Friday, January 15, 2010

Why Indians are being attacked in Australia? Wrong Tipping Point !

Beyond news, I was curious and concerned why there is sudden wave of attacks on Indians in Australia?

After all, Indians are living as expatriates across the globe.

Why Australia?

So why are Indians being attacked in Australia only? The fact that Australia is among the better countries in terms of law and order and general public safety increases the concern.

Why now?

Indians are living in Australia for few decades, so why attacks are in news now?

I tried to search but couldn’t find any non partisan analysis beyond rhetoric or obvious headlines. Then I tried to get in touch with few Aussies from all three groups who matter: Indians living in Australia, Other nationalities living in Australia and native Aussies, to get a better and unbiased perspective on this issue...

What better way to structure the observation of Tipping point of attacks on Indians in Australia than using Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point approach…

Tipping Points are the levels at which momentum of change becomes unstoppable. According to Gladwell, three reasons for tipping point are
Law of the Few
Stickiness Factor
Power of Context

Law of the Few:

Indian students are studying in Australia for decades but there was sudden surge in student’s number since last few years (2004 onwards). From 2004 to 2009 student intake has increased many folds approx. 400- 500% times. 20,000 Indian students in 2004 to 100,000 students in 2009 (I couldn’t verify these figures but essence of the point is valid).

Earlier (Pre 2004) Indian students, coming to Australia, were mainly from upper class (scions of politicians, bureaucrats, business families, corporate executives, rich landowners). These students main motivation to come to Australia was to enjoy life. After all quality of life in Australia was much better than that in India and in some of other global education options. Also it was easier to get admission in Australia and the fee was comparatively less for the same comparable courses in US and UK. These students, from well-to-do families, could self sustain themselves and didn’t need to go overboard with part time lower end jobs for survival.

After 2004, majority of additional student intake started coming from growing Indian middle class. These middle class students have to often take part time jobs to survive in Australia. Thus, suddenly one could see Indian students in lower end part time jobs everywhere (Hotels, Restaurants, Taxi drivers, janitors, Ticket collectors, event management etc).

When I visited Melbourne in May 2009, I was surprised to see Indian students working in all sorts of jobs. Overseas students are allowed to work only 20 hours a week. Often Indian students work beyond this limit and even settle to work on low wages. This gives employers all the more reason to hire Indian students than Aussies.

These jobs were typically for Aussie kids. Thus suddenly, the perception became that Indian students are everywhere eating away Aussie kids’ jobs and going forward they will stay in Australia and take their future employment prospects also.

Interestingly, the changes in composition of Indian diaspora in Australia are captured in Indian Bollywood movies during last 10 years.

“Dil Chahta Hai” in 2000 showed Indians in Aussies from upper classes who were enjoying life in Australia …but in later movies like “Salam Namaste” (2005), “Bachna ae Haseeno”(2008) actresses were shown as Indian students from middle class working in part time jobs.

There are other nationalities also present in Australia but they are more like earlier Indian students form upper class and not seen aspiring or working in part time jobs.


Well this was not short term phenomena as Indians students’ intake in Australia increased year after year.

Aussie government suddenly realized Education is their one of the largest foreign exchange earner ($15 billion or so) and found increasing Indian middle class has latent demand for Aussie education.

That explains the road shows of Aussie universities in even Tier 2 cities in India (even Indian marketers have limited success in taping potential in these cities)

What could have been short term phenomena became permanent and even increasing every year.

The Indian students’ intake (who was striving for part time jobs) started rising much more than the Aussie GDP from 2005 onwards so tipping point had to come.

Power of Context:

That explains Why now? And Why Australia?

Why now?

In global recession, when present and future both looks uncertain, the grievance towards working Indian students was extended and generalized to include all Indians …

And on top of that, whole world hear news that Indian growth rate in recessions is good. So general Aussie perception may be that Indians are growing in India, Indians are growing in Australia and screwing their kids present and future

Why Australia?

Australia has vast land area and spread out houses and suburbs.

Unlike US, where there are troubled minority dominated suburbs earlier, Australia has been by and large trouble free.

So probably Australia police personnel to area ratio must be among lowest in the world. (I couldn’t get the exact figure).

Hence, probability of hitting Indian students by agitated Aussie kids in a corner suburb area is higher in current economic situations. Also preventing these increasing incidents is much more difficult in Australia than in any other country because of low Police Personnel to Area ratio.

It is not only the policing but also the vastness of land area that is making general administration difficult now (Even forest fires take days to get detected in Australia)

In Australia, the jobs that Indian students have taken up are wanted by Aussie teens. This situation is different in other countries where immigrants e.g. High End IT jobs in US (in which US does not have enough specialized man power) or lower End Maid jobs in Malaysia (no man power available hence maids are imported from Indonesia and Philippines)

Irony of Australia

Immigrants can be strengths as shown by the American Silicon Valley model

What could have been melting pot and technology superpower like America has become an immigration hostile country…

This century will be renewable energy century. Australia has vast potential of land area which can be converted to Solar Farms, excellent wind resources and big ocean line (tidal or wave power). If properly harnessed, Australia can become leading players in renewable energy both as producer and technology provider (e.g. Silicon Valley and IT Revolution, the role played by US)

Australia could have become leader in Wireless Telecom. Australia’s vast land area requires unique management and monitoring challenges. If Australia had focused its efforts in solving these challenges technologically, something as Scandinavian countries (Finland, Sweden) have done in the past, it could have become leader in Wireless Telecom Technologies like Scandinavian countries

Australia has vast mineral resources…one of the rare natural blessing compared with the other first world countries, and it could have ventured into next generation of materials, composites and nano technology.

If Australia had crossed a different tipping point focusing on above, Australia could have become next Silicon Valley (potential to become so still exists).

Wrong policies focusing on short term gains in exporting lower end education rather than long term sustainability of focusing on high end technologies and opportunities has made Australia cross wrong Tipping Point!