Bowen, Lundy allay fears on Indian students’ safety

Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Mr. Chris Bowen and the Minister for Sport and Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Ms Kate Lundy who visited India early this week had fruitful discussions with Indian Ministers on issues of skilled migration, Indian students’ issues and visas, multiculturalism, sport, prospective marriage visas. Here are the excerpts form a joint press conference in New Delhi at the end of the visit.

VAYALAR RAVI: Can I introduce the two ministers. We have here the Australian Minister for Immigration, Mr Chris Bowen, and the Minister for Sport and Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Ms Kate Lundy here. We had a very fruitful and important discussion, including on the Indian students issue. According to the Ministers, Indian students have no problem in Australia, they are happy. The changes made in skilled visa norms have not affected our students. Our understanding is students are welcome and the relations between our countries are cordial and we are very happy.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you, Minister Ravi. Minister Lundy and I are delighted to have met Minister Ravi. Thank you for the time you have made available to us. As I reported to the minister, the Indian community in Australia is vibrant, strong and growing, and above all, a welcome one. On any given day there are half a million people of Indian heritage living in Australia either permanently or temporarily. It is a diaspora which is growing rapidly.

Last year, India was the third largest source of migrants to Australia. This year so far, more migrants have come from India than any other country in the world, which is a very good thing and very welcome. We will see how the figures pan out at the end of the year, but so far India is on track and has supplied more migrants to Australia, more permanent migrants, than any other country in the world.

Of course, importantly, India is also a very large source of students, the second largest source of people who wish to come and study in Australia. Again, this is a very good thing. It is good for Australia, it is good for India and it is good for the individuals concerned. I would like to think that every person who comes to study in Australia from India for the rest of their life will be an ambassador for Australia and India, and an ambassador certainly while they are there for India in Australia.

I have, of course, updated the minister on the recent changes we have made and implemented providing for automatic post-study work rights for people who undertake bachelors’ degrees and above, and for streamlined entry in universities, and updated him on the work we are doing to examine the vocational education and training sector.

So in conclusion, before I pass to Minister Lundy for a brief few words, the Australian-Indian diaspora is a vibrant one, a growing one, and an important one, and above all a welcome one. The Australian-Indian community has contributed to our economic growth and filling the skilled shortages we face in the Australian economy, and more importantly, made Australia a richer place culturally and socially. Thank you very much.

KATE LUNDY: Thank you, Minister Bowen. And to you, Minister Ravi; appreciate the opportunity to meet you.

I would like to make just two points. One is that how proud we are in Australia that we are so multicultural, and our cultural diversity as a nation we see as an enormous strength. And I echo Mr Bowen’s comments about the wonderful relationship we have with India and how strong our people-to-people links are, both through immigration but also through our business links, our friendship through our respective governments. And I see these getting stronger and stronger in the future.

In relation to sport – I am also the Minister for Sport in Australia – we share a great passion for all sports, two of which I would like mention are cricket and hockey. And it is wonderful to be here and see the popularity of cricket. One of the first things that I saw as I came into the door of my hotel room was Australian and Indian cricketers playing side by side in the IPL. It is a wonderful showcase for our mutual love of the sport of cricket. I want to continue to build on the relationship through the platform of sport. It is one of the many, many things our two nations have in common, and it has been a pleasure and privilege for me on my visit to India to see how these strengths and these partnerships continue to grow. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Indian parents are looking at the security of their children in India. We are second largest source of students for your country. What are the hundred per cent assurance from your side to ensure the safety and security of Indian students in Australia?

BOWEN: Let me make it very clear. We did have some incidents a few years ago. They were tragic incidents. The Australian Government worked very closely with the Government of India, Minister Ravi and his colleagues, and also with the State Government of Victoria where most incidents occurred.

Of course, we take law and order very seriously for all people, whether they be international students or any other person in Australia. We did do some analysis and found that Indian students in Australia were actually less likely to be attacked than other people in the Australian community.

But, of course, there are issues to be worked through with the Indian-Australian community, with the students in particular, in relation to our security, particularly at night, and in some of the work that is being undertaken in high risk activities like working in service stations.

I think the proof is in the pudding. Since we instituted measures with the Government of Victoria in close consultation with the Government of India, there have been no attacks for a very long period of time. And, of course, we do have incidents from time to time, just as any other person in Australia or any other person in India or any other person around the world may be subject to some criminal activity. The Australian law enforcement agencies deal with it with the full force of the law and we always kept the Indian Government as fully apprised of the details as we can. We have such a large number of people in Australia, of course from time to time there will be incidents. But I think the measures put in place and the results we have seen certainly indicate that we have had some success.

JOURNALIST: And what about students who are there in your country and there is trouble?

RAVI: There is no trouble. No incidents have been reported. Everything has been in the past. For the last or two years there has been no incident.

JOURNALIST: What about insurance? Will the university provide compensation in the event of a death? Who will take care of them?

RAVI: I will take care. I take care of such cases all over the world. I have a fund for such purposes. But today we have had a very fruitful discussion. We talked about greater coordination in skills development for students who are studying there as well as opportunities for skilled workers migration to Australia.

JOURNALIST: The Immigration Department recently released data regarding marriage visas and the issue of forced marriages. And since a substantial population comes from India, anything on that issue?

BOWEN: Yes, this is a very real issue. The numbers involved are very small. Nevertheless, a very serious issue for the people involved. Of course we have checks and balances in place. If the marriage is legal in [inaudible] it would be legal in Australia. We also have checks to ensure the genuineness of marriage and the voluntariness of the marriage.

I have recently met with several groups representing women who are subject to domestic violence, of course from all around the world. They talked to me about some of the checks and requirements we have in place, and I have indicated I will be reviewing that to ensure that we are providing every possible support to women who are the subject of domestic violence, whether it be in a forced marriage, where the marriage breaks down as a result of domestic violence.

RAVI: Thank you.

Ends

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About Ashok Kumar

Ashok Kumar is an accomplished journalist with over 38 years of experience in the profession in various capacities. He was a sub-editor in Patriot and later Chief Sub-editor in The Hindustan Times, New Delhi. He has several published articles and reports in Patriot and HT. Published reports in The Blacktown Sun in Sydney. He had also been a tutor in journalism in the University of Western Sydney. He is currently Editor at The Indian Sub-continent Times, Sydney.

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