'We can address the problem, not eliminate it'

As the representative of the Australian Government in India, what is your view on the killing of Nitin Garg and the spurt in attacks on Indian students in your country since mid-2009?

The killing of Garg has distressed Australians. We condemn it. Our sympathies and condolences go out to his family. It is hard to lose a son. To do so in a distant land is doubly painful. We want to see the perpetrators of this criminal act caught and brought to justice. We must let police and criminal justice system work. We have seen over the last year that these processes do work. In Victoria, we have had 33 arrests for attacks on Indian nationals, including students. We have seen the Australian court system deal with these cases with appropriate severity and award sentences to culprits, including in one case, a jail term of 18 years.

Canberra has been assuring New Delhi  that measures are being taken to prevent attacks on Indian students in Australia. Do the continued attacks prove otherwise?

Australia takes these attacks seriously. We have increased police resources, given police wider powers, changed the law to allow for tougher penalties for hate crimes. We are ensuring that more is being done to brief Indian students before they leave for Australia and after they arrive in Australia on what it is to live there and what steps they should take. These measures are designed to address the problem, not to completely eliminate the problem. To completely eliminate the problem, we would have to abolish crime in Australia and I do not think that is a realistic objective. No government in the world is in a position to abolish crime.

Why are Indians being increasingly targeted in Australia? Are all these attacks racist in nature?

I am not denying that the number of attacks has increased. But the numbers of Indian students have also gone up very fast – from about 30,000 to about 1,00,000 in three or four years. So, we are dealing with an increased number of Indian students and we are dealing regrettably with an increased number of criminal incidents. I am not seeking to walk away from that. We have never said that there has never been a racial element to any of these attacks. But the great majority of attacks on Indians have been opportunistic, urban crime. There have been some cases where the motivation would appear on the face of it to be racial, particularly in which the attackers have been engaged in hurling racial abuse. But let us not assume that every time an Indian is involved in an incident, it is a matter of racism.

Your comment on reports that the number of Indian students going to Australia would come down due to the attacks?

I am expecting a decline in the number of students in 2010 due to probably a number of factors – like global economic crisis, exchange rate of the Australian dollar and cost of living in Australia. And I would certainly accept that perceptions of safety among prospective students, and particularly among their parents, might well deter some from applying to study in Australia. But we are not in the numbers game when it comes to students. We do not work to try and get as many students to Australia as possible at any cost. What we want to do is to provide a quality education to those international students who are interested in coming to Australia.

Do you think India overreacted after the recent killing of Nitin Garg?

No. I think the Indian Government reaction has been measured and I think it has been perfectly understandable. This is an issue which has attracted understandably widespread attention in India and it is an issue that is of concern to  the Australian government as well.

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