Australia remains ‘engaged’ after India concerns raised

Foreign Minister Penny Wong says Australia is deeply concerned by allegations that India was behind the murder of a Sikh man in Canada.

Wong said Australia remained engaged with partners after Canada said it had credible information linking the Indian government to the shooting murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had expelled a senior Indian intelligence official after linking Indian agents to the shooting.

Delhi has denied the claims.

On Wednesday (Australian time), Wong said from the sidelines of the United Nations conference in New York that Australia was “monitoring these developments with partners closely [and] we will continue to do so”.

“I’m not going to go into any further detail on that,” she said, after confirming concerns had been raised with the Indian government.

“What I’d note is that these allegations are still being investigated, so I would recognise that. But more broadly, I would say this – we take the view, as a government, that Australian democracy is precious.”

Asked about whether Australia was concerned about foreign interference on its own soil, she said the nation was a “robust democracy” and that the Indian diaspora had a range of views.

“We have made clear in relation to democratic debate in Australia that the norm, the peaceful expression of different views, is a key part of Australia’s democracy,” she said.

Nijjar – a prominent advocate for a separate Sikh state within India named Khalistan – was gunned down outside a temple in British Columbia, in what Canadian authorities described at the time as a “targeted incident”.

On Tuesday, Trudeau said he had raised the allegations “personally and directly” with Modi at last week’s G20 summit, held in Delhi.

“In no uncertain terms, any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said.

India’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed Canada’s allegations as “absurd”, and demanded “prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating on their soil”.

“That Canadian political figures have openly expressed sympathy for such elements remains a matter of deep concern,” it said.

Wong’s comments on Wednesday came after Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a reporter to “chill out a bit” when asked whether he regretted calling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “boss” when he visited Australia.

Albanese’s comments came when he and Modi were at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena in May, where Bruce Springsteen – nicknamed “the boss” – had previously played.

Albanese said the remark came after Australia’s broad-based Indian diaspora “welcomed [Modi] very strongly”.

“I welcomed Prime Minister Modi to Australia, as I welcome other guests to Australia as well,” he said.

Albanese also refused to speculate on intelligence received by partners, including Canada, about the credibility of the allegations and links.

“We don’t speculate on what the intelligence is, so I don’t intend to talk about Five Eyes intelligence.”

– with AAP

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