Committee Report: Delegation to India

Published on Mon 31 August 2020 10:14am

It was particularly useful with respect to learning about India’s energy challenges and achievements, which I think would surprise a lot of people in Australia. For example, India already derives a substantially higher proportion of its energy from renewable sources than we do here in Australia.

On behalf of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy, I present the committee’s report on the parliamentary delegation to India, 3 to 7 November 2019. I’m glad to make some remarks upon the tabling of the report in relation to the environment and energy committee delegation visit to India which occurred last November, led by the member for Fairfax and including me and the members for Warringah and Lyne.

In the course of the visit, we had the opportunity to meet with and learn from government ministers, departmental officials, local government agencies, think tank leaders, non-government organisations, industry representatives and experts in the energy and waste management sectors. It was particularly useful with respect to learning about India’s energy challenges and achievements, which I think would surprise a lot of people in Australia. For example, India already derives a substantially higher proportion of its energy from renewable sources than we do here in Australia. While last year renewables contributed 24 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation, India already derives 36 per cent of its energy from renewables, and it currently has a target of reaching 57 per cent of total electricity generation from renewable sources by 2027.

It’s worth noting that India was the first country in the world to establish a standalone Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, first created in 1982 as the department of non-conventional energy sources. There’s no doubt that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is making great strides in growing renewable energy, especially through the National Solar Mission. As it stands, three of the five largest solar parks in the world are located in India, and solar capacity has increased 11-fold in just the last five years. Of course, Australia is, rightly, very supportive of India’s leadership of the International Solar Alliance, which was first announced at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015. There are now 120 countries that are members of that alliance. We were the 35th to join. Both our countries should benefit from closer cooperation in future on renewable energy and related storage, distribution and system management technologies.

When the delegation was in Mumbai for the principal purpose of visiting the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, we also had the opportunity of seeing the work being done to support people living in the Dharavi slum precinct—by some reports, the largest in the world. In that community, more than a million of Mumbai’s poorest citizens occupy an area of 2.4 square kilometres. In other words, twice the population of Tasmania live in an area that’s only eight times as large as this Parliament House site. Some estimates suggest there is one toilet for every 1,500 people in Dharavi. Needless to say, they have faced an unimaginable challenge when it comes to dealing with the current pandemic. However, I was very glad to note in preparing for these remarks that international reports state that Mumbai health authorities working with the Dharavi community have managed this crisis quite successfully through a mass sanitisation program with the conversion of every conceivable municipal facility for health purposes and a proactive testing effort. Today, of course, India has recorded the highest single day increase in infections of any country throughout the pandemic to date, with 79,000 new infections. Our thoughts and best wishes are with the government and the citizens of India as they battle this virus.

Finally, I draw attention to the fact that for a long time we have recognised the potential to develop a much closer relationship between our countries—between Australia and India—but, in some key areas, have made too little progress. While in 2019 Australian exports to China grew by a quarter to reach 34 per cent of total exports by value, our exports to India only make up 4.5 per cent of total export value, and that number fell slightly in 2019. When we consider the imperative of trade diversification, we simply have to do much better when it comes to countries like India and Indonesia.

I conclude by again giving thanks for the organisational support the delegation received from the committee secretariat and from Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff in New Delhi and Mumbai, and I acknowledge the spirit of friendship and hospitality in which we were received in India.

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