The Australia India Institute hosted the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese AO, to give the Annual Oration entitled Our Journey With India. What is the role for India in the 21st Century? Will India’s economic weight translate into strategic influence? Does India have the strategic culture and institutions to support a more active foreign and strategic policy? How will India, a long-standing democracy, position itself on the intersection of values and interests in international relations? Recent Lowy polling picked up strong national support for a powerful Indian strategic role in the Indo-Pacific; something we in Australia would support. From Australia’s perspective, we see greater convergence in our strategic and economic agenda with India. We have much in common– but also share sometimes misconceived notions of each other. Both our countries need to work hard to modernise our perceptions of each other, because greater collaboration is in our mutual interests.
Mr Varghese took up his position as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 3 December 2012. Prior to this appointment, Mr Varghese was Australia’s High Commissioner to India from 2009 to 2012. Between 2004 and 2009, he was Director-General of the Office of National Assessments. Before that he was the Senior Adviser (International) to the Prime Minister. Mr Varghese was Australia's High Commissioner to Malaysia from 2000 to 2002. He has also served overseas in Tokyo (1994), Washington (1986-88) and Vienna (1980-83).
Mr Varghese has held a wide range of senior positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, including as Deputy Secretary (2002-2003), First Assistant Secretary of the International Security Division (1997), Head of the White Paper Secretariat (1996-97) which drafted Australia’s first white paper on foreign and trade policy, First Assistant Secretary of the Public Affairs Division (1994-96), and Assistant Secretary of Staffing (1991-92). He was seconded to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as First Assistant Secretary of the International Division (1998-1999).
Mr Varghese was born in 1956 in Kenya to Indian born parents. He migrated to Australia as a young child in 1964. Mr Varghese is a graduate and university medalist in history from the University of Queensland. He is married with one adult son. He was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in 2010 for distinguished service to public administration, particularly in leading reform in the Australian intelligence community and as an adviser in the areas of foreign policy and international security.
Peter Varghese's comments in the media: