The street walking has begun. The hugs and smiles in front of the cameras are on. The signage has gone up. The race has started and Steve Georganas has his eyes set on Canberra.
The Labor candidate of the one and only Liberal marginal seat of South Australia, Hindmarsh, is no doubt counting on the Greek Australian vote. Some 10,000 voters of Greek Australian background live in Hindmarsh, the seat that covers coastal Adelaide directly to the west of the city centre.
In the past, Georganas, while serving as an MP in the two previous Labor governments, proved through his actions that his commitment to the Greek Australian voters of his seat was not just words lost in thin air. His record confirms that he has been close to and active for the Greek Australian community issues which he successfully managed to promote to the upper echelons of the government.
Georganas has many a time become the voice of our community in the parliament, lobbying on national matters such as the Cyprus, FYROM and Pontian genocide recognition, not to mention the pivotal role he played in the realisation of the Work and Holiday Visa agreement between Australia and Greece.
It is worth remembering how he, alongside Victorian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou, lobbied for the inclusion of the Greek language in the Australian Curriculum.
With the support of the community and Neos Kosmos, he managed to achieve a very important milestone for the future of Greek language teaching in Australia.
In the 2013 election, however, Hindmarsh changed hands and moved into Liberal party territory, sending Georganas out of the political arena.
His comeback did not come as a surprise, as he has been a Hindmarsh resident all his life, is familiar with the issues and has an impeccable bio to present.
Three weeks into pre-election frenzy and Georganas, while not taking poll results into consideration, is – according to election gurus – set to return to Canberra.
We asked Mr Georganas to answer a number of questions that relate to the issues our readers sent through to Neos Kosmos.
While Greek language made it into the Australian Curriculum, the number of schools that teach Greek has not increased. To the contrary, Greek language programs in Victoria and other states seem to be disappearing from public schools. Are there any plans or ideas on how this can be reversed and how will you pursue the issue if elected?
Back in 2008, I think it was, we ran a fabulous campaign with Neos Kosmos for the inclusion of Greek language in the curriculum. We ended up with more than 45,000 signatures, which Maria Vamvakinou and myself tabled to the parliament. We campaigned all over Australia about that. I lobbied ministers, I lobbied officials.
This issue was and still is very close to my heart. It is sad because we need to ensure that we keep this fight going, because the moment you don’t is the moment that it will slip out of sight, and before we know it our children will not have the pleasure that I had as a child to learn Greek at school.
One of the problems is the take-up of Greek from the students and I speak to many schools. The first step was to make sure that Greek was included in the curriculum. The next step is to ensure that where there is a need for Greek programs to be established, to do so. We should also see Greek as a second language, not as a community language. The argument that I get from the schools is that there is no need. I strongly believe that it is the community that drives these things. We could put forward positive ideas which would create this need. I will always support any idea if it leads to the increase of Greek programs at schools.
Pensions are an important issue for the Greek voters of Hindmarsh, judging by the demographic make-up of your electorate. This particular issue was put forward from our readers and affects a significant number of pensioners who have been penalised by Centrelink as a result of the pension agreement between Australia and Greece. Their pension is automatically reduced when Greek authorities approve their right to receive a part payment from Greece. If their Greek pension was paid to them in a matter of weeks that would not be an issue. However, it takes years – in some cases up to five – before they see a dollar of their Greek pension in their account. In the meantime they have to live with a reduced pension. What are you and your party planning to do to address this?
I have heard of the issue from some of my electorate and I think it is wrong. Currently you have the government not paying their pensions. We are saying if you are entitled to a pension and you are not receiving income from anywhere else, that you should be assessed on what your income and assets are.
Currently these people are not receiving a cent from anywhere else. Therefore, they should be assessed and paid on the income they receive. I do not know why they are doing it the other way; I have no idea. That’s the way it should be done and if the payment comes through from Greece at a certain stage, then of course, if you are getting paid, it gets assessed as income. It is then adjusted according to the payments you are currently receiving.
This is like someone saying ‘I am going to get a job next month and I’m being assessed on that basis’. It is unacceptable and I will look closely into it.
Let’s look into the Work and Holiday Visa agreement. While signed, it seems as dead as ever. Are you willing to pursue the issue?
This is something that myself and Maria Vamvakinou worked very hard to achieve when we were in government. We had meetings with the ambassador, we had meetings with the minister here, with Greek government officials. I even had a meeting with Mr Avramopoulos, the foreign minister of Greece at the time, and they promised me that they would fast track it and have it up and running soon.
The agreement has been signed by the two governments and there seems a problem from the Greek government’s side. I haven’t been in the parliament but my understanding is that it has not been implemented. Every time I would make an inquiry at the time, they would say that the delay was from Greece. I really don’t know why it has been delayed. There is a limit to what we can do from here.
Aged care services were a significant casualty of the budget savings list. The government announced cuts to the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI), worth $1.2 billion. Cumulative federal policy and funding decisions since 2014-2015 have stripped $3.1 billion from Australia’s aged care system according to LASA. What is the Labor party policy in this area?
We have opposed all those cuts and we know that the cuts will be having an effect on people and certainly an even worse effect for people from ethnic backgrounds. We had specific funding, we extended this funding and we increased it for multicultural aged care services. Not just nursing homes but with appropriate care for people of multicultural background at home, with services delivered in their own language and delivering appropriate cultural care.
This is a very wrong thing to do, to cut funding from those services that we put in place. It means that it will have a detrimental effect on the community. We released our policy on aged care issues and we are reversing the recent cuts announced by the Coalition government. There are a lot of people who are unhappy about these cuts, especially in the multicultural aged care services sector and we understand their frustration.
And finally Mr Georganas, why should people vote for you?
For starters I was always a proponent and representative of all the community. There are about 105,000 people in the electorate, of whom 10,000 are of Greek background, another eight to 9,000 are Italian and a rather significant number is of Indian descent.
I endeavour to represent the community to the best of my ability. I was the first one to speak out on all sorts of issues that affect the Greek community, whether it be pensioners issues, whether it be the visa issue, the working holiday visa issues, or national issues. All one has to do is look at the Hansard, and see the number of times I’ve spoken out and the private members bills for everything from the Pontian genocide to the Cyprus issue.
I do that, not because there is an expectation to do that, but because I represent 10,000 Greeks whose beliefs and values I have to represent in terms of our cultural background.
We should be really proud that we are a migrant success story in Australia. We are model migrants and I’ll always endeavour to represent them to the best of my ability.