What was initially a student issue is now causing concern for Melbourne's better established Indian communities.
248490 2/12/2010 4:38 10MELBOURNE14 Consulate Melbourne CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN 09MELBOURNE65 |09MELBOURNE89 | 10CANBERRA100 | 10CANBERRA17 | 10MELBOURNE114 "VZCZCXRO1869 RR RUEHPT DE RUEHBN #0014/01 0430438 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 120438Z FEB 10 FM AMCONSUL MELBOURNE TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5058 INFO RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 3698 RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0041 RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 0025 RUEHPT/AMCONSUL PERTH 1652 RUEHDN/AMCONSUL SYDNEY 2174 RUEAUSA/DEPT OF EDUCATION WASHDC RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC" "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MELBOURNE 000014 NOFORN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/12/2020
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PHUM, IN, AS
SUBJECT: VIOLENCE AGAINST INDIAN STUDENTS: A PERSISTENT IRRITANT
REF: A. CANBERRA 100
B. CANBERRA 17
C. MELBOURNE 114
D. 09 MELBOURNE 89
E. 09 MELBOURNE 65
Classified By: Justin Kolbeck, Pol/Econ Officer for reasons 1.4(b,d)
1. (C/NF) Nerves are still raw in Melbourne over an ongoing series of attacks on Indian students. What was initially a student issue is now causing concern for Melbourne's better established Indian communities. Recent changes to Australia's immigration policy have not, however, sparked major protests among the Indian community here. While student violence has evolved into a bilateral irritant between Australia and India and may become an election issue later this year, Australia remains committed to expanding relations with India. End Summary.
2. (C/NF) Despite efforts at both the federal and state level, fallout continues from a series of attacks on Indians in Melbourne (reftels). Indian Consul General to Melbourne Anita Nayar told Consul General Thurston on February 11 that violence against Indian students has become a bilateral issue for India and Australia. According to Nayar, India's High Commissioner in Canberra is spending a growing proportion of her time managing this issue and frequently travels to Melbourne to meet with angry Indian students, the broader Indian communities and Victorian government officials. Nayar considers the Victorian government's response to student violence to be inadequate, saying the government is ""in denial"" and has responded with too little effort, too late.
3. (C/NF) Former Australian Consul General to Mumbai and prominent Melbourne businessman, Shabbir Wahid notes that concern over this issue is beginning to reach Melbourne's older and better established Indian communities, with some saying that they are reevaluating their long term plans to stay in Australia. Consul General Nayar echoed these comments, saying that she now ""looks over (her) shoulder"" while walking around Melbourne's central business district. Despite threats to leave Australia, however, Indian students and families have not yet begun to do so.
Muted Response to Immigration Policy Changes
4. (C/NF) Responses to Australia's February 8 changes to its immigration policy (Ref. A) among Melbourne's Indian communities have been muted. Nayar suggested, however, that a strong response in both the local and Indian press will be forthcoming as soon as they find a ""hook."" She conceded that a proviso permitting Indians to remain in Australia for 18 months in order to find other forms of employment leading to permanent residency blunted a louder outcry.
5. (C/NF) The ""business of education"" is an important component of the Australian economy. The international education sector is Australia's third largest export, behind only iron ore and coal and is the state of Victoria's single largest export. Monash University's Dr. Bob Birrell (Australia's preeminent scholar on population and migration studies) told post that he expects the February 8 immigration policy changes will lead to a significant reduction in the number of vocational facilities in Victoria with a commensurate decline in revenues in both the state and federal economies. Most locals agree, however, that a culling of ""dodgy"" vocational schools -- such as commercial cooking schools without kitchens - is long overdue.
Press Wranglers Wanted
6. (C/NF) Although there is a wide spectrum of opinions on whether racism is fueling the recent spate of violence against Indian students in Melbourne, most observers agree
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that the Victorian government has completely failed to manage the press on this issue. Consul General Nayar told us that a visiting contingent of Indian journalists had already written their headline story ""why they hate us"" even before landing in Melbourne for a week-long study tour. She went on to say that the Indian press is still enamored with this story and has paid interviewees well for their stories of woe. There are some concerns that sensationalist press accounts are exacerbating what would have otherwise been a very manageable issue. In addition, a series of unfortunate public comments including Victoria Police Chief Simon Overlander's statement that ""the streets of Melbourne are safer than those in India"" have only added to the problem.
7. (C/NF) Local observers are split on why the issue of student violence has become Melbourne's albatross. In a February 9 speech to federal Parliament, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith pointed out that half of visiting Indian students study in the state of Victoria, many of whom ""find themselves in a higher risk profile for crime. Many work late night shifts in occupations like taxi-driving where assaults can be more likely. Many live in higher crime neighborhoods, often commuting to and from there late at night."" (Note: The full text of FM Smith's speech which also details expansion of relations with India can be found at http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/speeches/20 10/100209 **LINK BREAK** australia india.html End note.) While some accept this explanation, Nayar also blamed Victoria's legal system where a victim of a crime must present evidence effectively ""proving"" that a crime has taken place where other Australian states allow for prima facie investigation of a potential crime.
8. (C/NF) Dr. Birrell believes that racism has indeed fueled the student violence issue. A lack of affordable housing has pushed Indian students to farther flung suburbs with high concentrations of immigrants from Lebanon, Somalia and Vietnam. While solid data is hard to come by, Birrell points out that the perpetrators of many of these crimes are not white Australians, but other first or second generation immigrants from these ""tougher"" countries. Nayar pointed out that earlier attacks had been perpetrated by recently arrived immigrants, but more recent attacks have been carried out by ""white Australians.""
9. (C/NF) Although student violence is unlikely to derail Australian efforts to expand relations with India, it has become an irritant to a relationship which Foreign Minister Smith compared to a 20/20 cricket match: ""short bursts of enthusiasm followed by lengthy periods of inactivity."" Despite a recent burst of enthusiastic effort by the Victorian government, many of our contacts believe this issue is likely to drag on for at least several more months and could potentially grow into an election issue for both the federal and Victorian governments later this year.