Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Attacks On Students Reveal Deeper Malaise

The recent assaults on Indian students are an expression of the deepening social crisis in Australia

Indian students have long complained of police not taking their complaints of racist attacks seriously. Reports have emerged of officers refusing to formally lodge reports of criminal incidents; one student was told to simply move to another suburb to avoid further trouble.

Surprisingly, a few days ago deputy police commissioner Kieran Walshe’s absurdly claimed that there was no evidence that recent assaults and robberies were racially motivated.

In reality, the political establishment has nothing but contempt for the well-being of ordinary students, whether they are from India, Australia, or anywhere else. The attacks have been going on for months, with nothing of substance being done or said until now.

The real concern is to ensure that the highly lucrative flow of education tuition payments into the country continues. International students are ruthlessly exploited, having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees while being denied basic rights afforded to Australian students, such as concession fares on public transport.

Education is now worth more than $12 billion annually and ranks as Australia’s third largest export, ahead of tourism and just behind coal and iron ore. Nearly 100,000 Indian youth are studying in Australia, second in number only to those from China.

That's why Trade Minister Simon Crean has held discussions with his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma admitting his fear that recent violence threatened to undermine Australia’s education sector. “It’s not just the quality of the product, it’s the safe environment in which we bring people,” he declared.

Reactionary forces in Australia are exploiting the attacks on Indian students to advance their own agenda. Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu has launched a “law and order” campaign, demanding that the government bolster police numbers and enhance their powers.

Such measures, which the state Labour government of Premier John Brumby will likely implement, will not resolve the situation confronting Indian students and will only result in even worse police harassment and violence against working class youth.

Indian students are left vulnerable because of their precarious situation. Many are unable to live anywhere near their university, due to low incomes and high inner-city accommodation costs, and are forced to travel from the more affordable outer suburbs.

To support themselves, students are typically compelled to combine full time study with long hours of paid employment as convenience store workers, taxi drivers, and other low-paid shift work. This often involves taking public transport late at night.

Most of the perpetrators of the violence against the students are reportedly young people from Melbourne’s working class western suburbs. Many parts of this region have been devastated over the last two decades by mass job losses due to manufacturing plant closures. Tens of thousands of secure and full time jobs have gone, along with apprenticeships, replaced with little more than a few dwindling opportunities for young people in low paid and typically casual sectors such as retail.

Deindustrialisation and permanently high unemployment has inevitably been accompanied by a slew of social problems, including alcohol and drug abuse. Many of those who have recently targeted Indian students were reportedly drug users looking to fund their addiction.

Intersecting with all this is a toxic political atmosphere in which the major parties have all promoted various forms of national chauvinism, invariably involving an undercurrent of White Australia racism. The Rudd Labour government, for example, has recently slashed the immigration intake in response to the economic crisis, thereby implying that lost jobs in Australia are the fault of too many “foreigners”.

At the same time, both politicians and the media have embarked on a new scare campaign over “illegal” refugees. It is no surprise, moreover, that international students have been targeted given that they have long been the victims of systematic and institutionalised discrimination in the tertiary education system. Moves are already underfoot to pre-empt any discussion of these issues.

In the final analysis the attacks on Indian students reveal the tense and violent state of social relations in contemporary capitalist Australia.

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