India continues to talk tough on racism in Australia. It is warning of serious consequences if not enough is done to rein in the thugs and protect the Indians in the country.
Barely a day after the Prime Minister of Victoria John Brumby jibed at the "unbalanced" comments of the Indian officialdom over racist attacks in Australia, Indian envoy Sujatha Singh called on Australia's Governor-General Quentin Bryce to express her country's unhappiness over the situation.
AdvertisementCiting more than 100 incidents of racist violence against Indians, she told Ms Bryce Victorian authorities were in denial over the scale of the attacks.
Mrs Singh, who sought the meeting with Ms Bryce in Sydney last Friday, is believed to have told the Governor-General that Australia is not racist but warned of long-term consequences unless more action was taken to prevent attacks.
She acknowledged whatever police in NSW, Queensland and South Australia had done to apprehend the culprits, but insisted but said Victoria was taking too long to respond. A lot more remained to be done before one could breathe easy, she said during the meeting with the Governor General.
The Victorian Premier's comments came in the wake of the arrest of an Indian who had claimed he was set on fire in an unprovoked attack but who got burnt while setting alight his car for a false insurance claim. The PM also referred to an Indian couple charged with the murder of an Indian man in New South Wales.
''I hope that there is some balance to the debate, some balance to the reporting in India, and certainly to date that balance hasn't been there,'' Mr Brumby said.
But the 'super patriotic' Indian news channel Times Now pounced on Mr Brumby for using the example to ''twist'' the debate on racism. ''The Premier of Victoria is milking the issue for all it's worth,'' it said. It said ''desperate'' Australian authorities were trying to use ''one case to cover up hundreds of attacks''.
The Indian government also stepped up its response, with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna taking the unusual step of comparing the treatment of students in Australia with those in the United States.
He said there were about 100,000 Indian students in the US. ''Why is it only in Australia that there are attacks,'' he said.
Victorian police have repeatedly said they do not record the ethnicity of assault victims and a spokesman yesterday was unable to confirm Mrs Singh's claimed number of incidents.
A dossier prepared by Victorian police and given to the Indian government last month detailed 18 high-profile attacks on Indians over the past year.
But last month Chief Commissioner Simon Overland added to confusion by admitting ''about 50 per cent'' of assaults on Indians involved taxi drivers and convenience store workers, suggesting records are kept.
Close on the heels of the reports of Indian envoy's meeting with the Governor General, Victorian Prime Minister John Brumby said he had requested another meeting with Ms. Singh and would brief her up on the progress that had been made, including boosting police patrols in high risk areas like railway stations and toughening up police powers to search for weapons.
''I'll be able to inform her of all of these things and again to reassure her that Victoria is a much safer place than other places in Australia and indeed around the world,'' Mr Brumby told reporters today.
The Premier repeated his call for a ''fair and balanced debate'' on the issue.
Mr Brumby mooted a possible Indian taskforce to address racial attacks but said it would merely formalise work already occurring.
He will meet with cricketer Shane Warne tomorrow to discuss promotion of Australia in the sub-continent, including a possible friendship cricket game.
Earlier, Mr Brumby defended the safety efforts of Victoria Police.
"Where things are wrong, where an assault has occurred, particularly if it's racially motivated I've condemned it in the strongest possible terms and police have devoted every possible resource to both preventing crime as well as apprehending those who have committed offences," he told Radio 3AW.
"But having that I'm not going to stand by and see Victoria's standing internationally diminished by what is inaccurate and unbalanced reporting and comment in India."
He said Victoria still had the lowest crime rate in Australia, and the Indian population was under-represented in terms of assaults.
The Premier said international students would not still be coming here if they thought "this was a dangerous, racist place."
Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, also speaking on Radio 3AW, said everyone needed to "take a deep breath".
"I think we all just need to calm down a bit, don't we?" he said.
"Let's take the colour and the race out of it and just try to get to the root of the problem and fix that, and remember whether they're Indian or Chinese students or Australian nationals these are young people in our streets who are being injured and who feel, very threatened."
The controversy has led to a sharp fall in the number of Indians applying for student visas, and the multi-billion dollar education industry is worried. Hence the solicitousness.