Senator Kate Lundy speaks at the launch of Discover Sailing. Photo: Rohan Thomson
India has overtaken China and Britain to become Australia's biggest source of migrants for the first time.
Federal Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Sport Kate Lundy said last financial year, permanent migration from India hit 29,018 places or 15.7 per cent of the total skilled migration program.
There were also 36,000 Indian students studying in Australia and India's young population demographic offered huge opportunities for Australian universities and vocational education providers, she said.
Senator Lundy, who is also the Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, delivered the Australia India Business Council's ACT chapter's national address at the University of Canberra on Monday.
Speaking on the theme ''The Importance of Education, Research and Innovation to the Australia-India Relationship in the Asian Century'', Senator Lundy hailed the contribution of the Indian-Australian community to Australia's success as a nation. She said the information technology sector, in particular, ''would not be the same without the contributions of Indian-Australian IT experts''.
Responding to a question about the apparent contradiction in Australia's commitment to clean energy while exporting $6.5 billion worth of coal (the biggest Australian export) to India, Senator Lundy said clean energy was an aspirational goal but the challenges of development for a country like India, with a population in excess of 1.2 billion, could not be ignored.
She said Australia remained committed to a low-carbon economy but it was a transformational process and information technology would continue to play a part in achieving energy efficiencies. Businesses, too, had to play their part by being smarter with their energy use.
Indian high commissioner to Australia Biren Nanda highlighted the mammoth challenges his government faced in educating 200 million vocational students over the next two decades, as it tried to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty. He said India welcomed foreign tertiary and vocational education providers to help meet this demand, and pointed out Australia and Germany were the favoured providers of such education services in India.
During the last five years of the previous decade, Mr Nanda said the proportion of Indians living below the poverty line had been reduced by a quarter, and he cited examples of Indian entrepreneurs developing innovative products to cater for ''the bottom of the pyramid''.
Such innovations included the world's cheapest car - the Tata Nano - priced at $US3500 ($3344); a mini refrigerator weighing 7.5 kilograms, that cost US$75 and just $US1 a month to run; an energy-saving ATM that used only 4 per cent of the energy of a conventional ATM; a $US25 water purification device; and the world's cheapest tablet computer, Aakash 2, at $US20, which was unveiled by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the weekend. Mr Nanda said his government planned to distribute the tablet to 220 million students.