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'Racism does exist in Oz but entire society not affected'

By Natasha Chaku in Melbourne
June 14, 2009 19:10 IST
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Admitting that "racism" did exist in Australia, the country's top official on race relations said on Sunday that the entire society was not affected by it but warned that the recent spate of attacks on Indians might hurt education market and other areas of trade.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tom Calma said Australia could not allow a repeat of what happened in the 1990s, when racial comments by politician Pauline Hanson enraged people across Asia. He said attacks on Indian students in Australia had the potential to hurt the students market as well as other trades.

"We need to recognise that racism does exist in Australia. It doesn't mean the whole society is racist but it does exist with individual's actions and small group actions," Calma was quoted as saying by Channel 10. "It's important that we all accept that, understand and start to develop the frameworks to address it into the future and not be reactive but be pro-active. That is really what I think we are lacking at this stage," he said.

Thirteen Indians have been attacked in Australia in less than a month, prompting angry reactions from the community. Australia's top diplomat in India has admitted that the spate of attacks on Indians in his country had "damaged" bilateral ties Australian High Commissioner in India John McCarthy said: "While our bilateral relationship with India, including
talks over a free-trade agreement, would probably remain quarantined from the fallout, the new, negative perception of
Australia would linger".
     
Education ministers meeting in Hobart last week decided to set up a taskforce to protect the interests of overseas students following a series of attacks on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne. Calma said the police needed to work with the community to ensure measures were implemented to prevent the current tension from escalating.
     
"Students are coming here not only because we offer quality education but it is a different lifestyle. Those engagements as students will develop into good business relations and other relationships into the future," he said. Calma said since the Indian student market began developing in the mid-1990s, Bollywood had started producing films in Australia and trade relationship has expanded."We need to be able to understand that and work to protect it," he said.
     
Meanwhile, former Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal, who was brutally bashed up last year in Melbourne, said the attacks were not racist in nature. Expressing fear that there could be a copycat element in the apparent increase in attacks, he said he saw the assaults as symptomatic of a worrying epidemic of street violence.

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Natasha Chaku in Melbourne
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