Kate Logan’s first overseas posting for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was to the Australian Embassy in Athens. Twenty years on, she is back in the Greek capital to take up her role as Australia’s Ambassador to Greece with non-resident accreditation to Bulgaria and Romania.
Neos Kosmos caught up with Ms Logan to discuss how Greece compares in 2018, the bond Australia shares with the Hellenic Republic, major developments and the energy that makes Greece so attractive.
Speaking with Ms Logan shortly after she presented her credentials in a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Athens, it is obvious that she has a passion for the task of representing Australia and a love affair with the country that she will make her home again for the next three years.
“There is a real energy here that you don’t see in other countries. Not just in Athens but outside the capital as well. The warmth of the people is almost palpable,” she enthuses.
“I feel so privileged to represent a country that people want to know about here in Greece. You are always pushing on an open door. There is a certain attraction to things Australian.”
Ms Logan will use those open doors to her advantage when she makes contact with the decision makers in Greece.
“I am in the process of meeting as many people as I can to build up a network and garner and distil information that I will send back to Canberra and ensure that Australia is part of the conversation in Greece.
“It is also about building relationships so that if something happens such as a natural disaster or an Australian passport holder is in trouble on the islands I have people I can call on to provide assistance and information.
TWENTY YEARS ON
After leaving Athens twenty years ago Ms Logan maintained a healthy interest in the politics and affairs of Greece from a distance.
“I studied classics at university and have always had a passion for ancient Greece and archaeology so the interest has always been there.”
It is no surprise that the ambassador has memories of a vastly different Greece from her previous Athens posting.
“What strikes me about Greece coming back is that the 2004 Olympics have made so much difference to infrastructure, particularly with roads, public transport, and the airport. These investments have made a real difference to daily life.”
Environmental consciousness and activity is another area where the ambassador has noticed progression on her return.
“There is so much more ‘green’ awareness here now which reflects the personal pride people have in their environment.
“There are also signs of real hardship now which is reflected in the [empty] shop fronts and signs of poverty on the street. That is a real noticeable change.
‘”At the same time I have been struck by the resilience of Greeks. Just walking around chatting to people in the shops and elsewhere there is some great innovation and design happening. I can see the culture of innovation, borne of necessity, coming to the fore. That wasn’t happening 20 years ago.”
Greece has always prided itself on the quality of its cuisine and the latest developments in modern fusion food have not gone unnoticed by Ms Logan since her arrival.
“The fusion food and culinary creativity here is really exciting. I can see chefs here travelling and taking ideas from other countries and cultures. It has so many resonances with what has happened with food in Australia.”
TRADE, WORK, EDUCATION, AND TOURISM ON THE AGENDA
It is clear that settling in time has been minimal as Ms Logan outlines a number of “big ticket items” that have demanded her attention in the first few weeks of duty.
“My main role is to advance Australia’s interests in Greece,” she explains.
“The biggest ticket item at the moment is launching negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the European Union (EU). All member states of the EU have to agree, and Greece has indicated that they are broadly supportive of an agreement.
“I think it reflects our shared values and democratic traditions. Both our countries have a history of being open, liberal, free trading countries. Greece has a long history of maximising open seas and navigation and trade routes. Australia is in a geographic location where open markets really matter and we’ve always had free trading interests at heart. Neither country is about protectionism.
“A free trade agreement would be a signal of Europe and Greece’s common approach with Australia on free trade and investment in a time where there is a growth in protectionist instincts in some other parts of the world.
“We are close to finalising an agreement with Greece on a Working Holiday Maker scheme for young Australians and Greeks. Australia and Greece have a deep historical relationship based on immigration and wartime bonds. This is one way we can carry those connections into the contemporary world. It will mean that several hundred young Australians and Greeks can travel to the other country on a holiday and undertake some work while they are there.”
Traditionally Greek tertiary students wanting to study overseas have favoured institutions located in the United States or the United Kingdom however Ms Logan feels there is untapped potential for Australian education exports.
“At the moment there are approximately 1,300 Greek students studying in Australia every year which is more than you might expect for a country like Greece. We are going to do a bit more to attract interest in that sector. I want to make the Australian alumni networks more structured. Macquarie University recently held a function here in Athens for former students and it would be good to see more of that.”
The current boom in tourist arrivals saw record numbers travel to Greece in 2017 and similar figures predicted for this year. This has a major impact on the workload of the consular side of the Australian Embassy.
“We have 250,000 Australian passport holders in Greece in any given year so there is quite a heavy consular and passport load on this post. Some of them are dual nationals but many of them are tourists.
“Young Australians unfortunately take risks overseas that they don’t take at home, riding quad bikes and motorbikes on islands without helmets and that is sadly often when the embassy comes in. I wish they would treat the risks here the same as they would at home,” the Ambassador said.
A BIG LIFE
There is no doubt that Ms Logan will be presented with challenges as well as opportunities during her term in Athens however she is clearly inspired by the perception and attitudes that prevail in Greece.
“During the credentials ceremony, Mr Pavlopoulos said something to the effect of ‘Το πνεύμα της ελευθερίας πάντα πνέει πιο δροσερά και πιο δυνατά στην Αυστραλία από όποια άλλη χώρα’ – which roughly translates as ‘the spirit of freedom always blows more freshly and more robustly in Australia than elsewhere.’ What a beautiful way of seeing it. They see things in a big picture here.
“Life is big in Greece. It is painted on a big canvas. That’s one of the really lovely things about being here.”