Eleven Greek Australians were named today in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for their contribution to Australia.
“I was absolutely surprised,” said a George Lekakis to Neos Kosmos after hearing that he was bestowed Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for ‘distinguished service to the community through leadership roles in multicultural organisations’ and to the development of services for ethnic communities.
“I love Australia, I love this country,” said the Chairperson for the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Mr Lekakis AO.
He said the honour “validates the 30 years of hard work in upholding multiculturalism” but emphasised the work by communities in pressing the need for the support of multiculturalism on government.
“It’s the communities in Victoria that demands a better policy outcome and better resources which puts the onus on governments to deliver.”
The establishment of cultural precincts enhancement funding was seen as an achievement by Mr Lekakis, while he looked forward to reforms in the translating and interpreting industry.
“I want more funds for people that cannot communicate effectively with government and want more service with vulnerable people in our community,” Mr Lekakis AO said.
Another Victorian, Mike Zafiropoulos, former SBS director was honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia, (AM) for his ‘service to the community through executive roles with a range of arts, cultural and media organisations’ as an advocate of multiculturalism.
“It’s recognition of 40 years of community involvement, it makes one feel proud, I also feel humbled by the experience,” said Mr Zafiropoulos.
He said he was conscious of the fact that there are many unknown volunteers that have not been recognised.
“Even within the community sector we have not found ways to say ‘thank you for what you do’,” he said.
Mr Zaffiropoulos AM said he was a little sad that too often people work for many years in community organisations, giving up their time and money but “they finish their tenure and are forgotten.”
He lamented “the retreat from multiculturalism.”
“Multiculturalism was one of the biggest achievements Australia could claim. We could show the world that with almost 50 per cent of the population from 200 different nations, we are a harmonious society but we did not take advantage of our position,” said Mr Zafiropoulos AM to Neos Kosmos.
He added that now “lip service is paid to multiculturalism” while the absence of institutions to support the policy has taken a toll.
“Look at the institutions we used to have; the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs or Language Australia in Canberra, and look at the mess we are in relation to the promotion of Asian languages,” said Mr Zafiropoulos AM.
Both Mr Lekakis and Mr Zafiropoulos, endorsed the MP Petro Georgiou’s valedictory speech made in parliament last week when Mr Georgiou attacked both Abbott and Rudd for their approach to asylum seekers.
“I believe that the community and religious based organisations should be looking after refugees at a fraction of the cost,” said Mr Lekakis OA, adding that the Department of Immigration can make decisions as to whether they reject their claims or accept them, and there would be “less cost to the community and less human rights abuses.”
Mr Zaffiropoulos AM said he shared Mr Georgiou’s pessimism, adding, “here is a person who deserved a ministerial position, but because of his position on refugees and multiculturalism, he was punished.”
Mrs Marika Bisas from Victoria was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for ‘services to the Greek community of Victoria.’
The 2007 Castellorizan of the Year, Mrs Bisas, said to Neos Kosmos, “I am a little saddened as there are so many others who have done so much as community volunteers who have not been recognised.”
She also pointed to the “increasing gap between those that have and have not” over the last 30 years.
Other awardees include Associate Professor John Michael Svigos from South Australia who was recognised for ‘services to medicine… in the field of obstetrics and perinatology.’
He said it was has been a “humbling experience” for him and thanked his patients, his wife and family, his medical and paramedical colleagues and staff.
The feeling of the honour was best described by Mr Lekakis who said, “If someone had told me as a boy growing up in a house in Brunswick shared with four other families 40 years ago that one day I would be awarded the Order of Australia I would never have believed them.”
Other awardees include: Dr Zissis Tsiaousis Dardalis (VIC) OAM; Irene Frangioudakis (VIC) OAM Michael Angelo (WA) OAM; Emanuel John Comino (NSW) AM for their services to the Greek community and charitable work; Constantinos Nikias (ACT) OAM for services to the community of ACT; Petty Officer Emma Dawn Procopis (NSW) Conspicuous Service Medal for meritorious achievement at HMAS Waterhen; and Anastatios Efkarpidis (ACT) OAM for services to business and the retail sectors.