Overland said police had known about this for two years and have been engaging with students on the risks and how to keep themselves safe, adding that his job was "to make the state as safe as I can for everyone".

'Complacency'

Indian media have labelled a spate of attacks on Indians in Australia as racist, but Australian police and the government have until now insisted the motives behind the attack are purely criminal.

"Attacks recently by groups of people on individuals looks like a profiling approach to people from the sub-continent. Rather than say 'nothing to worry about', I'd rather look more closely"

Peter Cosgrove, former Australian defence chief

On Tuesday however a former Australian defence chief rejected the official line saying the recent attacks were racially motivated, and warned against complacency on racism.

"If you didn't suspect a racial strand you'd be mad," Peter Cosgrove told The Age newspaper on Tuesday, after delivering a speech on race relations in Sydney.

"Attacks recently by groups of people on individuals looks like a profiling approach to people from the sub-continent. Rather than say 'nothing to worry about', I'd rather look more closely."

The fatal stabbing earlier this month of Nitin Garg, a 21-year-old Australian resident and graduate accounting student, sparked public uproar in India which has millions of citizens working and studying abroad, many of them in Australia.

It also inflamed tensions between Australia and India, which warned that continued violence against its citizens there could affect bilateral relations.

SM Krishna, the Indian foreign minister, said following Garg's killing that such attacks threatened to "cast a shadow on our otherwise excellent bilateral relations".

Justice for all

In his speech on Tuesday Cosgrove said that racial tensions over violence towards Indian students will only be resolved when their attackers are brought to justice.

General Peter Cosgrove, now retired, warned against complacency on racism [EPA]
"The vast majority of Australians, totally rejecting such despicable behaviour, will welcome the apprehension of those who are preying on these visitors and their rigorous prosecution," the retired general said.

"Only that outcome will satisfy our determination to be and be known as a just and equitable society."

Cosgrove, who was voted Australian of the year in 2001, said hidden racism should not be allowed to fester or lead to a reduction in immigration, expected to boost Australia's population from 21 million to around 36 million by 2050.

"The vast majority of Australians, totally rejecting any such despicable behaviour, will welcome the apprehension of the perpetrators," he added.

Citing previous racial violence in Australia, Cosgrove said clashes on Sydney beaches in late 2005 between gangs of ethnic Lebanese and white youths had highlighted dark pockets of racism and "gave us pause for thought".

"It was so unusual and unexpected, it reverberated around the world," he said.

"It was unexpected because Australia's reputation was that of an egalitarian and multi-ethnic society; tolerant, cheerful and relaxed."