Lax police approach leaves some Melbourne streets off limits

THE controversy over attacks on Indian students has highlighted Australia's acceptance that areas of its cities are unsafe for anyone at certain times. Andrew McIntosh, the Opposition police spokesman in Victoria - who raised his concerns about the attacks ahead of the recent furore - said yesterday: "Under no circumstances should a certain level of crime be considered acceptable in any part of the state."

He said that he was "appalled to hear a senior police officer saying that people who live near a hotel have to accept an amount of bad behaviour". "This, to me, means just surrendering the streets to the bad guys. We may as well put up signs saying these are no-go areas, that we enter at our peril. We should not tolerate any level of violence."

He says the violence against Indian students and the broader community requires a major campaign on the lines of the campaigns run successfully against bad behaviour on the roads, including drink driving and road deaths. "And we need to put more police on the beat. It's just a bloody disgrace," he says. He says he attended last Sunday's rally in Melbourne by Indian students to listen to their concerns. "To dismiss them as soft targets because they travel alone on public transport late at night is simply not acceptable," he says. "They need to be protected, like all of us, by our Government. It's all part of the same problem."

One of Australia's leading experts on race hate attacks, Sydney based Jeremy Jones, a former executive president of the Australian Council of Jewry, says that most of the attacks are probably by "idiotic thugs" rather than by people driven by an ideology of racial hatred. But, he adds: "It doesn't make people in the Indian community feel any better even if it's only a tiny minority of Australians who have racist views about them, if they hold those views and act on them - especially if the community feels it doesn't have proper protection or recourse." He says that the best protection comes from political leaders speaking out unambiguously and frequently against racism. "It has to be repeated, because you have to get through some thick skulls."

Gail Mason of the University of Technology, Sydney, says that such crimes often involve mixed motives: robbery, for instance, combined with race-hate-motivated assault, fuelled by drunkenness and boredom, "and a desire to establish a sense of one's own masculinity in front of friends".

A leader of the Indian community in Victoria, who does not wish to be named, says the victims of the attacks are overwhelmingly studying at small, private institutions rather than at established universities. He says some appeared to lack proficiency in English,and lack adequate preparation and guidance for their time in Melbourne....


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