Acting PM Julia Gillard and police union condemn cartoon in Indian newspaper comparing Australian police to Ku Klux Klan
UPDATE 2.15pm: ACTING Prime Minister Julia Gillard has condemned a cartoon depicting an Australian police officer as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
The cartoon, published in Delhi's Mail Today newspaper on Tuesday, depicts an Australian police officer in a klan hood saying: "We are yet to ascertain the nature of the crime."
The cartoon was in response to homicide investigators in Victoria stating they could not yet say if the murder of 21-year-old Indian student Nitin Garg in a park in Melbourne's west last Saturday night was racially motivated.
Ms Gillard told reporters in Brisbane she hadn't seen the cartoon, but believed it would be "deeply offensive''.
"Any suggestion of the kind is deeply offensive and I would condemn the making of such comment,'' she said.
Police were doing an outstanding job in cracking down on crime and increasing Indian students' safety, Ms Gillard said.
"The Victorian police have stepped up and increased policing in difficult hot spots in Victoria where they have seen a number of violent incidences,'' she said.
"They have worked in close collaboration with representatives of the Indian community as they have gone about with this step up in policing."
Greg Davies, secretary of Victoria's Police Association, said the cartoon was "stupid'' and unhelpful.
"Cartoons in Australia are normally done by people who are either clever or witty and this one's neither,'' he told reporters in Melbourne today.
"All it does is stir racial hatred amongst Indians, certainly in India and, one would imagine, some of them here.''
He said the cartoon was "highly offensive'', especially to homicide squad detectives who are working tirelessly to catch Mr Garg's killer and determine a motive for the late-night stabbing.
"To suggest that there's any sort of 'go slow' in an investigation into this tragic murder because of a racial reason is just outrageous," Mr Davies said.
Mr Davies said if he had the chance to speak with the cartoonist he would tell him the artwork should never have been published.
Mr Garg's murder has sparked a renewed debate about the safety of foreign students in Australia.
Some local Indian leaders say racism is a significant issue for Indians who study in Australia.
Victorian Police Minister Bob Cameron dismissed the cartoon as an unnecessary distraction from a major crime investigation.
"We are a tolerant place and Victorian police are very tolerant and this business about racism is just wrong,'' he told 3AW radio today.
"Police go about their business in a normal way.
"They get the evidence, they assess the evidence ... to accuse police of having a closed mind when, in fact, what police have said is 'we have an open mind to all possibilities' just demonstrates that this is totally off the table when it comes to common sense.''
The Indian government has predicted the attack will affect relations between the two countries, and although it has ruled out sanctions, it has once again pressed Australia to ensure the safety of its citizens.
Victoria Police has declined to comment on the cartoon controversy.
Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe yesterday issued a personal assurance to India's high commissioner that "everything possible" was being done to bring the person responsible for Mr Garg's death to justice.
Mr Walshe maintained that police still had no evidence to suggest the murder of Mr Garg was racially motivated. He acknowledged that some crimes against Indians living in Melbourne had been motivated by racism.
He was supported in his comments by the Australian high commissioner to India, Peter Varghese, who said most crimes against Indians living and studying in Melbourne were "opportunistic, urban" crimes.
The Indian high commissioner in Australia, Sujatha Singh, yesterday met the Melbourne consulate-general of India, Acting Premier Rob Hulls and Mr Walshe to express her concerns about violence towards Indians living in Melbourne.
Mr Hulls, who is also Attorney-General, said he and Mr Walshe had made it clear that "everything that can possibly be done to find the perpetrator of this abhorrent crime is being done".
"We have also assured the high commissioner that we are a safe state, that we are a welcoming state," he said.
His comments came as detectives from the homicide squad set up an information caravan across the road from the Yarraville Hungry Jack's restaurant into which Mr Garg stumbled after he was stabbed in Cruickshank Park.