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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 315


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (11:48): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the International Tax Agreements Amendment Bill 2012. The bill amends the International Tax Agreements Act 1953 to give effect to new bilateral taxation treaties with India, the Marshall Islands and Mauritius. The purpose of these treaties is twofold: firstly, to foster and develop closer economic and trade relationships with those countries and, secondly, to enhance the integrity of the tax system through enhanced frameworks through which tax administrators can prevent international fiscal evasion. A moment ago, my colleague the member for Chifley spoke about that eloquently and identified how the taxation and transfer pricing systems are causing problems for this country and internationally. They are worthwhile objectives.

I will focus my remarks on how this legislation affects our relationship with India, a country with which Australia has had a longstanding special relationship and with which we have much in common. Australia and India both celebrate 26 January as an important national day. For Australia, 26 January is the anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove and has become our national day. For India, since 1950, 26 January has been celebrated as the day India became a republic. Both countries are members of the Commonwealth and have had a strong British influence in their history. Both countries share a love for cricket, and both countries have democratically elected governments. In fact, India is the world's largest democracy, and Australia is one of the modern world's oldest democracies.

Today, around 400,000 Australians are of Indian origin, and India is Australia's largest source country of migration and skilled entrants. It is also Australia's largest source of international students, with around 40,000 international students from India currently studying in Australia. I would estimate that, over the years, the number of students from India who have studied in Australia must now number a million or more, and that in turn reinforces the ties between our two countries, because those students, having gone back to their own country, would have made connections and friends with people here in Australia.

Two-way trade between Australia and India in 2011-12 was about $18 billion and is growing rapidly. Indian investment in Australia is about $11 billion, whilst Australian investment in India is over $4 billion. Today India is the world's third largest economy and, with an expected economic growth rate of 6¾ per cent per annum over the next decade, India's international influence will continue to grow. In acknowledgement of the important ties between India and Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited India in October 2012, and in recent months foreign minister Bob Carr, trade minister Craig Emerson and arts minister Simon Crean have all visited India to reinforce the importance of the relationships between the two countries by signing agreements in areas of mutual interest.

Since 2008 around 60 ministerial visits have taken place between the two countries. Adding to the ministerial visits, the second Australia-India roundtable was held in New Delhi on 4 and 5 December last year, with resources minister Martin Ferguson inaugurating the roundtable. The roundtable brings together government, business and academic leaders from both countries to discuss areas of common interest. I particularly note that at the roundtable there was discussion about the deepening of security collaboration between India and Australia, including through regular bilateral naval exercises. Potential areas for future defence cooperation include development of amphibious capabilities, submarine rescue, operational communication links and maritime domain awareness in overlapping zones of interest in the Indian Ocean. The two nations could bring together maritime legal specialists to develop shared understandings on critical regional issues such as freedom of navigation. Of course, the two countries could also engage with China, Indonesia and other countries in the region on regional security matters. I also note that at the roundtable there were discussions on energy and education, which also paves the way for future investment decisions between the two countries. These are all welcome announcements.

For the Indian people who have resettled in Australia, seeing the two countries actively engaging with each other must be heartening for them. Their ties with their homeland will remain an important part of their lives. It is particularly encouraging to see the number of Indian families at local citizenship ceremonies taking up Australian citizenship and embracing Australian life. Indian people can now be found in all walks of Australian life, including in business, in the professions, in hospitality and in farming communities. They are hard working, enterprising and appreciative of the opportunities that Australia has to offer them. They are also people of faith and strong family values, perhaps well reflected in the words of the great Indian statesman Mahatma Gandhi who listed wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle as the seven blunders of the world. Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Aaron later added the eighth blunder: rights without responsibilities.

The brutal gang-rape and murder of a young Indian woman last year would have been particularly distressing for the Indian community in Australia, as it was for people around the world. It is a credit to Indian authorities that the alleged offenders have been arrested and are already before the courts. It is equally encouraging and heartening to see the widespread public outrage and rallies undertaken throughout India in support of women's rights, women's safety, and bringing an end to violence against women.

In my electorate of Makin, the Indian presence is notable. Many Indian families have settled in the area and Indian students are possibly the largest group of overseas students at the Mawson Lakes campus of the University of South Australia, which is located within the electorate of Makin. My own immediate neighbourhood has become home to several Indian families and I compliment them on the seamless and harmonious way in which they have settled into their new community. About two years ago, my daughter travelled to India at the invitation of one of her university friends, whose family was returning to India for the holiday period. My daughter was invited to join them and she was overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality afforded to her while she was in India. Only last week, I spoke with family friends of Italian origin who had just returned from overseas having attended the marriage of their son to his Indian fiance. This kind of integration is wonderful to see.

The legislation we are debating can and will serve the interests of Australia and India. The issue of taxation can be both a barrier to investment decisions and a problem for governments seeking to ensure legitimate tax revenue is raised and that the tax system is neither manipulated nor evaded. In a global economy, taxation laws have become an influencing investment consideration. Consistency of tax laws and their enforcement provides a level playing field for all. Strengthening the taxation system of both Australia and India throughout this agreement will, therefore, create greater certainty for business investment and business operations in both countries. Noting the level of trade and business investment between India and Australia, and the growth trends projected, this agreement becomes even more important to both countries. The treaty reinforces and builds on the close and long-standing friendship and alliance between India and Australia, and I commend the bill to the House.