Myths and realities

Ms Jenny Bloomfield, Australian Ambassador to Greece talks to Neos Kosmos about the myths and realities surrounding migration to Australia for Greeks

The international media, as well as the Greek and the Australian media insist that “Australia is flooded” by Greek migrants. Is there any truth in these claims? Do we have any numbers about the Greeks who migrated to Australia last year?

There has been an increase in Greek enquiries about options for migration to Australia, but these enquiries have not translated into a significant increase in visa applications.

773 Greek professionals attended Skills Australia Needs information sessions in Athens on 8-9 October, part of regular migration promotional activities organised by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) in various countries to promote skilled migration to Australia in areas of occupational demand. Given the often long lead time from commencement of preparing a visa application through to lodgement and processing, it is unlikely that any potential change in visa numbers, which may result from the information sessions in Greece, will be seen for some time.

Inaccurate reporting regarding Australia’s migration policies contributed to increased Greek interest. Contrary to some reports, DIAC statistics show that there has not been any significant change in the number of Greek nationals visiting or settling in Australia. Greece is not traditionally a source of migrants under Australia’s skilled migration program, with fewer than 15 Greek nationals successfully applying for and being granted skilled migration visas to Australia in calendar year 2011. There were 136 student visas holders who were Greek nationals in Australia on October 31, 2011. Greek tourists visiting Australia have consistently numbered between 6,500 and 7,000 each year.

There are strong people-to-people ties between our two countries, and many dual nationals who may travel from one country to the other due to a variety of circumstances. These movements should not, however, be confused with migration to Australia or vice versa. Australia has an open, nondiscriminatory migration program designed to meet Australia’s economic and labour market needs. Australia’s skilled migration program is open to people of all nationalities with the qualifications and skills in demand in Australia, including from Greece. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) website contains information about migration to Australia. The website of the Australian Embassy in Greece ( contains information in Greek.

We understand that Australia is negotiating with Greece on a working tourist visa agreement. When do you anticipate that this agreement will be signed?

What will it mean and why is it taking that long? There are no plans at present to negotiate a work and holiday visa agreement between Australia and Greece. The Australian Government is keen to promote business, tourism, youth and educational exchanges, utilising our community links and close contacts between the two countries at the political, cultural and people-to-people levels. We would also like to welcome Greek students at Australian universities, joining more than 400,000 international students from over 190 countries who are receiving a first-class education and building connections between Australia and the world.

Despite the fact that there is a large Greek-Australian community, the trade between the two countries is not very significant. You have spoken about the need for new initiatives to improve trade and financial relations between Australia and Greece. Can you elaborate please?

There was approximately $200 million in direct merchandise trade and $400 million in services trade (mostly tourism) between Australia and Greece in 2010-11. These figures do not include the substantial contribution of Greek shipping services to Australia’s export performance. Australia’s connections with Greek shipping are deep and long-standing. Greek ships transport Australian energy and resource exports to markets in Asia and other key markets and help underpin Australia’s prosperity.

As an example, Captain Panayiotis Tsakos, of Tsakos Shipping Company, was recognised for his generous assistance in the commissioning of one of his ships, the ‘Sirius’, for the Royal Australian Navy in 2004, and the company’s ship ‘Irene’s Rainbow’ was adopted by the students of Hobsons Bay Melbourne Primary School under the Adopt a Ship program for school students. We want to harness our strong community links to grow bilateral trade and investment, both in traditional sectors for Australian business interests such as shipping and tourism but also in new sectors such as green energy.

The Australian Embassy in Athens has been encouraging actively the establishment of a Hellenic-Australian Business Council in Greece to underpin the commercial relationship and to facilitate bilateral exchange. The Embassy hosted a high-level business event in early March in support of the Council’s establishment and is strongly committed to supporting the new Council’s activities. While to the benefit of both countries, the Business Council will be a practical contribution to Greece’s reform efforts and attempts to put the Greek economy on a solid footing.

I understand that Australia will send a significant representation to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary since Thessaloniki became liberated. Do you have more details on that?

This commemoration will be an important milestone for the city of Thessaloniki, one of Europe’s most significant historic and cultural centres and the place of origin for many Australians of Greek descent. The sister-city relationship between Melbourne and Thessaloniki of 28 years adds an important dimension to the breadth of our relationship. Australia welcomed the designation of Thessaloniki as European Youth Capital for 2014, supported by the city of Melbourne. During a recent visit to Thessaloniki, I discussed with Mayor Boutaris opportunities to expand links in trade and investment, environmental cooperation including waste management and fire prevention practices, and educational and youth exchanges, particularly in support of Thessaloniki’s European Youth Capital year.

We would like to strengthen research and institutional links between Thessaloniki’s Aristotelio University, Greece’s largest, and Australian universities, building on a successful program of exchange including a recent language and cultural studies program for 12 Australian teachers of Greek under Endeavour Language Teacher Fellowship Awards. There are opportunities for Australian business interests including through Thessaloniki’s September Trade Fair, among the most significant in southern Europe.

You have been in Greece for a few months now. It must have been a rather difficult period because of the financial crisis. You have stressed many times that Australia stands by Greece. You have also spoken about the need for more initiatives on many fronts. Could you outline your vision on this issue?

Australia’s relationship with Greece is long-standing. The Australian Government understands the difficult economic situation facing Greece and other European countries, and the painful adjustments being made that will contribute to a more prosperous future for its citizens. We want to strengthen our bilateral engagement, particularly in areas that can help Greece meet its challenges.

We stand ready to support Greek efforts by sharing Australia’s reform experience that made our economy more resilient, and by harnessing our community ties to grow trade and investment. We have already provided information to the Greek Government on Australia’s models of governance and public sector reform, and want to continue this dialogue with the Greek government. We also want to share experiences in areas such as labour reforms, education and innovation, health and taxation and migration policies. We hope that in the near future, an Australia-Hellenic Leaders’ Forum can be convened in Athens under the auspices of the newly established Business Council, providing a high-level forum for sharing experiences, ideas and ‘best practice’ among opinion leaders and decision makers from both countries.

The Australian Embassy in Athens continues to promote actively cultural, educational, youth and other exchanges to strengthen dialogue and practical cooperation – such as the recent visits to Greece by Australian teachers of Greek language, and of students of Classics from the Australian National University and the University of Queensland, for intensive study programs. The Embassy will support the planned major conference of the Australian Archaeology School in Athens in May, which will contribute significantly to the School’s active role in promoting archaeological research and bilateral cooperation.

The Embassy joined forces with SKAI TV to promote environmental protection with a clean up activity in Aegina, in the context of the ‘Clean Up the World’ campaign which originated in Australia. The Embassy also collaborated with children’s NGO “Ark of the World’ in its important work of supporting vulnerable children and their mothers. We celebrated our common history at a ceremony to present awards on behalf of the Australian Returned and Services League to outstanding students of Crete on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

At the invitation of the President of the Hellenic Parliament, we presented Australia’s multicultural and migration policies, policies on Greek language education, and opportunities for closer bilateral cooperation, to a joint sitting of the Standing Committees of Greeks Abroad, Educational Affairs and the Greece-Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group of the Hellenic Parliament. At the invitation of the Greek Deputy Minister for Energy, we presented Australia’s world-leading mining policies and practices at a conference to promote a national strategy for the development of Greece’s mineral resources.

This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of assisted Greek migration to Australia, when thousands of Greeks came to Australia to build a new life and pursue new opportunities. It is an important occasion to celebrate their achievements and significant contribution to Australian society. The Embassy recently marked this important occasion at our Australia Day event in Athens.

We plan further events in collaboration with the Office of the International Organisation for Migration, including an exhibition of the IOM’s largely unknown collection of original photographs and documents from that period. I ask for the support of community, business and educational institutions to document, preserve and showcase this important part of our shared history. And I would like to invite Greek Australians, and all Australians, to join our commemoration of ANZAC Day this year in Lemnos, in addition to the traditional ceremony in Athens, to honour the role of the island as the place of embarkation for the Gallipoli campaign and home to the ‘Australian General Hospital’ which supported ANZACs during the nation-defining struggle.

The large and vibrant Greek Australian community are an important partner as we pursue these goals. I would like to congratulate the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria for staging a successful 25th Antipodes Festival, the largest of its kind outside Greece. I would also like to congratulate the community for its ambitious plans for a new Greek cultural centre to showcase the significant contribution of the Greek-Australian community to our society and our shared cultural and historic bonds, strongly supported by the Australian Government as evidenced by the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of a AUD2 million contribution.

The fact that you come from a Greek background is a pleasant surprise to all your Greek counterparts. We heard you speaking at the Greek Parliament in fluent Greek and being applauded by all. How do you feel as a Greek Australian being the Australian Ambassador in Greece?

The appointment of an Australian Ambassador of Greek origin speaks volumes about the kind of country that Australia is. Equally, having an Australian Ambassador who understands the local culture and speaks the language is a significant advantage in pursuing our shared interests to the benefit of both countries.