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'More Greeks are visiting Australia, but fewer are staying here permanently' [video]

John Griffin, Australia's ambassador to Greece, speaks to Neos Kosmos in an exclusive interview

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John Griffin, Australia's ambassador to Greece. Photo: Angelos Giotopoulos

14 March 2017

Greek tourism to Australia is on the rise while permanent migration seems to have dropped slightly since the height of the Greek economic crisis four years ago.

In an interview at his residence in Athens, John Griffin, Australia's ambassador to Greece, told Neos Kosmos that an increasing number of Greeks are visiting Australia, while the numbers of Australians headed in the other direction has also gone up. Watch the interview below:

 

"There is quite a bit of two-way traffic. We had 8,400 short term arrivals into Australia from Greece last year, a 13 per cent increase on the previous year. And in the other direction, Australians coming into Greece was at around 83,700, that's a three per cent increase," Ambassador Griffin said.

He clarified they were Australian figures, but said the figures from ELSTAT, the Greek national statistical agency, although a bit below the Australian numbers, were "still in the same ball park."

The ambassador said in terms of Australians going into Greece, the number is actually a little higher once we factor in tourists that have entered another country in the Schengen zone before arriving in Greece.

Ambassador Griffin said the a determining factor behind the rise in Greeks visiting Australia was the country's image as a welcoming nation, that is continuing to grow.

"Greeks like the fact that it's a very welcoming environment to Greeks and they like the fact, like most Europeans, that it's a new country, in terms of European settlement. It's got energy, it's got space, it's a country which is self confident and living in a region of growing prosperity."

Ambassador Griffin said he finds young Greeks to be quite passionate about Australia and going there.

"Young Greeks have an accurate impression of the new vibrant Australia. This may explain the uptake in tourist numbers, people who have the means want to go and check it out, maybe look for opportunities there."

Switching to the topic of permanent migration, the ambassador revealed that numbers had dropped slightly since the height of the economic crisis in Greece, with less than 400 Greeks making the move last year.

"There are a lot of Greeks in Australia, 600,000 of them, out of a population of 24 million, so it's a very sizeable minority. But a lot of the origin of that minority was in the period of mass migration to Australia after World War II, Australia is still a country of migration, but not of mass migration. We now have migration in certain defined categories which is family migration, business migration, skilled migration, humanitarian migration, our refugee intake, and student migration, which of course is temporary migration," Ambassador Griffin explained.

"So in those categories, family migration has been steadied to around 250 a year, having risen to about 400 in the peak years of the crisis during 2012 and 2013. Skilled migration is up from about 90 to a year to 130 in 2015 and 2016 and student visas are steady around 600-700 a year, having peaked to about 850 in 2012 and 2013," the Ambassador added.

He said because Australia is very strict with the categories and criteria of migration, most young Greeks moving abroad permanently are choosing a switch to another country in the European Union.

"Lots of Greeks may have visited Australia, gone there to study and come back, for various reasons, but permanent migration has steadied, they are the numbers."

In what is now his third and final year as Australia's Ambassador to Greece, Mr Griffin said his time in Athens has had both highs and lows.

"Sometimes it's been a sad time because of the impact on Greek society of the long crisis, at the same time it's been uplifting in the sense that the Greeks have a great resilience and courage in the face of adversity. Greece is eternal they'll tell you."

The ambassador said there have been lots of landmark moments, and he has been pleased to see lots of strong people-to-people links and signs of enduring connections between the two countries.

He also said he has worked hard to promote stronger business ties between Greece and Australia, something that has not always been easy.

"Economic diplomacy, which is the flash new term for trade and investment, is a very important part of an ambassador's job. I've done my best to promote trade and investment, which has always been quite modest between Greece and Australia."

Ambassador Griffin said there is still a lingering impression of Australian in some circles in Greece including business circles, of "a far away, Anglo, strange country with rural primary industries, you have to load things into ships and sail them halfway around the world to England."
He said the Australian embassy has done its best to project a different image of Australia.

"Which is a multicultural, dynamic, diverse country. Seventy per cent of our GDP is services-based, and you don't need to load services into ships, so I've spent quite a bit of time promoting a different image of Australia."

The ambassador revealed that he had also worked hard to highlight what he calls areas of complementarity between the Australian economic experience and the Greek experience.

"Look at what Greece has got that could generate wealth, which could help to drive the economy, to grow out of the recession, out of the crisis. Greece has got a fantastic tourist industry, it's the main money earner, but it's really very limited, it's April to September, sea, sand, sun, souvlaki and then nothing. Whereas winter tourism, cultural tourism, agricultural tourism, eco tourism, all this sort of stuff is talked about, and Australia has done quite well, but it needs long-term strategic thinking and investment."

The ambassador also commented on the high quality of Greek food and wine.

"Greek food and wine is fantastic, which was news to me, when I came here I used to think Greek wine is retsina, but the variety and the quality of boutique Greek wines bowls you over. The quality of food here and then when you think of the Australian experience which has been developing agribusiness, you know, niche, high end, good quality wines and foods, it's something Greece could profit from so I've been trying to promote complementarities between the two countries in that sphere."

He believed the big shining white hope is an Australia-EU free trade agreement which Australia has been proposing for some time.

"It's just finishing a scoping study between Australia and the EC in Brussels and if that gets going it will have a boost to bilateral trade between the two countries."

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