Australia is safe, welcoming, deputy PM tells Indians

Australia is safe, welcoming, deputy PM tells Indians

New Delhi: Australian deputy prime minister Julia Gillard began a visit to New Delhi on Monday seeking to repair damage done to Australia’s image after a string of attacks on Indians in Sydney and Melbourne.

Gillard, the most senior Australian minister to visit since the attacks began earlier this year, listed steps taken by Canberra to make Indian students feel secure, including increased police patrols.

“The principal aim of my visit is to reinforce Australia’s image as a culturally diverse, welcoming, safe country," Gillard told reporters.

“My message here is Australia very much enjoys friendship with India... We are very keen to collaborate on education issues," she said after talks with her Indian counterpart Kapil Sibal.

“We have zero tolerance towards any violence towards Indian students, any violence at all in our country," added Gillard, who is here on a five-day trip.

The attacks in Sydney and Melbourne strained ties between New Delhi and Canberra with India demanding protection for its 95,000-strong student community who contribute significantly to Australia’s 12.7-billion-dollar international education industry.

Australian authorities have played down any racial aspect to the attacks, saying the jobs that Indian students do to support their education mean they are often in dangerous areas or on public transport late at night.

On Monday, Gillard said her government “deeply regretted that anyone was caught up in these incidents" adding that Australian authorities had cracked down on the attackers through arrests and additional policing measures.

In response to complaints that some Australian private colleges were offering “sub-standard" education and jeopardizing the careers of Indian students, Gillard said her government was conducting an audit to weed out dubious institutions.

“We want to make sure that everyone who provides education to students provides quality education. Anyone not meeting those standards we want them out of business," she said.

She assured the students enrolled in these colleges - in their thousands - that they would get a “comparable seat" in another institution or have their fees refunded.

Gillard will meet students who had studied in Australia and to visit a number of educational institutions across India before returning home on Thursday.