well-liked in India. Indians hold relatively warm feelings towards Australia (56 degrees on a scale of 0 to 100), which ranks fourth after the United States (62), Singapore (58) and Japan (57) out of 22 countries in the survey. Indians feel warmer towards Australia than towards countries in Europe, including Britain, or towards India’s fellow so-called BRICS: Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa.
Australia as a model for India
Australia is seen as a country that functions well and is worth emulating. A 60% majority of Indians think it would be better if India’s government and society worked more like Australia’s. Japan and Singapore rank roughly equal to Australia. Only the United States ranks better, at 78%. Other countries, including Britain, China and Germany, do not fare as well as Australia as governance role models for India.
A majority of Indians see many good qualities in Australia. Seventy-one per cent see it as a good place to visit and 65% like Australian values. Meanwhile, 63% see Australia as a country well-disposed to India, 59% agree that the two countries have similar national security interests, and 60% see Australia as a good supplier of energy and other natural resources. But Indians are divided about the attitudes of Australians towards them: 51% agree that Australia is a country with welcoming people, while 26% disagree. Indians from large cities are more positive on all these points, with 71% agreeing that Australia is a country with welcoming people.
Indians in Australia
More than half of Indians believe that Australia is a good place to live (62%) and to get work (59%). But there are concerns about safety and family life: 49% of Indians consider Australia a safe place, with 29% disagreeing, and 48% see Australia as a good place to raise a family, with 26% disagreeing. Indians from large cities are much more positive about Australia on all these questions, with 61% considering it a safe place and 69% agreeing it is a good place to raise a family.
Education in Australia
The controversies over Indian student safety a few years ago do not seem to have damaged Indians’ overall perceptions of Australia as a place to gain an education. Australia ranks second after the United States as a good place to be educated, according to 75% of Indians, and rates more highly than Canada, Singapore, Britain and Germany. Still, 62% of Indians continue to see Australia as a dangerous place for Indian students. This is offset somewhat by some other perceptions: 53% agree that Australia is safer for Indian students than it was a few years ago and 64% recognise that any country can be dangerous for Indian students who are not careful.
Seventy per cent of Indians think selling uranium is important to Australia’s relations with India, while only 5% think it is not important.
Indian Ocean security
A small majority of Indians (56%) agree Australia can be a good partner for India in the Indian Ocean, while 72% think of the United States and 39% of China in these terms.
It seems cricket really does help. Three-quarters of Indians think the game carries three diplomatic benefits: it projects a positive image of Australia, a positive image of India, and helps the two countries grow closer. That said, 35% think cricket can sometimes cause frictions between the countries.
Relations between India and Australia have deepened dramatically over the past decade. India’s economic growth and its burgeoning demand for energy, resources and education have propelled India to become Australia’s fourth-largest export market. People of Indian origin have become one of Australia’s largest and fastest-growing migrant communities. Both governments have stressed common security interests.
Yet it has been hard to tell whether popular feeling has kept pace with these relatively recent improvements in relations. After all, Australia-India ties have a history of underperforming, not least due to the legacy of differences over Cold War alignments, nuclear issues and Australia’s discriminatory pre-1970s immigration policies.
Nor have all developments been positive. The crisis surrounding the safety and welfare of Indians in Australia in 2009 and 2010, involving a number of criminal attacks on students, has had lasting repercussions. Indian media reports portrayed these instances as something like a racist crime wave, although statistical evidence has since revealed a much more complex picture.1The silver lining to this difficult phase has been a heightened effort by governments to improve mutual perceptions.2
The India-Australia Poll gives a sense of how the people of India see Australia and the prospects for Australia-India relations. The picture is broadly positive, with most Indians seeing especially good qualities in Australian institutions, governance and education. This suggests some resilience to Australia’s reputation based on its core strengths as a nation. But there are lingering areas of concern about the kind of welcome Indians can expect in Australia and their safety while they visit or study there.
The data that follows can help illuminate an agenda for governments, universities, business and civil society in deepening and managing relations between the two democracies in an era of great change.
1. Feelings towards Australia and other countries
Of the 22 countries included in the poll, Indians hold relatively warm feelings towards Australia (56 degrees on a scale of 0 to 100), which ranked fourth after the United States (62), Singapore (58) and Japan (57). Interestingly, Indians feel warmer towards Australia than towards many countries with which India is sometimes perceived to have diplomatic or economic commonalities, the so-called BRICS: Brazil (44), Russia (53), China (45) and South Africa (47). Australia was also ahead of Britain (53), India’s various South Asian neighbours, and a range of Middle Eastern and East Asian countries.
2. Should India be more like Australia?
One area in which a majority of Indians’ view of Australia is positive is in governance and society. Australia is seen as a country that functions well and is worth emulating. Specifically, 60% of Indians think it would be better if India worked more like Australia, while only 7% think it would be worse. Australia fares well in this regard. Out of the ten countries considered in this part of the poll, Australia ranks second after the United States: 78% think it would be better if India worked more like the United States and 5% think it would be worse. Australia ranks roughly equal with Japan (60% better, 8% worse) and Singapore (59% better, 5% worse). Other countries, including Britain (45% better), China (42% better) and Germany (41% better), do not fare as well.
Younger, wealthier and better-educated Indians tend to be more positive about Australia in this regard. That India would be a better place if its government and society worked more like Australia’s is a view held by two-thirds (66%) of Indians in the 18-29 age group, by 65% of those who have completed tertiary or postgraduate education, and 71% of those in the survey’s high-income bracket (more than 15,000 rupees a month).
3. Australia is …
Asked to agree or disagree with a range of statements about Australia, the majority of Indians reveal positive views. But these vary somewhat, with more Indians positive about Australia’s qualities as a place to visit (71% agreeing) and its values (65% agreeing) than about its people: 51% of Indians agree that Australia is a country with welcoming people, while 26% disagree.
Most of these perceptions are not based on first-hand experience: less than one per cent of Indians surveyed have visited Australia.
Australia’s political, economic and strategic affinities with India are mostly seen in a positive light. In diplomacy and politics, 63% of Indians see Australia as a country friendly to India, 62% consider Australia to be a country with a good political system, and 59% agree that Australia has similar national security interests to India’s. Turning to trade, 60% of Indians see Australia as a good supplier of energy and other natural resources and 57% agree that it supplied quality agricultural produce. And Australian expertise has drawn generally positive recognition: 61% of Indians agree Australia is a country known for its excellence in science. On all these issues, the number of Indians seeing Australia negatively is relatively small, being fewer than or close to the numbers answering ‘don’t know’.
About one in four Indians surveyed did not have a view on most of the statements about Australia.
Indians living in cities of 1 million people or more tend to have substantially more positive views about Australia than other Indians. For instance, 74% of these urban Indians agree Australia has attractive values, 71% agree it is a country friendly to India, 69% consider it has a good political system, 71% agree it has similar national security interests to India’s and 73% see Australia as a good supplier of energy and other natural resources.
4. Indians in Australia
People of Indian origin have become one of the largest migrant communities in Australia. In the poll, Indians were asked to agree or disagree with a range of statements about Indians visiting or living in Australia. Well over half of Indians believe that Australia is a good place to live (62%) and a good place to get work (59%).
Indians were more divided about Australia when it came to the specifics of safety or family life: 49% consider Australia a safe place, with 29% disagreeing, and 48% see Australia as a good place to raise a family, with 26% disagreeing. Indians from large cities are much more positive about Australia on all these questions, with 61% considering it a safe place and 69% agreeing it is a good place to raise a family.
A substantial majority of Indians believe that both the Australian government (69%) and the Indian government (68%) should do more to help Indians in Australia.
Once again there was a large uncommitted level at around one in five, or higher, on each statement.
5. Education in Australia
The controversies over Indian student welfare a few years ago do not seem to have damaged Indians’ overall perceptions of Australia as a worthwhile education destination. Out of seven countries in the poll, Australia ranks second after the United States as a good place to be educated. Three-quarters (75%) of Indians think Australia is a good place to be educated. The corresponding figure for the United States is 83%, with Canada at 71%, Singapore at 69%, Britain at 67% and Germany at 63%. More than half of Indians (54%) see China as a good place to be educated, although a significant minority, 19%, identify it as a poor place for this.
In terms of being a very good place to be educated, the American lead is especially clear: 61% of Indians see the United States in those terms. Australia at 42% is again rated second-highest, similar to Canada (39%) and slightly ahead of Singapore (36%) and Britain (35%).
Younger and male Indians are slightly more positive about Australia as an education destination. In the 18-29 age group, 80% see Australia as a good place to be educated; this figure slips to a still respectable 71% in the 50+ age group, the demographic for parents of Indian students travelling abroad. Of male respondents, 79% are positive about Australian education as opposed to 72% of female respondents. Interestingly, Australian education has a better reputation in rural India, where 78% of respondents see Australia as a good place to be educated, than in the larger cities, where the corresponding figure is 65%.
6. Indian students in Australia: what happened?
Although the vast majority of Indians still think Australia is a good place for an education, some concerns linger about the experiences of Indian students in this country, especially as a result of the crimes against a number of students in 2009 and 2010. The poll provides fresh insight and context about Indian perceptions on this issue.
It shows that a majority of Indians (62%) agree that Australia is currently a dangerous place for Indian students, about the same number (61%) who believe that attacks on Indian students in Australia were mostly caused by racism. Australian Federal and State government efforts to address safety concerns and repair Australia’s image seem to have had some effect, with 53% of Indians agreeing that Australia is safer for Indian students than it was a few years ago, though a sizeable minority (27%) disagree on this point.
There is also modestly positive news for Australia in other aspects of the Indian interpretation of what happened. Most Indians (64%) recognise that any country can be potentially dangerous for Indian students if they are not careful. About half (49%) of Indians agree that most Australians are welcoming to Indian students (though 30% disagree) and 52% consider it impossible for Australian authorities to stop all crimes against Indian students though again a substantial minority (29%) disagree.
A majority of Indians (58%) believe that most Indian students in Australia are really there to migrate permanently.
7. Trusting the Indian media
Part of the trouble in India-Australia relations has been attributed to exaggerated reporting in the Indian media about the crimes against some Indian students in Australia in 2009 and 2010. More generally, the highly competitive and commercial Indian media, especially its many 24-hour television news channels, has been criticised by governments and other observers for sensationalising or misreporting a range of issues. Most Indians do not agree with this portrayal of their media, and seem to accept what it reports at face value.
Asked to agree or disagree with a range of statements about the Indian media, a large majority agree that the Indian media accurately reports what is happening in India (86%) and the world (83%). Interestingly, this majority was quite a bit smaller (65%) on the question of whether the Indian media had accurately reported the problems faced by Indian students in Australia. Still, this implies that two-thirds of Indians accepted the Indian media’s mostly negative depictions of Australia during the student crisis in 2009 and 2010. This roughly corresponds with the 61% of Indians who believe that attacks on Indian students in 2009-10 were mostly caused by racism. Moreover, those Indians who believed the media reporting about Australia had been accurate were more likely to be from larger cities (83%), tertiary educated (77%), high-income (78%) and male (70%).
One notable tension in the responses to the media question relates to the Indian media’s ability to collect first-hand information abroad. A large majority (83%) of Indians agree that the Indian media needs its own correspondents in foreign countries to accurately report what is happening there. In fact, very few Indian media organisations have their own full-time correspondents abroad, and there continue to be none on the ground in Australia.
8. Australia and migration
Indians are one of the largest and fastest-growing migrant communities in Australia. At the same time, Indian media coverage of Australia often involves negative portrayal of Australian attitudes to race and migration; some television channels and publications have openly stereotyped Australians as racist. During the student crisis, many references were made to the history of discriminatory immigration policies even though the last elements of these were abolished in the early 1970s.
To better understand Indian views on these issues, the poll presented six hypothetical criteria for migration to Australia. Respondents were asked how important they think the Australian government regards each of these criteria for determining who should be allowed to come to Australia to live.
Large majorities see the Australian government’s approach to immigration decisions as being based on education (78%agreeing that it was either very or somewhat important), English-language skills (71%) and work skills (69%). A little more than half (53%) think the Australian government sees importance in prospective migrants’ having similar values to Australians.
But a large minority of Indians still think race (38%) and religion (40%) are important factors in Australian government decisions on selecting migrants. This does not reflect the contemporary reality of Australian migration policy.
9. Uranium matters
Uranium has been a controversial issue in Australia-India relations. In December 2011, the ruling Australian Labor Party agreed in principle to overturn its ban on uranium sales to India. There is now agreement on this issue with the Opposition, and negotiations towards a bilateral safeguards agreement are underway. One reason cited in favour of changing Labor policy was the importance New Delhi attached to this issue as a measure of trust in Australia-India relations.
In the poll, Indians were asked whether they thought it was important or not important for India’s relationship with Australia that Australia sells uranium to India. Overall, 70% indicate they think this is important, with 31% saying it is very important and 39% somewhat important. Only 5% say they consider it not important.
10. Testing the waters in Indian Ocean security
Defence and security are becoming increasingly prominent issues in Australia-India relations, with the two nations signing a security declaration in 2009, expanding their range of dialogues and moving to establish regular naval exercises together. Official statements observe that the nations share an Indian Ocean geography and a range of security concerns including terrorism and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
But the poll reveals that Indians are only moderately positive about Australia as a security partner in the Indian Ocean. A total of 56% agree that Australia can be a good partner for India in the Indian Ocean, with a total of 27% disagreeing, although only 7% do so strongly. The United States fares considerably better in Indian strategic esteem, with 72% agreeing it can be a good partner for India in the Indian Ocean. Despite some frictions in India-China relations, a sizeable 39% of Indians agree that China can be a good partner for India in the Indian Ocean.
Indians are much more united when it comes to Indian power and leadership in an ocean that is seen as India’s natural sphere of interest. An overwhelming 94% of Indians agree that India should have the most powerful navy in the Indian Ocean and 89% agree that India should do more to lead cooperation in that region.
11. Cricket to the rescue?
It is popular to claim that a love of the game of cricket gives Australia and India a valuable common bond. Three-quarters of Indians surveyed agree that cricket helps the two countries grow closer. Essentially the same proportion agrees that cricket projects a mostly positive image of Australia (76%) and of India (75%). The numbers across the questions were higher among young people (80-81%) and males (81-82%). Still, a significant minority of Indians (35%) agree that cricket can cause frictions between Australia and India.
1 An in-depth study by the Australian Institute of Criminology concluded that it was impossible to determine if crimes against Indian students were racist in nature. It also concluded that the rate of crimes against Indian students was lower than the crime rate against the general population. Jaqueline Joudo Larsen, Jason Payne, Adam Tomison, Crimes against international students in Australia: 2005–09, Australian Institute of Criminology Special Report, 2011, p 37.
2 For a detailed study of bilateral perceptions, see John McCarthy AO, Sanjaya Baru, Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, Maxine McKew, Ashok Malik, Christopher Kremmer, Beyond the lost decade: report of the Australia India Institute perceptions taskforce, Australia India Institute, 2012.
The cover shows indigenous Australian singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and his band performing in front of the historic Sher Mandal Observatory at the Purana Qila, New Delhi, during the opening concert for Oz Fest, the biggest Australian cultural festival ever staged in India, on 16 October 2012. The Sher Mandal was transformed by 3D light projections from the producers of Sydney’s Vivid Light Festival, AGB Events. Photo: Simon de Trey-White. Image reproduced under licence.
About the poll
The India-Australia Poll reports the results of a nationally representative opinion survey of 1233 Indian adults conducted face-to-face in India between 30 August and 15 October 2012. It is a collaboration between the Lowy Institute for International Policy and the Australia India Institute, principally funded by a grant from the Australia India Institute with additional financial support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This poll is an extract from a longer survey on Indian attitudes to international issues, India and the World, which will be published later in 2013.
The fieldwork was conducted by GfK Mode. The poll was designed and managed by Rory Medcalf, with the advice of Fergus Hanson, Alex Oliver and research consultant Sol Lebovic, who additionally provided technical support, reviewed the questionnaire and helped interpret the data. The author gratefully acknowledges ideas and insights from Amitabh Mattoo, Christopher Kremmer and Harsh Shrivastava, project-management assistance from Danielle Rajendram, and editorial refinements from Anthony Bubalo and Michael Fullilove. The team at Longueville Media showed professionalism and patience.
About the author
Rory Medcalf is Director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute. He is Associate Director of the Australia India Institute, heading its Sydney Node at the University of New South Wales. His professional background spans diplomacy, journalism and intelligence analysis. As a diplomat, he served at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi from 2000 to 2003. He maintains a close interest in Australia’s relations with India and is the Australian co-chair of the Australia-India Roundtable, the leading informal dialogue between the two countries. Mr Medcalf’s wider research covers a range of strategic issues in Indo-Pacific Asia. He is a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution.
The Lowy Institute for International Policy
The Lowy Institute for International Policy is an independent international policy think tank. Its mandate ranges across all the dimensions of international policy debate in Australia – economic, political and strategic – and it is not limited to a particular geographic region. Its two core tasks are: to produce distinctive research and fresh policy options for Australia’s international policy and contribute to the wider international debate; and to promote discussion of Australia’s role in the world by providing an accessible and high-quality forum for discussion of Australian international relations through debates, seminars, lectures, dialogues and conferences.
As an independent think tank the Lowy Institute requires a broad funding base. The Institute currently receives grants from Australian and international philanthropic foundations; membership fees and sponsorship from private sector and government entities; grants from Australian and international governments; subscriptions and ticket sales for events; and philanthropic donations from private individuals, including ongoing support from the Institute’s founding benefactor, Mr Frank Lowy AC.
The Australia India Institute
The Australia India Institute (AII) is a leading centre for research, teaching, public policy and outreach programs that build co-operation and mutual understanding between Australia and India. Based at the University of Melbourne, and with Nodes at the University of New South Wales and La Trobe University, the Institute hosts a growing range of events and programs that are deepening and enriching the relationship between the two countries. Core funding for the Institute is provided by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, and the State Government of Victoria’s Department of Business and Innovation.
India-Australia poll methodology
For this opinion poll, GfK’s local field agency, GfK Mode, conducted 1233 interviews in India between 30 August and 15 October 2012. All interviews were conducted face-to-face in respondents’ homes.
The sample was designed to be broadly and nationally representative of India’s adult population, aged 18 years and over. Due to the sensitive political climate in Jammu and Kashmir, and the remoteness of the North Eastern states and Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, these areas were excluded from sample design.
The questionnaire was written in English, and translated into Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya, Tamil, Marathi and Kannada, after several rounds of review and revision.
A multi-stage stratified random sample was designed as follows. The population was arrayed by four geographic regions: North, East, West, and South and by four strata: large metro areas with a population size of over 5 million, large cities with a population size of 1 to 5 million, small cities with a population size of under 1 million; and villages.
With probability proportional to size, one large metro area, one large city, one small city, and seven villages were selected per geographic region.
Electoral rolls were used as the sampling frame in urban areas, and randomly selected electoral constituencies served as primary sampling units (PSUs). Starting points within each PSU were randomly selected from these electoral rolls. In villages, clusters of blocks or streets served as PSUs, and were selected randomly in each village as a starting point. In both urban areas and villages, no more than 10 interviews were completed per PSU.
For household selection, systematic random sampling with a pre-specified interval of 1 to 5 (for urban dwellings) and 1 to 4 (for rural dwellings) was used. The Kish grid method was used to randomly select a respondent from adults residing in the selected household. Up to three attempts in different points of time (morning, afternoon, evening, working day, or weekend) were made in order to achieve an interview with the chosen respondent.
Both age and gender were monitored throughout the course of fieldwork in order to ensure sufficient base sizes in each age/gender cross-cell. A response rate of 57% was achieved. Data for this survey were weighted by key demographic variables – age within sex, region, and community size – according to the 2011 census to ensure that the final weighted sample was representative of India’s adult population, ages 18 years and over.
All samples are subject to some degree of sampling “error” – that is, statistical results obtained from a sample can be expected to differ somewhat from results that would be obtained if every member of the target population were interviewed. For this poll, the maximum margin of error at a 95% confidence level is within ± 3.6 percentage points for the total sample. Sub-sample margins of error may be significantly higher.