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The economic cost of race violence


As Australia focuses on how to minimise the impact of the global recession, international education should be at the forefront of our economic strategy.

The revenue generated by the international student sector over the past decade has recorded staggering growth. The Reserve Bank now places education behind only coal and iron ore as Australia's most important export. The international student market is now a more lucrative business than the leisure travel industry.

Put simply, international education contributes billions of dollars a year to the Australian economy.

In 2008, there were 543,898 full-fee paying international students in Australia. The figures released in the Access Economics Report in April 2009 reveal that international students and their families spend $14.1 billion in Australia per year. Last year, $4.3 billion alone was spent on food and accommodation.

The bulk of this money is invested in our economy through the support of families and sponsors overseas. A student visa limits to 20 hours per week the hours a full-time student can work.

According to Australian Education International figures for 2008, international student numbers included 97,035 Indian students, which represents a 54.2 per cent growth on 2007 figures. The presence of international students generates jobs for Australian workers, helps develop bilateral links between Australia and our international graduates, and promotes Australia as a destination for travel, investment and trade.

In a sector that generates so many positive outcomes, the safety and wellbeing of international citizens studying in our country should be a national priority.

The violence in Melbourne and Sydney brings home the central need to protect people in our society, and the importance of a meaningful and immediate response by society, government and police. More police on the streets, stronger penalties in our courts and a tougher stance — both legally and socially — on racism are required.

There are economic, as well as human, reasons to do this. A similar physical threat to our export of coal or iron ore would trigger a coordinated response at the highest levels of the Australian political system. It is difficult to understand how the targeting of international students is not viewed with a greater sense of urgency.

Higher education providers work hard to attract foreign students to our shores, appealing as much to our much-lauded way of life as to our world-class education system. This may be harder to sell. Australia struggles with perceptions of racism abroad. As universities seek to attract foreign students at international education exhibitions, people increasingly ask whether Australia is a safe place.

News reports from any recent weekend increasingly suggest that we struggle to respond to an intensifying culture of random and senseless violence in order to protect even our own citizens. How then can we protect the interests of international students? 

The 10 June announcement by Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Overland that patrols will be stepped up at train stations is a first step, but it is inadequate. The attacks are, as Overland has acknowledged, racist in motivation. And for every incident that is reported a 'minor' example of a mugging, jostling or taunting passes without comment.

As the media focuses on Indian student protests, the 'protection' groups forming at train stations and the gang elements of the situation in Sydney, we can all see that conflict could escalate. But the decision of a group of students to go to a train station at midnight to ensure that other students don't get beaten is reactive rather than proactive.

If the police response had been as firm and extensive as the situation warranted from the outset such things would not be occurring.

These attacks reveal deeper tensions in our society. Racism exists in Australia and these attacks are ugly and abhorrent examples of an opportunistic use of violence which is increasingly apparent in our cities.

Australia should be determined to protect its guests out of basic human decency. If this is not sufficient incentive, the economic cost to Australia should reinforce its determination. In the case of international students, it is incomprehensible that neither consideration appears to be strong enough.

Kylie BaxterDr Kylie Baxter is a member of the Australian Arabic Council.

Topic tags: kylie baxter, international students, economic benefits, racist, violence, indian students, lebanese



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Existing comments

Agreed. These incidents are ugly,racist,opportunistic and abhorrent. Our Indian guests deserve the same courtesy we generally receive in India.

RFI Smith | 11 June 2009  

I think it was in the mid 1980's that there was first talk of charging foreign students at a higher rate.

This is 'racist'. This is 'ugly and abhorrent', to use your words.

richard | 11 June 2009  

Well said, Dr Baxter..hits the nail on the head.

The whole community is crying out to see more police on the roads and on patrol rather than being engrossed in the production of questionable statistics and revenue raising through speed traps.

We need to see police pounding the beat and we need to see our railway stations manned.

I am also disturbed to read of the accommodation plight facing the Indian (and probably other international students as well) students...with many forced to share a single room for an outrageous rental.

The governments and relevant authorities that are the beneficiaries of our guest students need to address this shortcoming too.

I also take issue of the use of the word opportunistic by police and politician alike when the media quizzes them about such assaults and robberies....The opportunities that are indeed being snatched up with relish are the photo opportunities for high ranking police and premiers...and the PM...to get their pictures in the paper!

Where are the voices of our church 'leaders' at such times?

Why don't we see them on site, so to speak?

We need to do much better!

Brian Haill | 12 June 2009  

EXCELLENT!!! Well written Dr Baxter. Your writing (or this article) will put other media articles on this issue to shame! Actually, 'The Australian' carried atleast one good article ('Better policing could quell racist attacks').

Thank You for this honest and very well written article Dr Baxter.

Racist or not, attacks & robbery certainly happen a lot particularly on trains. This has been happening for years and is now on the rise. I KNOW people who have been victims. (this happened few years ago) But the people who attacked and robbed were not 'white' Australians (anglo-saxon). In most cases this is not reported as the victim felt it was useless reporting it.

We need to realize that ALL of us will benefit from increased Police action. We need to accept that this happens (not just to Indians) and that this is on the rise and that Police have to do more to stop this.

Thamizhan | 13 June 2009  

At a suburban drop-in centre in inner-city Melbourne an Indian student sits distraught.

He tells us he has lost his part-time job.
Later he tells us he has overcome a gambling addiction. Much later he laments that he has not spoken to his mother for three years. We can give him phone cards but not courage.

He eats lunch, cadges cigarettes and borrows a phone to call a suicide help line.

He is studying at a small just-for-profit college. We cannot refer him to student services. There are none. We can't send him to Centrelink. He is a student.

This is not hospitality.

Marilyn | 15 June 2009  

This conversation about racism in Australia is ongoing simply because the definition provided in dictionaries lets most racists off the hook. It defines racists as those who are aggressive and violent toward another group of people. Only when Indigenous Australians are treated EQUALLY with Whites then I will start to believe that Australians have dealth with the "racist"issue properly.

Brett Manton | 10 August 2009  

Bravo Dr Kylie Baxter!

Cara Munro | 06 January 2010  

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