“Macedonians have every right to call their country Macedonia,” was the statement made by Member for Hughes (NSW) Craig Kelly at a rally he attended in Sydney on Sunday 23 April, causing a stir within the Greek Australian community.
In response, Peter Jasonides, the National Co-Chair of the Australian Hellenic Council, wrote a letter of complaint to bring Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s attention to the matter.
This month the PM issued a reply in which he said that the federal government’s longstanding policy of using the name ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ “remains unchanged”.
“Our consistent position follows United Nations’ practice, and strives to remain impartial pending a mutually agreed solution among governments in Athens and Skopje,” said Mr Turnbull.
“I regret any offence caused to the Hellenic Republic and Greek Australians.”
The PM went on to acknowledge the contribution of Greek Australians in making Australia the highly successful multicultural country it is today and said that the government “remains mindful of the sensitivity and the depth of feeling regarding Australia’s use of the name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'”.
“I’m satisfied with the federal government’s position on the issue, as underlined once again by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,” Mr Jasonides told Neos Kosmos.
“I’m also satisfied that the Prime Minister ‘regrets any offence caused’. Prime Minister Turnbull is clearly and explicitly distancing Australia’s position on the ‘Macedonian’ issue from the bile that was dished out by the member for Hughes (NSW) Craig Kelly, a few weeks ago at a Skopjan rally in Sydney.”
The ACH Co-Chair noted that there have been questions in the NSW media since 2015 about the ‘membership’ activities in the electorate of Hughes, where the electorate borders have been redrawn, thus taking away a portion of the blue ribbon voters.
“And Mr Kelly, in the spirit of ‘political opportunism’, has flirted with the FYROM community, by luring them as members, in order to secure local branch support. He clearly does not understand the issue. He’s [ignorant] of the intricacies as well as the international protocols. And he shows a gross disrespect for Australia’s bipartisan approach to this issue,” Jasonides concludes.
Member for Hindemarsh, Steve Georganas, also reached out to the government, and received a letter of response from both the PM and Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop who expressed similar sentiments to Mr Turnbull.
“The government’s policy on the nomenclature is unchanged, and, as you note in your correspondence has remained so under successive Australian Governments since 1994.
“The government again considered the issue closely during 2014, and concluded Australia will continue its long-held practice.”
Ms Bishop concluded that while Mr Kelly’s views do not reflect the Australian Government’s policy, that all Australians are free to express their opinions, inclusive of government policy.
Meanwhile Mr Georganas praised the Greek Australian community for taking charge over the matter, and encouraged them to continue to do so.
“I would like to thank the Greek community for being so vigilant and proactive on this issue. The community has also written directly to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister, and such action needs to continue every time this issue is raised,” Mr Georganas told Neos Kosmos.