The Australian Government is seriously addressing the spate of attacks on Indian immigrants, including students, through law enforcement measures, amendments to registration procedures for educational institutions and structural change to its skilled migration programme, Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese said on Tuesday.

Addressing the 20th annual day celebrations of the Indo-Australian Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Varghese said the attacks were a difficult issue for the bilateral relationship and a distressing one for the Australian Government.

However, while the incidents were a complex issue of law and order and sociology, the presentation of the issue had often been exaggerated and simplified, he said.

Seeking to contextualise the issue, Mr. Varghese said along with the rapid increase in the number of Indian students enrolling for higher education in Australia in recent years the profile of the students had undergone a fundamental change.

As a result of financial pressures, many students were compelled to seek shift work and live in high crime-low-cost neighbourhoods that put them at high risk. “Taken together, the risk profile of these students is uncharacteristically high,” he said.

Stating that the Australian Government had launched various measures to tackle the problem, Mr. Varghese said that at the “Government to Government level we can recognise this as an issue that is being seriously addressed and move on to other big items on the agenda.”

Noting that bilateral trade had grown by 55 per cent in the last year, Mr. Varghese said while bilateral business had grown rapidly the relationship was a thinly based one with coal, gold and copper accounting for 80 per cent of Australian exports to India.

“We need to broaden the space on both sides and reach into more sectors.”

The High Commissioner was hopeful that a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries would soon be firmed up. “We're very close to concluding a feasibility study on FTA,” he said.

Mr. Varghese launched the 20th anniversary commemorative publication of the Chamber on the occasion.

Rajeev Ranjan, Principal Secretary, Industries Department, said a new mineral policy was soon to be announced, which could be of import to Australia. The new mineral policy was part of the government's attempts to bring reforms in various sectors, he said.

Referring to a recent mining conclave in Canada, he said the Australian contingent had expressed keen interest in Indian prospects. Mr. Ranjan stressed the need to explore potential in Indo-Australian trade relations. C. Sarat Chandran, Director, Indo-Australian Chamber of Commerce, said bilateral trade was expected to aggregate 50 billion Australian dollars by 2015. About 1,500 Australian companies are doing business with India with each year seeing an addition of 100 more companies.

Indian companies have vast potential in Australia's SME landscape which was dominated by young entrepreneurs, he said.

Rod Solomons, Trade Commissioner to South Asia, Government of Queensland, Australia, K. M. Mammen, Chamber president, said the potential for bilateral trade far exceeded performance.

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