The police in Australia had steadfastly and not surprisingly maintained until now that there is no proof that these attacks are racially motivated. They’ve been trying to point out that these are no different than your garden variety muggings for your wallet and money and the victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Obviously they are doing their bit of damage control in this increasingly PR driven world.  This news flare-up isn’t helping what is already a negative perception of Australia outside their borders when it comes to these matters.

From the Sydney Morning Herald

Australia’s high commissioner to India, John McCarthy, has been doing dozens of damage-control interviews, including appearances on popular panel debate shows such asThe Big Fight and We The People.

“Clearly the television coverage has altered some people’s perceptions of Australia,” he says. “I think the relationship is repairable, but it has been a rough patch … There was a huge reaction here. I don’t think we can kid ourselves that perceptions of Australia have not been affected.”

The actual concern of the Australian goverment is the potential damage to the $15 billion dollar “Student Market” which brings a steady stream of young Indians into Australia looking for greener pastures.

The Labor government’s initial response was one of damage-control. On June 1, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered assurances that “the more than 90,000 Indian students in Australia are welcome guests in our country”. The only thing “welcome” is the billions of dollars in fees paid by Indian students annually, part of the $15 billion dollars wrung from international students each year that the Rudd government fears losing.

Between 2005-08 the enrolment of overseas students in trade courses trebled to 173,432. Indians are the biggest group in this category.  It gave Australia a crucial advantage over rivals such as Britain and the US in the foreign student market, adding to advantages of cheapness and perceived safety.

While the Australian goverment is worried about their PR, the Indian students are concerned about the PR of their own, Permanent Residency, a common plight for any overseas student.  They are concerned that filing a complaint with the police when they are attacked might jeopardize their chances of getting clearance for their PR, which is just an awful situation to be in.

PR is a much used abbreviation in Harris Park, binding and isolating the community of Indian students there. It stands for permanent residency, the great goal of a migrant middle class, the reason many are studying here, and the reason they choose certain courses that are favoured for skilled migration. It is because of those ambitions that many students do not report crimes – they fear that in doing so they will prejudice their applications, a police clearance being needed before permanent residency is granted.

So, who are the perpetrators?  By all indications, at least some of these attacks were conducted by young men of Lebanese origin, confirmed by police.  The Lebanese were the majority ethnic group in that area, but have been outnumbered by the growing number of Indian students over the past few years.

In 1991 there were five times more Lebanese-born residents in Harris Park than there were Indian-born. At the last census, in 2006, Indians were Harris Park’s largest ethnic group, outnumbering the Lebanese two to one. Half of Harris Park’s residents are students.

Incensed by the police not even acknowledging that they are being targetted, the Indian strudent groups, who have been protesting daily for the past few days, are taking things into their own hands.

On Tuesday night a carload of young Middle Eastern men tore up Marion Street, chased by a hundred young Indians. “F—ing Lebs,” the group’s apparent leader yelled. “You want to kill me, kill me. You are f—ing racist.”  Later, a text message told the crowd there was a car of Lebanese men on neighbouring Weston Street. Twenty protesters broke away from the police cordon and ran up the street into a wall of white tracksuits. Two were beaten with poles, one was hit by a car. “Maybe tonight someone will be killed,” an Indian hospitality student said. “What will police do?”

As this issue gets divided along ethnic lines, and even as the world continues to shrink in the wake of this information revolution, especially within the melting pots of the global metroplises, I can’t help but wonder how  important it is to not let your identity defined by you, your family, your race, your religion and your origin to ever conflict with core human values of compassion, co-respect, tolerance, assimilation and co-existence independent of each other’s identities.  Sometimes, this appears like a thin distiction, but the difference is as wide as good and evil and as an individual, either you get it or you don’t.