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Gillard turns on the charm in India
As India and Australia commit to formal negotiations on uranium sales and annual leaders meetings, both countries are seeking to usher in a new chapter in bilateral relations.

Formal negotiations on uranium supplies to power the Indian economy and annual leaders meetings. That's the substance of what Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is talking up as a new chapter in relations with Australia at the end of this week's visit by his counterpart Julia Gillard.

For years there's been less than meets the eye to ties between New Delhi and Canberra.

But now Ms Gillard is vowing to put relations with India on a par with China, with similar benefits to both countries.

Political editor Catherine McGrath reports.
CATHERINE MCGRATH, REPORTER: Some international relationships have a breakthrough moment. For Australia and India, this has been one of them.

MANMOHAN SINGH, INDIAN PRIME MINISTER: This visit by Her Excellency the Prime Minister of Australia, ladies and gentlemen, is bound to open a new chapter in India Australia relations.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has used every ounce of charm and every ounce of diplomatic effort to improve ties that have languished for too long.

JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: For Australia, our goal is for a partnership with India which reflects your standing, along with the US, Japan, China, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea, as one of the handful of countries which matter most to Australia.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Australia and India will begin discussions on a nuclear safeguards agreement and strengthened defence ties.

Prime Minister Gillard has launched an 18 city Australian cultural festival and nominated India's favourite batsman for national Australian honours.

Australia up until now hasn't put enough emphasis on its relationship with India and an Indian prime minister hasn't visited Australia for 26 years. Previously, Australia has put its relationship with China on a higher plane.

For India in recent times, there were two other barriers to closer bonds one was uranium sales, and the other scars caused by the treatment of Indian students in Australia.

The student backlash appears solved.

MANMOHAN SINGH: I've also conveyed to the Prime Minister our appreciation of the steps being taken by the Australian Government to address the issues affecting Indian and Indian students in Australia.

JULIA GILLARD: I certainly think it's better than it was. I was here at the height of this when the Indian community was very, very concerned about student welfare issues.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Much of the improvement in relations comes from Australia's decision to reverse its ban on uranium sales to India. A point noted by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh at the closing press conference.

MANMOHAN SINGH: I have expressed to the Prime Minister, India's appreciation of this development and her role in bringing it about.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Prime Minister Gillard did bring it about by pushing Labor at the Party's national conference last year to change.

JULIA GILLARD (December 2011): Our platform enables us to sell uranium to China but not to India. Now this is not an intellectually defensible proposition.

FEMALE LABOR PARTY MEMBER: Two-hundred-and-six votes in favour of the proposition; 185 against.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: And Indian officials watched on as the policy was reversed. Victory went to Prime Minister Gillard but it was a gut wrenching debate for Labor.

PROTESTER: A non-signatory to the nuclear non proliferation treaty.

RICHARD LEAVER, FLINDERS UNIVERSITY: It's always an agonising decision for the Labor Party because so much of it its identity is bound up in the uranium issue.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: There won't be a great rush of Australian uranium sales to India. Other countries like Canada, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and France, through former colonies in Africa, have become the major suppliers of uranium to India.

Academic Richard Leaver is a specialist on nuclear policy and international affairs.

RICHARD LEAVER: They seem to have already at least sewed up enough uranium to supply the needs of their next six to seven reactors that are being built. So Australia might become more significant further down the road.

MICHAEL ANGWIN, AUSTRALIAN URANIUM ASSOCIATION: Australia's uranium industry will have to be very competitive with other countries in order to get a foot hold in the Indian market. But we in our industry think that the Prime Minister's efforts this week have been a very good way of expanding the Australian uranium industry's entry into Asia.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Australia has 30 per cent of the world's accessible uranium but it could be 2017 before India see s any of it.

MICHAEL ANGWIN: I think the Prime Minister's signalling that the negotiations with the Indian Government will take some time. And we know in Australia that developing a uranium mine also takes some time. So my guess is that, if we start right now, it might be somewhere between five and seven years before we could export to India.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Environmental arguments against nuclear power in India are emerging.

PK SUNDARAM, INDIAN COALITION FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT: Common people of India in several parts of the country are today up against the nuclear expansion which is being pushed through our throats very, very undemocratically through brutal, brutal police oppression.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: As India grows, many developed nations have moved more quickly into the Indian market than Australia has. And now it's time to catch up.

JULIA GILLARD: You long ago woke to life and freedom. Today, it is the world waking to the global role your freedom and life have made for you.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The next big step forward will be when an Indian prime minister visits Australia.
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