Ms. Jodi McKay is a highly esteemed figure in the realm of politics and business. As the National Chair of the Australia India Business Council, she plays a pivotal role in fostering and strengthening the trade relationship between Australia and India. The Australia India Business Council is renowned as the leading business chamber in the country responsible for facilitating bilateral trade and investment opportunities between the two nations.
Prior to her involvement in business, Ms. McKay dedicated over 15 years of her career to public service as a Member of Parliament. During her tenure, she served as a Cabinet Minister and Opposition Leader in Australia’s oldest parliament. Her extensive experience in politics has equipped her with a deep understanding of governance, policy-making, and the intricacies of public administration.
Ms. Jodi McKay is widely recognized for her exceptional leadership skills, strategic thinking, and commitment to serving the interests of both Australia and India. Her expertise in fostering diplomatic relationships and promoting economic growth has made her a prominent figure in the business and political landscape.
IIS: Tell us something about you (we have this information) would be great if you want to add something in your own words…
JM: Firstly, I am so excited about the opportunity to engage with all your members – thank you!
I’m National Chair of the Australia India Business Council (AIBC), a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow – South Asia for Western Sydney University and was recently appointed by Australia’s Foreign Minister to the inaugural Board of the Centre for Australia-India Relations (CAIR).
I had ten years over a 15 year period as a Member of Parliament and had the unique privilege of being the Member for Strathfield and the Member for Newcastle. I’ve also been a Cabinet Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the NSW Parliament.
My involvement with the Indian Australian community began more than 8 years ago as the Member for Strathfield, where I immersed myself in the vibrant and exciting culture of India.
Since leaving parliament, I’ve become a champion of the India- Australia relationship and the role of the diaspora as the “living bridge” between the two countries.
I live in Sydney, but I love spending time on my farm in Gloucester which is a small town at the foothills of the Barrington Tops in NSW and where I grew up and went to school
IIS: How long have you been a member of the Indians in Sydney Facebook group (if you are, and do you have any feedback/suggestions for us? Are there any specific areas where you believe the Indians in Sydney Facebook group can further contribute to the local community and society at large?
JM: I officially joined the group earlier this year, but I was a little naughty and had a member of my staff join while I was Leader of the Opposition. I wanted to better understand what was happening during COVID, and because of the information I gleaned from the group, I was outspoken on the lack of support for international students and the closure of our border with India which severely impacted many families in Australia.
While a focus of your group is on the day to day activities of the diaspora living and connecting in Sydney, I’d love to further explore how the group can be involved on the business side of the India Australia relationship.
While we talk about the role of Indian Australians as the “living bridge” between the two countries, Australia is still to determine how best to leverage the knowledge, expertise and connections of our growing diaspora.
My role with Western Sydney University also involves advancing industry research and education outcomes through partnerships and international collaboration. Given the importance of education in the relationship, the group could play a role here as well.
Photo credit: Jodi Mckay Linkedin
IIS: As the National Chair of the Australia-India Business Council, what are some of your key responsibilities in fostering the trade relationship between Australia and India?
JM: AIBC was formed almost 40 years ago by two Prime Ministers. We have a proud history, but the Chamber hasn’t always operated in a way that unites people and delivers on its promise as Australia’s leading business council supporting the India Australia relationship.
I took over as National Chair in October last year and since that time, we have reinvigorated our state chapters, launched a new brand and become more responsive to the needs of our members. We’ve also strengthened relationships within our key national and global stakeholders, implemented best practice governance and energised our industry chapters while increasing our membership.
Given the significance of the bilateral relationship to both governments, there has never been a more important time for the Chamber to be a strong, active and responsive business council.
As well as driving a massive reform agenda, I’ve also been a very public voice to strengthen the bilateral relationship, both here and in India.
I also see my role as being a champion for the diaspora in the relationship. I’m the first non-Indian Chair of AIBC and I see that as a positive because we have to do more to reach businesses that are not familiar with India and its opportunities.
IIS: Could you share some success stories or major achievements of the Australia-India Business Council in strengthening bilateral trade and investment?
JM: AIBC has chapters in six Australian states and a presence in India, where our National Vice Chair is located.
In Queensland, we’ve been working with the Treasurer and Trade Minister on their new India Strategy which will be launched in coming months. We have hosted many membership events and we’re now
working with the Centre for Australia India Relations on a roundtable with the Foreign Minister in coming weeks.
NSW has been our busiest chapter. Since the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) was signed in May last year, we’ve hosted eight senior Modi Government Ministers, as well as a delegation a month seeking to engage with Australian business from sectors such as technology, F&B, renewable energy, electronics, manufacturing, pharma and textiles. Pretty much whatever sector is covered by the free trade agreement (ECTA) we’re supporting.
In Western Australia, we were involved in the Trade Minister’s mega mission to India last year and were working closely with those 120 plus companies. We have activities most months, for example in June we hosted an event on international education and another introducing the new leadership team of CAIR along with DFAT’s Chief Negotiator on the next stage of the free trade agreement (CECA).
In Victoria, we hosted a roundtable this month connecting women leaders with the India opportunities.
It’s a very busy time and I am so fortunate to have passionate management committees supporting our expanded agenda.
IIS: How do you perceive the future potential of the trade relationship between Australia and India, and what opportunities do you see for further growth and collaboration? Are there any specific sectors or industries where you see significant potential for collaboration and mutual growth between Australia and India?
JM: Australia was the first country to acknowledge India’s independence 75 years ago, so we’ve always had an important friendship with India, but last year the two countries signed the Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement (ECTA), which super-charged the relationship.
It’s the first free trade agreement India has entered into with any Western country and its aim is to increase bilateral trade from $27 billion to $45 billion by 2030.
The free trade agreement entered into force last December and we’ve seen a significant increase in activity, but I believe Australia has been much slower to react to the opportunities. In the last two months, since Prime Minister Albanese’s visit to India, we have seen a more energetic response from Australia, but there’s still a lot to do to convince Australian businesses of the incredible opportunities for them with India.
The potential of the relationship is enormous and Indian Trade Minister Pyush Goyal believes we can top $100 billion two-way trade by 2030. However to reach that ambitious target, we need to turn an ‘interest’ in India into actually doing business with India.
International education remains an area with limitless opportunity, which is why I am working with Western Sydney University to explore partnerships and industry collaborations in India. I’m so pleased that universities are no longer just focusing on attracting international students, but now understand the importance of education exchange more generally.
I think renewable energy and technology are areas to watch and of course we need to look at critical minerals, not just coal. The free trade agreement identifies target sectors, but it’s light-on in the agricultural sector. I know it’s a contested area for India, but I don’t think we should simply give up exploring partnerships around agri-tech, water management, sustainable agriculture and where we can sell more produce to India.
IIS: What are the key challenges you have encountered in promoting business ties between the two countries, and how do you address them?
JM: People still have a perception of an India 15-20 years ago and not the developed India with its plethora of business opportunities. We haven’t developed a narrative that demystifies India and convinces Australian companies of why doing business with India makes sense.
We also have to provide end to end support for businesses. Our state governments have trade offices in India, but I’d like to see a greater connection with Invest India to hand-hold businesses through the establishment process.
There’s also a role for our big corporates in not only investing with India, but sharing their success stories. They can give confidence that India is a worthy place for commerce. In March this year, the Business Council of Australia (BCA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to overcome barriers and help grow the bilateral relationship. This is an important initiative in increasing Australia’s confidence in the Indian market.
The diaspora is also key to educating people on India more generally. The Indian Australian community is passionate about both countries and are eager to help – we just have to find formal channels to harness that enthusiasm.
I am constantly reinforcing that India, with its 28 states and 8 union territories, operates like 36 different countries. Every state has its own language, cultural practices, priorities and unique political environment. We have yet to effectively communicate to Australian companies that India is ‘not all the same’, which comes back to the role of business and government in expanding India literacy and cultural understanding.
IIS: How can individuals and businesses within the Indian community in Sydney actively contribute to enhancing the trade relationship between Australia and India?
JM: One of my favourite questions!
It’s a given that the Indian Australian community has a vital role to play in the relationship, but there’s still much conjecture about how that should happen.
We need to look at it sector by sector and develop business champions. There’s also the state by state approach – for example, someone with connections in Punjab may not be the right person to help a business wanting to invest in Kerala, even if they share a sector interest. am a board member of the new Centre for Australia India Relations, which has diaspora engagement as a key pillar. I believe there’s a pivotal role for groups like this to play – I’m actually quite excited just thinking about how they could happen and what we could achieve.
I’d be really keen to hear what others think.
IIS: As a former Cabinet Minister and Opposition Leader, what advice would you give to aspiring individuals who aspire to contribute to public service and make a positive impact in their communities?
JM: We need greater diversity in politics and we are making progress. This year we’ve seen a number of success stories including the election of Charishma Kalyanda as the Member for Liverpool, Sameer Pandey as Mayor of Parramatta and Daniel Mookhey as the NSW Treasurer. And Gurmesh Singh has been the Member for Coffs Harbour for some time. They have shown what’s possible with their proud Indian heritage.
But of course, we can always do better. If you’re keen to enter politics, you can make a positive impact at all levels of government – local, state and federal. However it can also be a tough career path and getting there through a Party system is not easy, while standing as an independent can be even harder.
But of course, political representation is not the only way you can contribute to your community. I see many not for profit groups making great change in their community and in important areas like mental health, women’s safety, the environment and seniors’ support. It’s important to identify what motivates you and then find the right organisation to support.
I think it’s important for new Australians to be involved in the community – it gives them a wonderful introduction to Australia. When I speak at citizenship ceremonies, I always encourage volunteering as a way of learning more about Australia, making a difference to your new home country and of course there’s the added benefit of making new friends.
IIS: What role do you believe cultural exchange and understanding play in strengthening the business ties between Australia and India?
JM: Another of my favourite topics!
Cultural exchange, understanding and awareness will be a key focus of CAIR. The first round of the Centre’s cultural grants will be released soon and there’s funding for Indigenous exchange projects as well as festivals and events that expand cultural connections. It’s really exciting to see increasing cultural exchange and cultural understanding as a key deliverable for CAIR. I know how important this is because over the years, I have immersed myself in Indian culture and familiarised myself with the Indian Australian community with all its complexities.
I am still learning, and when I have questions, I have plenty of people I can turn to for guidance. That’s very true of my love of the saree as well. I first wore a saree almost ten years ago. I now have a very fine collection that spans the weaves of India. My knowledge of the saree has been supported by women who have kindly and generously been with me on my saree journey, offering advice and guidance.
I have a connection to many community groups and I love the celebrations and festivals. My understanding grows with each interaction and even though I am no longer in politics, I still attend events most weekends and support many community groups.
On my trips to India I also try to expand my cultural understanding and embrace the vibrant cultural diversity that is India. I also love connecting with Australians when I’m in India – visiting their families, favourite restaurants and learning customs and traditions. It makes me feel alive with possibility and reminds me why I love India and its people.
Cultural understanding is critical to our connection with India, but so too are genuine and trusted friendships. I am often asked about the one piece of advice I would give to businesses seeking a connection with India and my response is always “find a trusted partner” to work with and support you in better understanding cultural and business practices.
For the bilateral relationship to truly thrive we need both sides to embrace and respect differences.
Photo Credit: NSWLABOR.ORG
IIS: How can the Indians in Sydney Facebook group collaborate with the Australia India Business Council and contribute to strengthening the trade relationship? What role do you believe social media platforms, such as the Indians in Sydney Facebook group, play in connecting and mobilizing the Indian community for various causes or initiatives ?
JM: The group is really important in spreading the word about key milestones in the relationship. For instance, the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) will occur
later this year. I’d love for the group to promote the details of the agreement and how it benefits businesses on both sides.
We’d also be keen to use the group to promote activities we hold as a business chamber. This month we hosted a Trade Promotion Council of India (TPCI) delegation on the food and beverage sector. TPCI brought thirty companies to Sydney for a buyer-seller meet in Granville. These are companies eager to do business here. We’d love the opportunity to promote these events to a broader audience.
Our business Chamber primarily uses Linkedin, but we also know that many small businesses do not use that social media platform, so we’re keen to ramp up our facebook activity and develop partnerships with groups like the Indians in Sydney Facebook Group.
And here’s an idea – why don’t we host a joint event with you on the opportunities under the free trade agreement and how the relationship is developing? Perhaps we could develop an agenda of online events that share information and also answer questions and queries.
AIBC is also planning a number of hybrid events where we bring in experts from India as speakers, so we have more fulsome coverage of issues and sectors important in the bilateral relationship. It would be great to have the Indians in Sydney Facebook Group involved. I’d also be keen to have members identify the areas we should focus on, where they’d like more information or wish to share sensational ideas on how we can progress this important relationship together.