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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 15 July 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 15 JULY 2017 3 NEWS EUGENIA PAVLOPOULOU 'Tis the time of year when half the Greek Australian population of Victoria jumps on a plane and heads north in search of sun, sea, ouzo-infused aperitifs and relaxing moments on the land of our forefathers. The Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews knows about this facet of Greek Australian life all too well and this year decided to see for himself where his fellow Victorians of Greek heritage disappear to for the next couple of months. Unfortunately his upcoming trip to Greece will be too short to be very sweet but he is not complaining, as at some stage in late August the premier will have the opportunity to experience for the first time the land of the Gods and the Parthenon. In the meantime, as he prepares his luggage for overseas, he managed to fit in an interview with Neos Kosmos and talked about his anticipated trip, the bonds that bind Victoria with Greece - a country from which more than 180,000 Victorians draw their heritage, the challenges of the Greek economy and, last but not least, he did not shy away from taking up the role of the gift bearer for the Greek community in Victoria. Our conversation started with his upcoming trip, and I can assure you he looked quite excited about it. "It will be in late August and in conjunction with my visit to Israel but sadly it will be a short trip. I am going to be there for [just] a couple of days but I have never been to Greece so it gives me the opportunity to go and see things firsthand. And when you think about it, the bonds between Victoria and Greece are so strong. The Greek people have lived in Melbourne and Victoria and have been so generous sharing their culture, Greek experiences, the Greek way of life. I think we are very proud of the fact that the heart of the Greek diaspora beats the loudest and proudest in Victoria. We should never take for granted the influence of the Greeks over so many years, we should do more to recognise it. It will be special for me to be there. It is going to be a great honour." The Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews. PHOTO: KOSTAS DEVES Have you lined up any meetings with Greek government officials? We have had a steady flow of Greek government officials visiting Melbourne like the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the military delegation for the anniversary of the Battle of Crete recently. Each and every time we have an official visiting us they always extend the obligatory 'when you are in Greece you have to come and see us', so I think in the short time I will be there it will be a very busy programme. We will see some people from the national government and some people from the municipal government of Athens; we are still finalising a meeting with the Prime Minister of Greece. Which landmarks are you determined not to miss? The Acropolis for sure. There are some other significant landmarks which I will try not to miss. They are not only significant just for the Greek community or for the Australian community; they are significant for the world. It is going to be a great honour to be there. I hope that my visit sends a strong message to the Greek government but also to the diaspora here; we value the relationship, it is an incredibly important partnership, we want to drive tourism, drive investment, drive those opportunities that come from that very strong partnership. We know that there have been some difficult times for Greece in the last years, I would like my trip to show our support. It is inescapable to go to Greece these days and not think of the economic crisis. What are your thoughts on this? Yes I agree and to a certain extent that is a bit of a shame, because we do not want people's thinking about this beautiful part of the world to be dominated by the adverse economic circumstances. But at the same time you have to be frank about it and you have to understand that there are some issues, and, without wanting to get into issues of foreign policy as this is the jurisdiction of my federal friends, I would just say that what is happening in Greece is a very powerful reminder to all of us here about how fortunate we are. When you think about our standard of living and all the success we have had, we should see what is happening in Greece and reflect. And when you think about it that is the story of the Greek migration to our country; hard work, a focus on living your values and being true to yourself but then getting on, getting things done, building, shaping, creating prosperity and wealth, creating all sorts of opportunities for the next generation, whether it will be your kids or the entire state. I think there is a lot we and Greece can learn from the Greek experience in Melbourne and the Greek experience in Australia in relation to some of the economic and financial difficulties experienced in Greece at the moment. We should never take anything for granted, we have to work hard and keep working hard. We should be frank about these challenges Greece faces but as I mentioned we should not allow that to dominate our sense of Greece. Greece is a lot more, is the land of ideals. When you think about it so much flows from the Greek intellectuals, Greek doers; people who always made reform real. Without curbing your enthusiasm for your upcoming trip I would like to bring your attention to some issues close to home. The newly arrived migrants from Greece or expats who have returned to Australia have enjoyed a number of government-funded settlement programs over the last three years. The funding expires next year. What will be the fate of these programs? The support to the Australian Greek Welfare Society (Pronia) came as a result of a fundamental recognition that we listen to the Greek community. All of a sudden with the new arrivals the settlement services needed were not just for the young families but for older people as well. I would be very surprised if that funding runs out. I think we know how good a job they do, we know how important the support they provide is and I think that the funding will be renewed. Elderly abuse is an issue that our community sees coming up quite often lately. In the meantime what we hear from Greek community social services agencies is that the funds for the provision of services dealing with this and other interconnected issues like substance abuse and mental health services are scarce. And just to hit you with some statistics: more than 100 victims of family violence turn to Pronia every year asking for help. They feel comfortable turning to this agency because they know the language and the culture. Family violence, and tackling this social scourge, has been the cornerstone of your government's policy, we know that. Are you willing to commit to look into this and fund programs for victims of Greek background? This is not news we all know and we all know that there will be changes. There is an under-reporting issue. There will be issues around language, understanding and all those things. Making sure that people get access based on need, whether they are older, younger, married, abused by a partner, or they are being abused by a child, whomever it might be, we need to make sure that people feel confident to come forward, culturally confident, that they have the language proficiency at the level they go through and that they are getting everything that they need right then. Violence is totally unacceptable in any context. For too long this disconnection, the fact that there is no proper linkage between agencies has probably held us back from providing justice and service to people. I am sure that there will be a range of culturally-specific partnerships that come from the boost of family violence services and we are looking very carefully in this area. With Family Safety Victoria being set up that will be one of the areas they will look at. We have to have services that meet the needs of the people who are seeking it. It is new, it is funding things that had never been funded, trying things that had never been tried before, however there are a number of service providers in the Greek community that provide us with a really good template. And if the need is there, I think funding will follow. Before I wish you safe travels can you share with us your views on the federal government's proposals for the changes of the Citizenship Act and the introduction of the new English language test? It is a great privilege and a great honour to be able to become an Australian citizen, to formalise that building of a new life, to formalise the choice that you have made for your family but at the same time we are a nation built on people making those brave choices. Because it is brave for people taking that decision to leave everything, sometimes with great trauma, sometimes out of tragedy, and to leave everything, to build a new life sometimes without knowing the language, without necessarily having a cultural awareness. We need to be open, inclusive, and to recognise that many of the people who came to Australia in the 50s and 60s, built this country, would not have passed it if the same test was applied to them. So you have to get the balance right. And you have to always remember to have a big heart when it comes to these things. We have always been a welcoming place, we always gave people the chance to be their best to do their best, to create something for them, for their family, for all of us. You have to keep a sense of perspective on these things.
08 July 2017