Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on Tuesday acknowledged that some of the recent attacks on Indian students and other people of Indian origin in his country appeared to be “racist in nature.”
In a statement to the House of Representatives in Canberra, Mr. Smith said: “Recent contemptible attacks on Indian students and others of Indian origin in Australia have cast a long shadow not only over our education links [with India] but across our broader relationship and bilateral agenda. These attacks are inexcusable.”
Reaffirming that Australia practised a policy of “zero tolerance for racism,” Mr. Smith said: “If any of these attacks have been racist in nature — and it seems clear some of them have — they [the perpetrators] will be punished with the full force of the law.”
“What we are promising is to make a whole-of-nation and whole-of-government commitment to do our best to address this problem and minimise it,” he said in wide-ranging remarks, the full text of which was later released.
He qualified the pledge by emphasising that “no government can credibly ... promise to stop all urban crime.” Linking this objective reality to the current situation, he said, “regrettably, many Indian students in Australia, in particular in Melbourne, find themselves in a higher risk-profile for crime.” More specifically, “many work late-night shifts in occupations like taxi-driving where assaults can be more likely. Many live in higher-crime neighbourhoods, often commuting to and from there at night.”
Outlining the actions already taken by the law-enforcement agencies and the governments across Australia, Mr. Smith said “a detailed update” would be conveyed to New Delhi this week. “Repairing the Australian brand and reputation in India is an essential priority” for the Kevin Rudd government in Australia.
In a transparent reference to the resonance of sentiments on this issue in both countries, Mr. Smith said: “When A.R. Rahman, the great Indian composer and musician, performed at the Sydney Festival last month, he opened his concert with the phrase: ‘Long live the India-Australia relationship.’ Mr. Rahman went on to call for moderation, unity, and understanding during these difficult times. I could not agree more.”
Tracing how Canberra was now engaged in building a strategic partnership with New Delhi, Mr. Smith said: “Australia also firmly believes India should become a permanent member of a reformed United Nations Security Council and a member of the [forum of] APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation].”
Australia “strongly supports ... a rebalancing of global architecture,” in economic and strategic terms, as reflected in the membership of the Group of 20 “which includes India and China,” he said.