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Australia launches inquiry into Indian student attacks

A top Australian security official will head an inquiry into violent attacks on Indian students, which have become a diplomatic issue with New Delhi, says Australian government.

india Updated: Jun 02, 2009 13:09 IST

A top Australian security official will head an inquiry into violent attacks on Indian students, which have become a diplomatic issue with New Delhi, the government said on Tuesday.

Hate crimes would also be made an offence in the state of Victoria, where most of the attacks have occurred.

National Security Adviser Duncan Lewis would oversee the response of authorities to a series of assaults over 18 months which Indian students believe have been racially motivated, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told parliament.

"Australia again sends a message to the Indian people that Australia is serious about ensuring the safety of Indian students, as we are serious about ensuring the safety of all visitors to our country," Smith said.

The attacks, which Australian police said were opportunistic crimes, escalated into a diplomatic issue last week with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing concern to his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd.

The attacks received little publicity in Australia until some 4,000 Indian students held a street protest in the Victorian capital Melbourne over the weekend demanding better protection.

Smith said Lewis would lead a government taskforce that would include immigration, judicial and foreign affairs officials, who would consult with various state police.

The 93,000 Indian students in Australia were welcome guests and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard would soon meet foreign students to discuss their safety fears, Smith said. India said it hoped authorities would take strong action to prevent future attacks.

"We have been reasonably assured by the Australian government that they will investigate the incident that took place there and they will take the follow up action against those who are responsible for that incident," Foreign Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna told a news channel.

Rob Hulls, the attorney-general in Victoria, said hate crimes would be made an offence as the state government cracked down on violent crimes against Indians and other targeted groups, including homosexual men.

Judges in sentencing would have to take into account "hatred for or prejudice against a particular group of people", Hulls said, according to The Age newspaper.

Australia's international student sector is the country's third largest export earner, behind coal and iron ore, bringing in A$13 billion ($10.5 billion) in the 2007-08 fiscal year.

A former Australian-based Indian journalist, Akash Arora, writing in The Age on Tuesday, defended Australia's record dealing with racism after protesters in India burned effigies of Rudd in response to the Melbourne attacks.

More Indian students were bashed on the new Delhi Metro rail network, with little media interest at home, than were ever attacked in Australia, which has a reputation internationally for outbreaks of racism, the article said.

"I genuinely don't think Australia is as racist as it is often portrayed to be by international media," Arora wrote.