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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 21:04 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 21:04 | SYDNEY

Australia-India: Democracy isn't helping

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21 September 2011 11:20

Among conservative types, disdainful of formal multilateralism, one popular idea has been a 'coalition of democracies' to tackle international challenges. Having sat in on the Australia-India Roundtable for two days, I'm more dubious than ever.

Not because Australia and India can't get along — quite the reverse; the relationship seems ready to bloom — but because of how little the shared democratic culture mattered.

Australia and India will increasingly work together because of the economic opportunity (such as major new Indian investment in Australian coal) and mutual security concerns about China. Cooperation, especially in the security arena, will take place where material and strategic interests overlap, and will most likely hinge upon India's willingness to formalise defence alliances, or remain independent-but-supportive of the West.

Democracy, where it plays a role, is actually a hindrance to the relationship. The Australian Labor Party's member-driven unwillingness to sell uranium to India is constraining the relationship (though the impact is declining), while India's politicians are pushed about by a tabloidy and parochial press (as seen with the 2009 attacks on Indian students in Melbourne).

Long term, the roundtable has left me quite optimistic about the relationship of India and Australia. Which is a very good thing, as securing a strong relationship with India could be fundamental to Australia's prosperity and security in the Asian Century. Just don't count on our mutual embrace of democracy helping any more than it hinders.

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