Brand Australia has suffered following attacks on Indian students in the past nine months and this will cause long-term damage if not attended to, says a visiting Australian minister.

“The attacks (on Indian students) have hurt us in terms of perception about Australia and that’s why our law enforcement agencies have been so committed to pursuing arrests and prosecution and have been successful in some instances for long-term imprisonment. There have been 67 prosecutions in recent times,” Australian Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson told IANS in an interview here.

Mr. Ferguson said that the Australian government was not taking these attacks lightly and will do everything possible to curb the criminal acts.

“Of course if you don’t attend to these difficulties then they will do us long-term damage. Historically one of the attractions of Australia is that it’s a safe welcoming society...it’s very much such a society,” said the minister who has been a member of the Australian House of Representatives since March 1996, representing the Batman, a constituency in Melbourne, which has been the epicentre of recent attacks.

“My constituency is close to central Melbourne and there are people from 150 different countries. It a harmonious local community and there are very few places in the world where you get people from so many different countries living together and working together,” said the 57-year-old Australian Labour Party member.

“My constituency is a prime example of society in Australia. But I also have a significant number of young university students living in my electorate, in universities of Melbourne and Trobe who are very much devoting their energy and applying their minds to educational opportunities,” he said.

The spate of attacks on Indians in Australia has caused an outcry in India. One of the vicious attacks proved fatal.

The minister said steps needed to be taken to ensure quality education to Indian students at affordable cost.

“I think it is fair to say that in terms of vocational education and some English language courses, we have to attend to some issues to make sure that young Indian students get a quality education opportunity and are capable of paying for it without spending too much time working rather than applying their minds to educational requirements,” he said.

According to the minister, one of the major causes of attacks on Indian students is that they live in crime-prone suburbs and work in late shifts to survive in the country.

“There has been a 27 percent increase in the number of students in 2008-09 from the previous year. There has been tension in Victoria (the province of which Melbourne is the capital). More than 50 percent Indian students actually go there. The real problem we had is with respect to some of the students living in some of the suburbs which historically had high instances of criminality,” Mr. Ferguson said.

“They work in service stations, fast food outlets, take shift jobs at all hours of night, which is when criminality occurs. In some ways their lifestyle has put them in the frontline of attacks. We tried some laws in Victoria, we have put more police and we have got them to do random checks on people,” he added.

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