Damage control drive

Interview

Damage control drive

Here to pitch   Smith describes scholarships as an effective way to deepen people-to-people links between Australia and its neighbours.      PIC getty images

Australia is taking extra steps to fight racism,” insisted Stephen Smith, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs  who  was in  India  from October 12-16. The visit, his second to India as foreign minister, was marked by  “successful and productive meetings” with senior Indian ministers, including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home  Minister Chidambaram as well as External Affairs Minister SM Krishna  in the course of which they discussed advancing bilateral, regional and international cooperation.

In Delhi, Smith presented the Australian Leadership Award (ALA) scholarships to four Indian students. These scholarships build on 63 ALA scholarships and fellowships awarded to Indian students since  the programme began in 2007.  

The chosen four

The 2009 awardees, selected for  their strong academic abilities and their potential as leaders, are Tulika Saxena, Mayuri Sengupta, Abhinav Dhall and Lalit Kumar Donakonda. They will undertake research starting next year, leading to Doctor of Philosophy degrees at the Australian National University in Canberra, and the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Their studies will focus on gender; conflict prevention; the use of technology for improving health service delivery; and energy and climate change.

Smith described the scholarships as “an effective way to deepen people-to-people links between Australia and its neighbours”.

Knowledge partners

After the US, Australia plays a key role in meeting the education needs of Indian students, including vocational  schools and  University.
Educational institutions in the two countries are forming new links at many different levels, building a broad Indo-Australian knowledge partnership. Queensland University of Technology and the Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi recently signed an agreement to deliver a diploma on Primary Education online. The Monash University has formed a research partnership with IIT-Bombay, which will bring together leading scientists from the two countries to work on projects in nanotechnology, biotechnology and clean energy.

The minister also announced the establishment of the Australia-India Science and Technology Research Award. This new award is targeted at early career Australian and Indian researchers.

The focus topic for the 2010 Award is ‘Energy Generation in a Low Carbon Future’. Supported by the Australian Government, through the  Australia India Council (AIC), the Award will be managed by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

The Australia-India Science and Technology Research Award will provide AUD 30,000 (approx Rs 12 lakh) in 2010 to facilitate the two-way exchange between Australian and Indian researchers, with  support for one young Australian scientist to visit India and one young Indian scientist to visit Australia for a 12- week research placement.

Rolling out the red carpet

India is Australia’s second largest source of overseas students. But as things stand, outbound figures seem to be at an all time low because of the recession, attacks in Australia, media coverage and unscrupulous agents.

Last year the Australian  government had placed Indian students in their visa assessment’s highest risk category after it was found that a number of students had enrolled in dubious vocational institutes  with a view to obtaining permanent residency.

“Genuine students in reputable colleges and universities contribute to our multicultural society while they gain skills and knowledge to take home. This makes student exchange of mutual benefit to our societies,” Smith said.

He echoed Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s statement, during her visit to India last month, “We too are angry at the attacks on Indian students, young men and women whom we have welcomed into the Australian community. The attacks are totally unacceptable and we condemn them. They will not be tolerated. They are being dealt with by the Australian justice system. Equally, racism has no place in Australian society. Australia is a tolerant, multicultural, peaceful and welcoming society and we will not allow the actions of a small number to tarnish our well-deserved reputation for inclusiveness.”

He  said Australia was taking “extra” steps to fight racism. “For example, the Victorian Government is empowering judges to take into account the fact that a crime contained a racial element when they are passing sentence. More policemen have been  deployed in Melbourne and travel advisories have been issued,” he added.

Sports scholarships

After visiting the Commonwealth Games facilities in New Delhi, the minister announced the Australia-India Council Hockey scholarships for promising young Indian players and coaches.

The selected players and coaches will train at the AIS elite national hockey program in Perth. There will be three scholarships each year — one each for a male and female player, and one for a coach.

The initiative hopes to build on the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Cricket scholarships offered by the Australia-India Council in partnership with Cricket Australia and the Board of Cricket Control India (BCCI).

In Mumbai, Smith visited the Saalam Baalak Trust drop-in centre for street children, interacted with them and presented them with soccer balls donated by the Football Federation Australia.

The spry, silver-haired minister showed the kids he could kick as well as any football player! Australia is supporting the work of Salaam Baalak through the Australian High Commission New Delhi’s Direct Aid program, with a grant of up to Rs 10 lakh.
 A cricketer in his youth, he also visited the Brabourne  Stadium, where he inspected the latest purchase of the Australian invented ‘supersopper’ — the machine that has saved many a rain-affected cricket match from being abandoned.

‘India matters’

“I  am struck by how many important interests Australia and India have in common, from trade and investment to regional security to tackling climate change.  Our relationship is broad and it continues to grow. Australia will continue to work hard to take India to the front-line of our international partnerships, to the front rank of our bilateral relationships. We are natural partners. And, we  should become strategic partners,” he said.

India is now the sixth largest market for Australia’s services, notably information and communications technology, education, tourism, finance, mining, construction and software development  which are becoming more prominent.  Over 2,50,000 people of Indian origin live in Australia.

“Over 1,16,000 Indian citizens visited Australia last year and we want to see more. It is clear that, more than any other factor, India’s high-growth will be underpinned by its extraordinary wealth in human resources,” Smith added.

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