During this Federal Election both Labor and Liberal have courted the Hellenic vote with both promising millions of dollars to support the Greek community. Both have pledged a whopping $5 million for the Greek Centre hub in Melbourne and the establishment of a Hellenic Chair in Global Diasporas at Melbourne University.
The Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM) President Bill Papastergiadis believes that getting the Greek vote could give either party the upper hand on Saturday.
“It is no doubt an important part of this equation in securing government support,” he told Neos Kosmos. “Greeks in Australia have been active in the political sphere for many decades, both in local government, state and federal governments. Equally they have lobbied on numerous issues and particularly in recent times, there has been a unified voice.”
International prize-winning historian Dr Nick Doumanis agrees.
“Even though the Greeks are no longer the second largest non-speaking migrant group like they were in the 1960s and 70s, we are still one of the best organised minorities,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“So if you appeal to Greek issues and Greek culture you will get quite a few Greek Australians thinking, “oh that’s interesting, they care about us”.
However Dr Nicholas Apoifis, a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at UNSW, believes that courting the Greek vote isn’t as straightforward as it once was as there have been changes in the demographics.
“Post WW2 and for the longest time there was a pretty strong identification with the politics of the Australian Labor Party,” he said. “But John Howard getting elected, that was a reasonably big turning point.
“In regards to the Greek population, some of them have started to transcend their class and started to vote accordingly. What we are seeing now with second and third generation Greek Australians is that they have far less attachment to the old values of the Labor Party.”
Dr Apoifis revealed how in this election we have seen a return of the Labor Party targeting the working class and pensioners.
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“On certain issues they display pretty clear democratic policies,” he told Neos Kosmos. “They have higher taxation for multinational corporations that gets then filtered into the state that props up Medicare and to prop education and hospitals. The Labor Party also announced free dental care for pensioners.
“While the Liberal Party have returned to their core values which is tax relief for the middle class and corporations, as they believe that will stimulate the economy with trickle-down economics. If you are an investor and if you are buying your second or third house you are going to have a more financially beneficial arrangement under a coalition government.”
Despite the change in demographics however, Dr Apoifis is not surprised the two major political parties are still courting the Greek vote.
“You can see this with how the major parties over the last three months have made pitches towards the Greek community,” he said. “The one that I thought was most interesting was Bill Shorten saying that in the first week of winning the election he will call on the British Government to return the Parthenon Marbles. Not only did he make that pledge, but he did not refer to them as the Elgin marbles. So someone is advising him well. They must think there is something in this that might sway swinging voters in key seats or perhaps in a senate vote.”
On occasion politics can unite people from opposite ends of the spectrum and Dr Apoifis pointed to Labor’s Anthony Albanese, who gave a speech when Archbishop Stylianos recently passed away.
“Albanese is from the seat of Grayndler – a pretty left-wing seat in the inner west of Sydney,” he said. “He is a prominent advocate of same sex marriage and Stylianos came out unequivocally against it. But Albanese wrote a glowing eulogy when he passed away. This shows that politics is dynamic, we can’t predict things. The charisma of one leader could change everything or a particular event could turn the election. We vote on emotion and an understanding of reality – and often these are changing. So we can’t say the Greeks are going to vote in this way.”
Have Greek Australians grown complacement since the rise of the far-right?
With the rise of the One Nation Party and far-right extremist groups, an anti-immigration and multiculturalism sentiment has begun to spread across Australia.
Dr Apoifis, who won the Dean’s Award for Best Monograph for an Early Career Researcher in 2017, has written extensively on the subject.
His research, insights and findings are based upon international activist networks and anti-fascist and anti-authoritarian collectives. He believes Australia is following Europe which has seen the rise of far-right nationalist parties and points to Fraser Anning’s “speech of final solution in parliament, with One Nation’s racialist rhetoric and narratives and policies and Clive Palmer’s Party as well”.
He says that some Greeks have become complacent in regards to the rise of the far right “because they are not the initial target” of the hostility.
“It’s directed to our Muslim, Palestinian, Arab and Jewish brothers and sisters, people of colour and the queer community. We think, that as Greek Australians that ‘we’ve made it’,” he said. “And that we as migrants have forgotten about the racist history, the abuse, being called wogs, hating our sport, racially vilifying us and preventing us from employment. Those sort of stories are forgotten and we target a new group so it’s not surprising that Greeks of all ideologies appear in different political parties.”
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Almost half of Greek Australian candidates are aligned with parties that are anti, or aim to reduce, immigration levels. These include Ignatios Tsiriplis (Clive Palmer’s United Australia), Peter Georgiou (One Nation), Steven Georgantis, Susan Tsangaris (Australian People’s Party), Angela Vithoulkas, Fiona Douskou (Small Business Party).
Dr Doumanis agrees that one migrant group being in favour of anti-immigration policies is not new.
“There is no such thing as migrant solidarity,” he explained. “Once you come into the country then you join the chorus against the latest influx. All migrant groups do that. It’s not just a Greek thing.”
Longitudinal studies have documented the attitudes of migrants, particularly those that have suffered racism, that deliver the same hostility to the next wave of migration one or two generations later.
“Perhaps the Greek community in the past are showing the same hostility that they experienced to the current generation and perhaps that is also reflected in the voting patterns of the Greek Australian population.”
Dr Apoifis also warned that when it comes to the rise of the far right, history must not be ignored and that very quickly a minor political party can turn into a major force.
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“So, the make-up of the Senate will be telling,” he said. “It doesn’t relate to immigration policies, but it relates to the things that go on in Australia; how we act, what we can say, the languages that we all can speak. While we comfortably sit as Greek Australians not currently the subject of the groups being targeted by Neo Nazi and far right ideology, it is unlikely to distinguish eventually between Greek Australians and others. And all of this could come to fruition depending on the make-up of the Senate.”
The policies that made today’s Greek Australians a success
From their humble beginnings as factory workers, today Greek Australians take up prominent positions across all sectors of the community. Dr Apoifis believes that this upward mobility is due in part to a specific Labour policy. For instance, Gough Whitlam’s policies of free university education benefited a whole generation of Greek Australians whose families would not have been able to afford tertiary studies.
Dr Doumanis added that the policies of Paul Keating, Bob Hawke and John Howard in the years that followed also allowed Greeks to become upwardly mobile. But Whitlam’s affect was largest of all.
“A whole generation of Greek Australians who might have gone into blue-collar work or low grade white collar went to the universities,” he said, which allowed for rapid upward mobility with a disproportionate number of Greeks entering into white-collar jobs. “Broadly speaking, they capitalised on the opening up of the economy in the ’80s and ’90s.”
In fact, the only time Greeks have voted as an ethnic group was for Whitlam, reveals Dr Doumanis.
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“He was the first Prime Minister who really paid attention to migrants and to value them and give them a sense of a place in this country,” he said, pointing to the Greek festivals they attended that started a trend for those that followed. “But on the whole, Greeks are just like average Australians when it comes to voting. They vote for their self-interest and not usually for any ideological solidarity, that’s why a lot of them have switched to the Liberal Party because they believe they will benefit from tax terms.”