Return to Greece

Jenny Bloomfield, Australia’s new Ambassador to Greece talks to Neos Kosmos

Jenny Bloomfield’s posting as Head of Mission to Greece breaks new ground in the history of Australian diplomatic relations. She will not only be the first woman to become Australia’s Ambassador in Athens, but the first ever Greek Australian to hold the post. On the eve of her departure, Neos Kosmos spoke to Australia’s next Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic. NK You’ve had previous postings to Iran, Argentina and Japan.

No doubt you will feel a special, deeper emotional response to your next post compared to other postings? JB Of course. I’m an Australian who was born in Greece, and I’m returning as the Australian Ambassador. Obviously there is symbolism in that, but this is part of the message that I want to give. This is what Australia’s all about.

It’s natural for a country like Australia, a country of immigration. Almost one in four Australians were born overseas and our cultural diversity, what we each bring to our community is what makes our country strong. The Greek community has made a huge contribution to all aspects of contemporary Australia. Together we have built a successful, prosperous, culturally rich, confident country, and this is the image of Australia I want to promote as Ambassador.

NK To what extent do you feel your heritage will make the role as Ambassador to Greece easier?

JB Well it depends what you mean by easier. Every person brings his or her different strengths and approaches to the job. I know the country and I know something of its culture. I speak the language. It helps us to tap into that country and that relationship. I’m a very activist diplomat. I’ve just come out of the Middle East branch where I had eighteen countries, again trying to build relationships, shaping Australia’s engagement in a region undergoing historic change. What better message about our multicultural and diverse, successful community than sending a Greek Australian back to the host country? It says a lot about the country that Australia is, and what makes us strong.

NK You were born in northern Greece, and raised until the age of 12 in Kavala, at which point your family migrated to Australia. Can you tell something about your introduction to the world of foreign affairs, and what motivated you to become a diplomat?

JB I studied law/arts, political science and languages at the University of Melbourne and then joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in 1995, where I met my husband James, a fellow diplomat. I was lucky enough to get in as a graduate trainee. I studied international law human rights law which raised my interest in diplomacy. I’ve always been interested in what was happening in the world. I came here from another country, grew up in a multicultural, multilingual environment and I have a passion for languages. Speaking a language opens a window into another culture. I am bilingual in English and Greek, speak fluent Farsi, Italian and Japanese and have high proficiency in Spanish and French.

NK Your posting to Greece comes at a dramatic time, given the country’s economic crisis. In what ways is Australia, and Australian diplomacy able to assist Greece at this difficult time?

JB Beyond our involvement in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where we contribute financially and we’re part of the decision-making that underpins the IMF’s role in the rescue package, more broadly, a couple of years ago we started a discussion on public sector reform in Greece with the Greek Government. It’s a conversation. We’re saying ‘these are some of the structures in Australia; these are some of the changes we have put in place. Our reform experience of the 1980s made our economy more resilient.’ The process of reform in Greece is ongoing and we’re ready to provide any support that we can. Our objective is to show our solidarity with the people of Greece. We believe they will come out of this stronger.

NK The level of trade between Australia and Greece is relatively small. Do you see opportunities to strengthen trade in the future, and how might that occur?

JB The total trade and investment relationship [annually] between Australia and Greece is about $600m. Half of that is tourism. More than 100,000 Australians visit Greece annually. As part of Greece’s privatisation program I know Greece is keen to attract foreign investment, and there may be opportunities there in the medium and long term to invest in finance, health and infrastructure. We’d like to see what more we could do and look at opportunities that the restructuring of their economy might present for Australian business.

NK Recently, encouraging migration from Greece has been a topic of discussion raised by community representatives in Victoria with the Australian Government. It’s a discussion that made reference to the role of the Athens embassy in providing information for potential applicants and the visa application process itself? What’s your view of the situation?

JB Australia takes around 170,000 new migrants each year. This will increase to 185,000 in 2011. Migration to Australia is divided into skilled migration and family migration. Skilled migration is based on the needs of the Australian economy and to be eligible, a person needs to have skills in demand in Australia, have high proficiency in English, and be under the age of 45. Priority is given to people who already have a job offer from an Australian employer willing to sponsor them. Australia is fortunate in that the number of people seeking skilled migration far exceeds the number of migration places set by government.

There has been an increase in enquiries from Greek citizens about options for migration to Australia, but there hasn’t been an increase in the number of visa applications. We do want to attract skilled people and there is one web site, which has very clear information. I’ve said that I will add some information in Greek to the embassy’s web site to direct people to the relevant online application, but for skilled migration, the requirements are very clear. Applicants do not have to be interviewed. The embassy has no role in the application process. It’s a straightforward process that’s done online – a points system. Applications are assessed in Canberra and the criteria are the same for any applicant from any country.

NK What do you feel your mission is as Australia’s Ambassador to Greece, what message do you want to take back to the country of your birth?

JB I’d like to project an image of Australia and what Australia is about; that we are an important country in the world, a good country. We may not be perfect, but we have been able to bring people in from all over the world, who have built this country, who have contributed to our success and prosperity, and the richness of our community. It’s my experience of Australia as a migrant Australian. Sometimes I think there isn’t a very good understanding of contemporary Australia, not just in Greece. We are the 12th largest economy in the world, the fourth largest economy in Asia.

We are very successful and we’re active around the world across the board. It’s a message that we should be giving back to the world. As Australia’s Ambassador, I want to showcase the strong bonds between our two countries and the significant contribution of Greek Australians to Australian society; promote a positive image of contemporary Australia; and broaden and deepen the already close Australia-Greece relationship across all fields. The Greek Australian community is a key partner in these goals; all are ambassadors for Australia in Greece. They are the face of Australia, as well as their community.