Giving visa concessions to Indian students and expanding discussions on free trade can help consolidate relations between India and Australia which turned “brittle” after the 2009 attacks on Indians,a study has said.
In a slew of recommendations,the study by Australia India Institute (AII) has identified that the root cause of the 2009 student crisis were shoddy college entrepreneurs in Australia and migration racketeers in India.
The study also recommended that Australian Institute of Criminology undertake more research into crime and racism.
The ‘Beyond the Lost Decade’ report has presented Australia-India relations as a series of optimistic attempts but said “the relationship remains brittle,and bold initiatives are needed to consolidate progress and chart a course towards deeper ties.”
The report released in Sydney Tuesday said that a “mixture of flawed policy and flawed perception” has come in the way of the countries optimising commonalities.
It has made over 30 recommendations which include offering visa concessions to Indian students and the two sides holding discussions over free trade to improve ties.
“As an act of goodwill,extend visa for those students caught up in changes to regulations following the student crisis of 2009,” it said,seeking introduction of an education system to rank Australian states on the basis of security and education standards for international students.
The report also suggests restructuring the territorial divisions of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) by hiving off Australia,New Zealand and the Pacific Islands into a new unit outside the current Southern Division.
It also recommended establishing permanent naval attache positions in the High Commissions in Canberra and New Delhi,considering a policy of visas-on-arrival for Australian citizens coming to India and exploring potential for joint operations between the MEA’s Development Partnership Administration (DPA) Division and Aus AID in humanitarian and technical-assistance programmes in third countries.
It also suggested Tourism Australia to encourage Indian honeymooners to spend holidays here and also design wedding packages at select locations across Australia.
The report pointed out that Australia’s reputation ranking among Indians had fell drastically to 34 after the 2009 crisis but it has jumped back to among top ten today.
Fresh data included in the report showed that Indians ranked Australia as the eighth-best country in the world,up from 35th during the depths of the student crisis.
The report quoted Gail Pearson of University of Sydney Business School as saying that the nub of the problem “appears to be cultural”.
“Australians have not taken on board Indian multinationals,satellites,space technology and nuclear industry. Indians seem unaware that Australia has sophisticated cities,world ranking universities,multinational biotech firms and a superb regulatory system.
“This means when real issues between our countries arise such as the appalling treatment of some Indian students and the sale of uranium we tend to fall back on stereotypes: Australians are racist; Indians are corrupt,” it said.
It said Australia’s education system had paid a high price for bad policy and negative perceptions.
The report said the root cause of the problem was the shift,apparent over two decades,towards seeing international education primarily as a cash cow rather than as a critical component of Australia’s engagement with Asia.
“Apart from isolated media reports,there seems to have been little or no capacity within government and education stakeholders to monitor and warn of the emerging crisis. Only when the problem began making headlines and impacting on the
bilateral relationship was it finally taken seriously,” it noted.
“Defensive statements by Australian officials about claims of racism provoked accusations. The perception of a coverup was deeply damaging,reviving old perceptions of Australia as a racist nation,” it said.
The report said when preparations for India’s 2010 Commonwealth Games hit hurdles it reinforced public perceptions of India as dysfunctional and corrupt.
The key to transforming perceptions,it said,lies not principally in branding campaigns or cultural festivals,but in ensuring that Australia’s domestic and foreign policies engage pragmatically with the Indian reality and convey effectively what Australia has to offer.
The report also outlined opportunities to build positive perceptions and relations through acts of goodwill including recognising the role of Indian soldiers at Gallipoli and study of Indian history and culture in Australian school curriculum.
Director of the Australia India Institute,Professor Amitabh Mattoo said the report provided a roadmap to improve Indo-Australian ties across diplomacy,trade,business,media,education and other areas.
“The Australia-India relationship is an idea whose time has come. This report provides a sensitive understanding of the problem of perceptions that impact on the relationship,and recommends ways the two countries can move ahead in the Asian century,” Mattoo said.
Taskforce co-chair and former Australian High Commissioner to India,John McCarthy said the report was timely as the India-Australia relationship grew.
“Most observers agree that each country doesn’t fully understand the other. This report tries to canvass why this is so,and what needs to be done,” McCarthy said.
The study also cricitised Australian companies for the lack of interest in investing in India’s market,symbolised by the ANZ sale of its 50-branch Grindlays Bank network and Telstra’s withdrawal from mobile telephony before India’s decade of growth to 800 million mobile subscribers.