New Delhi, March 3 (IANS) Keen to rebuild ties with India, Australia Wednesday admitted that some of the attacks on Indian students were racist in nature that caused considerable damage to its reputation and standing among Indian people.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith also stressed that The Australian Institute of Criminology was studying the attacks on Indian students in his country and would soon come up with an exhaustive report to help the government deal with the issue better.
‘We know that a number of these assaults are racist and have racial overtones. These are absolutely contemptible,’ Smith, who is on a three-day visit to India, told reporters.
‘There are 70 investigations underway on these assaults. We have zero tolerance for racist attacks,’ he added.
‘I acknowledge absolutely that this issue has caused considerable damage to Australia’s reputation among Indian people.’
Canberra had earlier denied any racist angle to repeated attacks on Indian students that threatened to vitiate bilateral ties.
‘We have to work very hard to address that. We have to be open, transparent and upfront about that,’ Smith said on his third visit to the country that is aimed at assuring India about the safety of students in that country.
‘We are doing a range of things in future to better portray modern Australia. We want to underline the strength of the relationship between India and Australia.’
Smith will also hold talks with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna Wednesday evening that will be dominated by the issue of safety of Indian students.
The minister disclosed that Australia’s premier research agency has been deployed to study the attacks on Indian students that started in May last year, putting bilateral ties with India under stress.
‘Studies done by our police on the attacks have given us statistics but were not exhaustive,’ he said.
‘The Australian Institute of Criminology, which is a private body, is assessing the situation and studying the attacks to establish a better understanding of the attacks as well as see if the perception that Indian students are targeted is actually true,’ he added.
‘These studies will also give us a deeper understanding if we (government) are doing all we can to address the issue,’ he said after interacting with students at the St. Stephen’s College in Delhi University.
There are around 120,000 Indian students studying in Australia. The Indian diaspora there is roughly 500,000 strong.
‘Besides studying, some students there also work part time. These students have been identified as being at higher risk. Therefore, strong advice is being sent to them to be careful while travelling late at night in public transport,’ Smith told students.
Keen to repair relations with India in the aftermath of attacks on students, Smith compared India and Australia’s relationship to an exciting Twenty20 cricket match, adding that it was time to convert it into a test match.