More than 200 community members gathered on Monday at the hall of The Pammesinian Brotherhood “Papaflessas”; and those there, entered the door of the Brotherhood angry.
The issue of the open meeting, organized by the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, was the new tax bill of the Greek government; specifically the necessary paperwork Greeks abroad had to submit to the relevant tax authority in Greece in order to prove that they are permanent residents of countries other than Greece, so as to not be taxed as residents of Greece.
As demonstrated throughout the meeting, those present were determined to ignore their obligations of the new law and fight for it to change.
The atmosphere was electrifying, even before the meeting started. Five minutes of delay on behalf of the Consul General of Greece in Melbourne, Eleni Lianidou and the crowd started to protest.
Also present at the meeting was tax law specialist from Greece, Yannis Tripidakis, and the president of Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, Bill Papastergiadis as well as members of the board.
The information night started with Mr Papastergiadis informing those present that the community has already sent two letters to the Greek Minister of Finance, Mr Yannis Stournaras, asking him to consider amendments to law in regards to those articles that relate to Greeks abroad.
“We will not forget the issue. It is unfair for the Greek tax authorities to ask us to prove that we are not ‘elephants’. The community requests and demands a fair response and deserves a proper solution on this issue,” said Mr Papastergiadis, referring to the changes of the new tax law.
Then, Mr Tripidakis came to the fore explaining in a summary how the provisions of the new law and supporting documents must be submitted to the Greek Tax Department. According to the current law, those who have any form of income or asset in Greece, and they file a tax return in Greece, must also file a confirmation from the Australian Tax Office to the relevant Greek authorities which shows their income, or their Australian Tax Return for the relevant year will be taxed in Greece.
Mr Tripidakis clarified that those who file a tax return in Greece, but are not required to file one in Australia, must submit another document from the municipality they live in, or another authority, to show that they and their family (if there is a spouse or underage children) are permanent residents of Australia.
All these documents, as required by law, must be submitted in the relevant tax authority in Greece from the taxpayer himself, or through a duly authorized person in Greece.
Mr Tripidakis stressed that expatriates should be very careful about whom to appoint as their authorised representative to Greece, saying it is no longer so easy for a relative to carry out these tasks as the system has become more complex.
The lawyer also stressed that those who have property in Greece must check their E9 (tax declaration of properties in Greece form) and make sure that their properties are listed there in detail.
The briefing by Mr Tripidakis was often interrupted by disappointed members of the crowd, complaining about how unfair it is for the community to have to go through this process just to prove they do not live permanently in Greece.
The protesting crowd became even more vocal when the Consul General of Greece in Melbourne, started her address to them.
“Do not send any documents to Greece. I will not allow this injustice to go ahead.”
The microphone decided to “die” at the beginning of her speech. However this worked (at least semantically) in a positive way for Ms Lianidou who was forced to leave the lectern and mix with the crowed, due to the electrical malfunction, to inform them of the steps she has taken to make the situation fairer.
“Why us? Why do we have to pay for the bad economic situation in Greece?” members of the crowd declared before Ms Lianidou even started to explain the financial situation Greece is currently facing.
Ms Lianidou eventually managed to calm the restless crowd. The key to this change of mood was her evident determination to fight for a change to this “unjust bureaucratic requirement on behalf of the Greek state” as she called it.
“I want you to send a message to those who lodge your tax returns in Greece that, for now, you will not send any documents, until further notice. If they ask you why, tell them because our Consul General here in Melbourne told us so.
“And if we do not manage to solve this issue by March 30, we will get another extension, until June 30,” the Consul General declared and expatriates broke into loud applause, proving that they are determined not to succumb to the whims of Greek bureaucracy.
Ms Lianidou added: “The goal is to abolish any provisions that create unnecessary problems for the expatriates, and I mean all kinds of problems. Because I hear that many of you fear for your pensions. I hear that many of you fear for your property.
“For those homes or small blocks of land that you inherited from your mothers and fathers. For properties that you kept as a treasured piece of your forefathers for your children and grandchildren, I have to tell you this:
“First, to declare it in Greece. Make sure that there is no piece of land or other property that you have not declared on the E9 form. This I advise you to do without fear. So nobody can touch your assets. And do not sell a metre of it despite pressures to do so”.
The decisive tone of Ms Lianidou, assuring that the issue will be resolved and that no one should send the documents to Greece until further notice, gave birth to discussions. It can be noted that these discussion serve as a further reason for members of the community not to send their documents to Greece, as yet.
Noteworthy also is the fact that Ms Lianidou, in reference to one of the attendees mentioning that Law 3943/2011 was passed when the Finance minister of Greece was George Papaconstantinou, said this is likely to be one of the keys solving the problem.
According to her own estimates there is no political will on behalf of the current government to implement it.