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Australia has a zero-tolerance policy towards racism: Minister

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Healing touch: Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith with St. Stephen's College Principal Valson Thampu (right) during a visit to the college in Delhi on Wednesday.
Healing touch: Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith with St. Stephen's College Principal Valson Thampu (right) during a visit to the college in Delhi on Wednesday.

Staff Reporter

‘Attacks have cast a shadow on Indo-Australian relationship'

NEW DELHI: Some recent contemptible attacks on Indian students and others of Indian origin in Australia had cast a shadow not only on the education links between India and Australia but across the broader relationship and bilateral agenda, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said here on Wednesday.

Admitting that Australia's reputation had been considerably damaged in India and among Indians, Mr. Smith, who was speaking at St. Stephen's College, said Australia was taking the attacks on Indians very seriously.

He was accompanied by Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese.

Elaborating on remedial measures taken by the Australian Government, Mr. Smith said Governments at all levels in Australia were working together to respond to the crimes and to protect students and others in the community. He said he had spoken to External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna on the matter and Prime Minister-level talks had also taken place between the two countries.

The police forces in Australia were investigating all incidents so that those responsible could be brought to justice. Strengthened police operations had been undertaken to improve physical security in Australian cities.Many Indian students enrolled in courses in Australia had chosen to study in the State of Victoria. Hence legislation in Victoria had been amended to allow judges and magistrates to impose tougher sentences for hate crimes.

According to Mr. Smith, many Indian students in Australia particularly at Melbourne in Victoria were at a higher risk of crime attacks because they took employment that required late hours or because they lived in higher crime neighbourhoods.

Adding that the attacks could not be justified on any grounds, Mr. Smith stressed that Australia has a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and encouraged students, visitors and migrants from all over the world to come to Australia.

Emphasising the shared values of Australia and India, Mr. Smith said both countries had a common democratic heritage and language, a shared commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.

Australia was also pursuing deeper bilateral, regional and international cooperation with India in a wide range of fields including strategic and security matters, climate change and international trade. Both countries had a common interest in the prosperity and stability of the region.

Despite the global economic crisis trade between the two countries grew 55 per cent over the previous year making India Australia's fastest growing major trading partner.

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