Amid a spate of racial attacks on students that have dented its image, Australia on Monday named an Indian-Australian as its new envoy to New Delhi in an apparent bid to assuage feelings in India.
Peter Varghese, Australia’s intelligence chief and a close aide of Premier Kevin Rudd, has been nominated as the new High Commissioner to India even as an incident of a beating up of an Indian student was reported while a stand-off broke out between the police and students in Sydney.
Varghese, the current head of the Office of National Assessments (ONA), will take over in August from John McCarthy, who has served in the job since 2004.
The announcement comes as Kamal Jit, a 23-year-old Indian student, was beaten up for the second time in a fortnight by a group of youths here.
At least 300 members of the community today staged a sit in Harris Park in Sydney, triggering a stand-off with the police as the students sought the immediate release of a colleague arrested by the authorities.
Meanwhile, a group of Indian students allegedly stabbed a 20-year-old man in a western suburb here after they were racially abused.
Varghese’ appointment has been made at a sensitive time in bilateral relations with the billion dollar foreign student market under threat due to spate of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney. More than 90,000 Indians are currently studying in Australia.
Varghese will hold concurrent accreditation to Bhutan and is expected to take up his appointment in August 2009.
He served as High Commissioner to Malaysia from 2000-2002. He had also served in Australian missions in Vienna, Washington and Tokyo.
Announcing Varghese’s appointment, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia’s engagement with India was expanding rapidly in recognition of the country’s growing economic and strategic importance and influence.
Australia and India also engage closely on strategic and defence matters, Smith said.
“In 2008 Australia and India decided to step up strategic cooperation by holding annual talks between the chiefs of our defence forces, and by strengthening intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation,” the Foreign Minister said.
The Australian Government had last week announced setting up of a Task Force headed by the National Security Adviser to deal with such violence.
Jit was found unconscious and bleeding by another Indian student in western suburb of the city on Sunday.
“It is very bad because we pay a lot of money and we are living far away from our country and from our families and we are without protection,” Jit was quoted as saying in ‘The Age´ newspaper today.
Jit’s friends said the attack was the sixth or seventh over the past week on the Indian students, and called for extra police at the suburb of St Albans station at night.
Hundreds of Indian students on Sunday rallied in Sydney to protest against the attacks.
Just ahead of the rally, another youth from the community complained about his newly-bought car being torched outside his home here.