Former assistant minister Jason Wood says Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call on Australia to protect Hindu temples vindicates his decision to redirect cash from a community safety program to protect places of religious worship.
Modi expressed concern about a spate of attacks on Hindu temples with his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese late on Friday in a closed discussion in New Delhi, highlighting the scale of the alarm in India over the problem.
The attacks on temples in Melbourne and Sydney sparked concern at the highest level in India and drew a promise from Albanese to provide special protection.
Tension between Hindus and some Sikhs in Australia has been building for months. Three Hindu temples were defaced in January after protests by supporters of those seeking a break-away state for Sikhs in the Punjab region, to be called Khalistan.
Wood, who was the assistant minister for community safety and multicultural affairs in the Morrison government, has been heavily criticised by Labor for overruling the Department of Home Affairs on the $265 million Safer Communities program, and making his own election commitments, to fund security upgrades at churches and temples.
Wood said Modi’s intervention had vindicated his decisions.
“I intervened on the Safer Communities program … on about six or seven occasions, and two of those were actually Hindu temples – one in Tarneit which was firebombed,” he said.
“The departments are not on the ground; they’re not speaking to people. And most of these were in Labor-held seats, and it was all about doing the right thing in making places of worship safer, especially when they’re under threat.”
Wood said the Albanese government had cut $50 million from the federal budget for the Safer Communities program.
Albanese said on Saturday he had assured Modi that Australian police and security agencies would crack down on those responsible for the attacks.
“I gave him the assurance that Australia is a country that respects people’s faith – that we don’t tolerate the sort of extreme actions and attacks that we’ve seen on religious buildings – be they Hindu temples, mosques, synagogues, or churches,” Albanese said from New Delhi.
“This has no place in Australia. And we will take every action, through our police and also our security agencies, to make sure that anyone responsible for these faces the full force of the law.
“We’re a tolerant multicultural nation, and there is no place in Australia for this activity.”
Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party had its origins in Hindu nationalism, revealed he raised the matter when he made a statement to the media in New Delhi on Friday night while standing alongside Albanese.
“It is unfortunate that over the last few weeks we have been receiving regular news of attacks on temples in Australia,” he said.
“It is only natural that this kind of news is very worrying and distressing for everyone in India.”
The $265 million Safer Communities program was last year criticised by the Australian National Audit Office for a lack of transparency and for favouring Coalition seats in the run-up to the 2019 election.
With David Crowe
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