Australia is not a racist country, Lee tells Indian media

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Sydney, Feb.7 (ANI): Though the Indian media has gone to town describing Australia as a country where racism, especially against the Asian minority thrives, the continent's pin-up boy - Brett Lee - has taken the initiative in saying this is not the case.

Lee is virtually playing the ambassador's role for Australia. He returned from the subcontinent last week concerned at the Indian media's perception of Australian society.

"I've been trying to explain to the Indian media that we're not a racist country," The Daily Telegraph quoted him, as saying.

"The general chit-chat around the Indian public is fine, they love Australians coming to their country, but most of the problems seem to be driven through the Indian media. I tried to make it very clear over there that Australian people and our society, which is so multi-cultural, welcome Indian people with open arms. What has happened is terrible, no matter who's at fault," he said.

In May and June 2009 and the months following, allegedly racially motivated attacks against Indians and a perceived poor response by the police and elected leaders sparked protests in Australia and India.

Rallies were held in both Melbourne and Sydney. Impromptu street protests were held in Harris Park, a suburb of western Sydney with a large Indian population. Intense and widespread media coverage in India began a few days prior to the protests, and was especially critical of Australia.

Representatives of the Indian government met the Australian government to express concern and request that Indians be protected. The Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, expressed regret and called for the attackers to be brought to justice.

Indian students comprise the second largest group, after China, for International students coming to Australia for their tertiary education.

From 2004 to 2009 the number of Indians studying in Australia rose from 30,000 to 97,000 with 45,000 of these living in Melbourne, 32,000 in Adelaide and the remainder in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

Some come from the rural parts of India, with most coming to Australia to seek permanent residency. Eapen Verghese argued in an opinion piece that the cost of living in Australian cities has made it necessary for many of these students to live in cheaper and more distant suburbs, where there is an increased risk of encountering violent crime.

In 2007-2008, international education contributed AUD 13.7 billion to the Australian economy, measured through all categories of export earnings, including tuition fees, living expenses and tourism associated with visits from relatives.

Inder Panjwani, General Secretary of the Association of Australian Education Representatives in India (AAERI) stated there was a possibility that a few Indian students who had been admitted to Australian universities might cancel their admissions because they feared attacks.

During 2008 there were multiple attacks on Indian students.

Some in the Indian media have accused the Australian authorities of being denialist.

India's High Commissioner, Sujatha Singh, met with Victorian State Premier John Brumby to express her government's concerns over the violence.

Last year, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh told the Indian Parliament "he was 'appalled' by the senseless violence and crime, some of which are racist in nature."

The issue has been raised in diplomatic talks between Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Domestically, the Indian government declared that it would formulate a policy to deal with racial discrimination against Indians abroad.

As part of the initiative to create an institutionalised mechanism to prevent racist attacks on Indians abroad, Vayalar Ravi, the head of the overseas Indian affairs ministry, has called for a report on these incidents from the Indian High Commission in Australia.

High Commissioner Singh is expected in New Delhi in the coming week for consultations with the government on the latest development regarding the issue. (ANI)

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