Diplomat Harinder Sidhu, Australia’s High Commissioner to New Zealand and former High Commissioner to India, has been honoured with an AM in this year’s Australia Day ceremony.
She tops this year’s list of honorees from Australia’s Indian community. In doing so, she demonstrates yet again, as she claims, that Australia is a meritocracy.
“When I joined the Foreign Service, it really confirmed in my father’s mind that Australia is a meritocracy, that you don’t have to have privileges or connections; you just have to work hard,” she said in an interview with Indian Link.
Her appointment as Australia’s High Commissioner to India in 2016 came at a critical time for the relationship, as it was emerging from a deep freeze. Australia Day, 2024
“My professional highlight was building layer upon layer of the India-Australia relationship,” she said. “I was working very hard to elevate the relationship to what I consider a first-tier relationship. That was something we discussed in the Australian Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017, and it culminated in the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which we agreed to shortly after my departure in 2020. Following my departure, a shift in the relationship resulted in the conclusion of early-harvest free trade agreements. I am very pleased and honoured to be a part of the transformation in our relationship with India.”
This year’s Australia Day awardees include ANU academic Professor Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, who has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO, a rare honour for someone from our community. This is just one of 38 AOs announced this year.
Prof. Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt’s research focuses on people’s lives and livelihoods in natural resource sectors such as mining, water, and agriculture, all of which are undergoing significant change.
“These challenges have flow-through effects not only on environmental sustainability, as you might expect, but also on women’s empowerment and gender equality,” she told Indian Link. “When I realised that women are the primary resource managers in families and small communities, it became obvious to me that the environment is critical to gender equality.”
Gender is an important theme in her work on natural resource management.
Her work has had a global impact, and she has spoken at several national and international agencies, including the World Bank and UNDP.
Medical practitioners continue to be overrepresented on this national list of excellence, as they are every year. This year, two Indian-origin doctors from Sydney are honoured: paediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Ramananda Kamath OAM and the late specialist surgeon and professor of surgery, Dr. Sachint Kumar Lal OAM. On Australia Day 2024, Dr. Ramananda Kamath, 87, is recognised for his pioneering work in paediatric gastroenterology. He established the first department in Australia at the Children’s Hospital Camperdown (now Westmead Children’s Hospital). He also carried out the first liver transplants on children in Australia.
He may have retired in 2003, but he still keeps up with new developments in his field and speaks passionately about current events, particularly their impact on children. “I am old, but not old!” he laughed as he spoke with Indian Link.
Dr. Sachint Kumar Lal, OAM, established the Hawkesbury Clinical School at the University of Notre Dame following a distinguished career as a specialist surgeon in the Hawkesbury-Nepean region.
He passed away last year. His psychiatrist son, Sharat, told Indian Link, “I’m sorry my father isn’t here to accept this honour. He would have been extremely proud and honoured to receive a medal in his adopted country.” We’re extremely proud of him.”