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‘Zero tolerance of violence’

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New Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese addresses the media in New Delhi on Thursday.
New Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese addresses the media in New Delhi on Thursday.

K. V. Prasad

NEW DELHI: Promising to strengthen bilateral ties in the energy and security sectors and strategic dialogue with India, Australia on Thursday re-emphasised its “zero tolerance” of violence against Indian students in the country.

“We take very seriously the position of Indian students — as of all international students — as guests and extend full duty of care. Any attacks or violent crimes we find are totally unacceptable, for the Australian Government has zero tolerance,” said the new High Commissioner Peter Varghese after presenting his credentials to President Pratibha Patil here.

Mr. Varghese said Canberra upgraded law enforcement, enhanced community liaison with the police, introduced a new briefing programme for Indian students and set up a hotline for international students.

Besides taking measures to strengthen the programme to ensure that only genuine students got visas and to prevent its misuse for backdoor migration, the Australian government introduced legislation to strengthen the accreditation and monitoring system for agents.

Pointing out that there was an increasing convergence of interests between the two countries, Mr. Varghese said he planned to take forward bilateral relations in the four key areas of economy, security and strategic dialogue, cooperation on multilateral fora, and enlarging social engagements.

With some two lakh Indian/Indian-origin people residing in multi-cultural Australia, he said, there was potential to bring them closer, for exchange of tourists and to add strength to bilateral relations.

Australia and India concluded a feasibility study for a Free Trade Agreement which could move forward once both governments took a view on it, Mr. Varghese said. In the field of energy, Australia was focussed on expanding coal exports.

It also concluded an Australian $20-billion agreement for supply of liquefied natural gas over a 15-year period.

Asked if Australia could review its policy of non-supply of uranium to India, Mr. Varghese said it was not directed against New Delhi but a consistent policy of successive governments to conduct nuclear trade only with signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The previous regime promised to make an exception, but the Labour government that came to power towards the end of 2007 was committed to the long standing policy.

However, Mr. Varghese said, Canberra was active in joining the consensus in the Nuclear Suppliers Group on lifting the ban on India.

Mr. Varghese, born in Kenya to Kerala-born parents, migrated to Australia as a child and now is a career officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


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