8 February 2010
Melbourne : Victoria's top cop's advice to Indian students to "act poor" and avoid living in high-risk suburbs to minimise the chances of being assaulted has been termed wrong and unhelpful by business and community groups, a newspaper reported.
The comments, made by Chief Commissioner Simon Overland to a gathering of Indian students at the weekend, echo advice by the Indian government in a travel advisory last month after the murder of accounting graduate Nitin Garg in Melbourne's western suburbs, The Australian reported on its website.
Both federal and state governments gave a cool response to the Indian advisory at the time, with then acting prime minister Julia Gillard saying Australia was a safe place for Indian students.
Overland's comments - which both police and Victoria's government say have been "taken out of context" - have also renewed calls for more police on the streets instead of authorities shifting the responsibility for crime to the victims.
Overland told Indian students at a safety forum Saturday that although police were doing all they could to stop violence against them, students should adopt self-protection strategies like avoiding public transport late at night, not living where crimes rates were higher and avoid working as taxi drivers or at late-night convenience stores.
"Don't display your iPods, don't display your valuable watch...try to look as poor as you can," he said. "If you can live somewhere safer, live somewhere safer...if you can avoid public transport in high-risk areas at night, avoid it."
Both the Victoria government and the police say the comments, especially those relating to "acting poor", were a "light-hearted summation of the advice" that would be given to any member of the community to be aware of their valuables. "It was absolutely taken out of context," a Victoria Police spokeswoman said.
But Brimbank Mayor Sam David, whose council lies in the western suburbs, said Overland's advice to Indians not to live in areas with higher crime rates was not helpful.
"It's wrong because the Indian community have to live somewhere and we are very proud to have them in our city," he said.
David said the western suburbs needed more police at railway stations and shopping centres.
Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesman Chris James said he was concerned Melbourne was being painted as an "epicentre of violence", and about the consequent economic impacts it would have on the city.
"In some respects it is sensible advice," he said.