With attacks on Indian students creating widespread concern in India, Australia on Monday underlined its policy of “zero tolerance for racism” and announced a slew of steps, including review of a legislation, to ensure the safety of international students.
A nine-member Australian delegation is on an eight-city tour of the country in a damage control exercise aimed at cushioning its lucrative education industry from the ripple effects of negative publicity due to the attacks on Indian students. The team is visiting Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Chandigarh and Hyderabad.
"The Australian government has taken a very strong stand on these attacks and is committed to take all the necessary measures to ensure safety of the Indian students,” Colin Walters, the pointsman for international students in the Australian department of education, told reporters in New Delhi.
"We have zero tolerance for racist attacks, any kind of offensive behaviour or racial vilification," he stressed.
Walters, who is heading the delegation, elaborated on the steps being taken by the Australian government to ensure the safety of international students in that country.
Among the steps are: devising a new international students' strategy, holding a global students round table and reviewing a legislation focused on overseas students.
Canberra is also planning to review the legislation to make it more effective, said Walters, group manager, international group, Australian department of education, employment.
"This legislation will provide all the information to the students and cover all the issues before they can decide to come here," he added.
Lauding Indian students in Australia for their hard work and their contribution to the cultural diversity of the country, Walters said: "We very much welcome the presence of Indian students in Australia. We believe the majority of Indian students have a positive experience."
Downplaying the alleged racist motivation for the attacks, Paul Evans, assistant commissioner, Victoria Police, said most of the assaults were criminal in nature. "There is some racism. The majority of these attacks on students have been due to opportunity (being in the wrong place at the wrong time)."
The Australian police has tightened patrolling of the areas where Indian students live and are trying to forge networks with the Indian community so that law enforcement authorities are able to act swiftly in case of an attack, Evans said.
He also said the crimes were taking place because Indian students are not briefed about the security issues in Australia.
"We are determined to bring this to an end. We are determined to punish these people," he said. However, when asked how many of these attacks were racist in nature Evans said he did not have the figures.
Stressing on the close relationship India and Australia share, Walters said the Australian government is planning to encourage more Australian students to study in India.
Around 1,000 Australian students are in India for higher studies.
Australia has the largest research collaboration with India, said Arun Sharma, the Indian-origin vice-chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, who is part of the delegation.
The number of Indian students in Australia has gone up dramatically from around 10,000 a decade ago to nearly 100,000. Indian students form the second largest community of overseas students after China and contribute around $3-4 billion to the Australian economy.