Vowing not to tolerate any racial attacks against Indians, Premier John Brumby of the Australian state of Victoria, which has witnessed most of these assaults, said on Sunday there is "a small and ignorant minority" of people who engage in such "repugnant" actions.
"Victorians abhor and condemn racism. That's because our state is built on migration and cultures from around the world. But there is a small and ignorant minority of people who are racist," Brumby said in interview to PTI.
Acknowledging that Indians have fallen victim to violent crimes here, he said, "no matter how small in number, any crime motivated by racism is outrageous and won't be tolerated."
"When an Indian family decides to send a son or daughter to another country, they place their trust in that country. I know Victorians would take that trust very seriously," said Brumby, who is under pressure to tackle the crisis.
Insisting that Victoria, and indeed Australia, was not a racist society, he said his government has repeatedly condemned any racist behaviour -- violent or verbal.
"This behaviour is by a very small minority of people whose actions are repugnant to most Australians," Brumby said.
However, he said the sad fact of any big urban city is that there is crime, which can impact any member of the public.
"I and the Government acknowledge that. The police acknowledge that... I have always said that where it is a racially-based motivated attack we condemn that in the strongest possible terms," he said.
In a damage-control exercise, the Brumby government has announced a slew of measures to curb the attacks, but there is a feeling that not enough has been done as the offenders have been leniently dealt with by the law.
Brumby also claimed that Victoria has the toughest anti-knife regime in Australia. "Victoria Police investigates all matters reported to them equally, and the justice system deals with all people equally."
Over 100 incidents of attacks on Indians, including racial, have come to light since May last year in Australia. 21-year-old student Nitin Garg, who was stabbed to death here, was the first victim of such assaults this year.
Police were also scrambling to crack the case of the unnatural death of three-year-old Indian boy Gurshan, whose body was found on Thursday six hours after his disappearance from a house rented by his parents in a Melbourne suburb.
With Indians being seen as soft targets, Victorian police chief Simon Overland had recently come up with an advice asking them to "look poor" to avoid attacks.
Despite criticism of Overland's remarks by the community members and student bodies, Brumby stood by his top cop. "I understand that Police Commissioner Overland's remarks were taken out of context."
"Overland was reflecting the common sense advice given by both Australian and Indian governments to students and others coming to Australia - not to ostentatiously display expensive items, avoid dark and lonely places late at night," he said.
With Victoria sharing strong multi-dimensional ties with India in fields like films, sports including the Commonwealth Games, IT and education, Brumby said "the relationship is thriving - as evidenced by the number of Indian companies doing business here."
He said he also takes pride in the Indian community here, which is one of the fastest growing in Victoria. Over 150,000 Indian people have chosen to call Victoria their permanent home with tens of thousands of young Indian students taking it as their temporary home.
"Governments at all levels in Australia are treating the attacks on Indian students and related issues with utmost seriousness, and the Commonwealth and Victoria Governments are meeting regularly," Brumby noted, adding the federal authorities have taken steps to address shortcomings in the education system and visa arrangements.
He also pointed out that numerous Indian students, currently living and studying in Melbourne, had contacted his office and government departments to tell them about their positive experiences, and how they loved living here.
He asserted that none of the official crime statistics downplays "the fact that there have been assaults on Indians, or the seriousness of the investigations by police."
Brumby said his government was actively involved in bringing the two cultures together and had organised many community-based events designed to highlight the tolerance and understanding of the Victorian community.
"We also strongly supported Vindaloo Against Violence (campaign) which asked Victorians to show support for Indians in Australia by eating at their local Indian restaurants to demonstrate solidarity with the Indian community. The event attracted more than 16,000 participants - this shows how much Victorians care," Brumby said.
The state also roped in former cricketer Shane Warne to promote Victoria as a safe destination in India, he noted. Other initiatives included a 24-hour International Student Care Service to provide help and support round-the-clock.
Brumby said the government established the service at a cost of 500,000 dollars and will provide a further 250,000 dollars for legal aid to the international student community. The centre will also receive 20,000 dollars to support volunteer efforts within the Indian community, he said.
"We understand there are student concerns about well- being and safety and that is why we invested 14 million dollars in our Action Plan for International Education, 'Thinking Global'."
He said law enforcement agencies were working with Indian community to develop strategies to reduce the risk to students through two 'Victoria Police Indian Reference Groups'.
The new Operational Response Unit of highly trained Victoria Police officers recently carried out targeted operations across the state to tackle street violence. It is expected to grow to 220 members by the year-end and will boost police capacity significantly to crack down on assaults, the use of weapons and alcohol-related street crime, Brumby said. He said it would be deployed on needs-basis with a focus on suburbs where attacks on Indians have occurred.