Address By His Excellency Constantinos Stephanopoulos, President Of The Hellenic Republic
ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY CONSTANTINOS STEPHANOPOULOS, PRESIDENT OF THE HELLENIC REPUBLIC
His Excellency was conducted onto the floor of the Chamber.
Mr SPEAKER: Members, it is my pleasure to introduce the President of the Hellenic Republic, His Excellency Kostis Stephanopoulos, and to welcome His Excellency and his distinguished delegation to the New South Wales Parliament. His Excellency joins a select and unique group of dignitaries who have been afforded the privilege of addressing the New South Wales Legislature in recent times. Those dignitaries include the President of Ireland, the Governor of Tokyo, the Speaker of the British Parliament and the Governor of Seoul.
Mr President, as a former senior member of Parliament and distinguished Minister yourself, I know you are used to the cut and thrust of politics. This Chamber has a long tradition of robust debate. However, I can assure you that all members will be on their best behaviour this morning and that there will be no calls to order.
I now call on the Deputy Premier, the Hon. Dr Andrew Refshauge, to formally welcome our distinguished guest on behalf of the people of New South Wales.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville—Deputy Premier, Minister for Planning, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and Minister for Housing): First, I acknowledge that we stand on the traditional Aboriginal land of the Gadigal clan of the Eora people. Your Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic, on behalf of this audience, and of the people of New South Wales, I welcome you. I thank you for taking the long journey to see Australia and Australians and to meet with us today. You join a long list of your countrymen who have ventured to these distant shores. Since taking up your post as President in March 1995—an auspicious date for us here—your interest in Greeks abroad has been well known.
Greeks have had a strong presence in Australia since they began migrating here in 1827. My own electorate of Marrickville boasts a proud and robust Greek Australian population, as well as being the headquarters of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK. With immigrants from almost every country around the world, your people have made an immeasurable contribution to the contemporary character of this country—through the professions, through business, through both the academic and social spheres—but particularly to the multicultural character that gives Australia one of the world's most envied lifestyles and allows us to claim the mantle of one of the world's healthiest, genuine democracies. For that, we are indebted to you.
It was, of course, the Greek philosophers who defined the character of a democracy and its inherent commitment to liberty and equality and its commitment to diversity. Plato's work particularly resonated with the notion that a democracy gains much of its strength from its variety and disorder. As he said:
This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of States, being like an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower.
And, just as … children think a variety of colours to be of all things most charming, so there are many men to whom this State which is spangled with the manners and characters of mankind will appear to be the fairest of States.
The rich characters of Greek Australians spangle our State, playing an invaluable role in our contemporary lifestyle and social psyche. We would like to think that we could return some of that contribution to your homeland to support Greeks in Greece as we do those in Australia.
The Premier of New South Wales has spoken many times of his commitment to returning the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Indeed, he is an honorary member of the Australians for the Return of the Parthenon Marbles Association. Today, here on the floor of this Parliament and as citizen of a country home to one of the world's largest communities of Greek background, I would like to reiterate that commitment. Again I assure you of this Government's support in returning these masterpieces to their rightful, spiritual home—to putting them back within the context that returns the sense of place and identity appropriate to some of the most culturally significant artefacts of Western civilisation. Your Excellency, we congratulate you on the return of the Olympic Games to their birthplace for the year 2004. Our experience in the year 2000 enhanced Australia with the Olympic ideals. We hope that Athens in 2004 will help restore around the world those ideals of excellence, honour and harmony.
In 1999 an exhibition at our State Library, next door, celebrated the venerable spirit of Greek Australians with a range of photographic works. That exhibition included a photograph of Peter Capsanis, aged 84, taken at an old people's home in Kythera. Born in 1906, Peter had left Kythera for Australia at age 15. After working in cafes in the western New South Wales towns of Uralla and Woodstock, he turned his hand to fruit picking before establishing a cafe at Oberon, near Bathurst. He returned to Greece late in life, after the death of his Greek-born wife, to live at his home in Kythera surrounded by memorabilia of his life here in Australia. One of his most prized possessions was a fragile press clipping from Bathurst's 1947 Western Times newspaper. It detailed his feelings about his two countries. He said:
Our countries have always been allies, and have fought together in the struggle for the existence of peace-loving nations.
The bond of friendship has been strengthened through the undaunted spirit of the Australians in Greece.
Greece will never forget the Australians, who from 10,000 miles away came to her assistance in the dark hours when she was being run over by the enemy.
That action will be honoured by Greeks for generations to come.
Your Excellency, the Australians who were in Greece and Crete recognise and thank the Greeks for the support they had in that most difficult time for your country and the world. My father was there. He is still alive, and sends his congratulations and thanks to your countrymen. We honour you today and we thank you for your work in further cementing the bond of friendship between our two great nations.
Mr BROGDEN (Pittwater—Leader of the Opposition): Mr President, personally and on behalf of the members of the Liberal Party and the Opposition, the next government of New South Wales, I have pleasure in welcoming you here this morning. I extend the welcome to Australia, the State of New South Wales, Sydney and this historic parliamentary Chamber. As an Australian I acknowledge in your presence the exceptional contribution to our new nation by the people from your older nation who have chosen to make this place their home. I acknowledge that you represent the founders of the great democratic spirit that links Greece to every free nation in the world.
As a New South Welshman and a Sydneysider I acknowledge the very particular ties that exist between our two nations, most recently in the handing over from us to you of the Olympic flag, which flew so proudly in our city two years ago and will fly two years hence in Athens. At the Sydney Olympics your nation won four gold medals, six silver and three bronze. I hope that you will see an enhancement of that number in Athens—although, of course, not at the expense of Australia! As a member of Parliament I welcome you also to this very Chamber. This is a unique building. I am sure that you would appreciate there are many ways in which funds are raised to build parliamentary buildings, usually by taxing the very people who are supposed to benefit from having the Parliament in the first place.
In Sydney we had a unique method of funding this, Australia's first parliamentary building. Instead of paying the builders, we allowed them a monopoly on the import and sale of rum. We have never lost this knack for innovative ways of paying for public buildings. Indeed, our most famous public building, the Opera House, was financed from lotteries. Democracy, of course, is one of the common threads we share with you and your fellow countrymen and women. Democracy is the legacy of my people from yours. Democracy is our debt to you. Democracy is the rule of the people whose principles we have inherited from you and whose very ethos arises from your soils, which is something for which this nation and its people have been prepared to struggle, fight, defend and, if necessary, die.
The democracy practised in Pericles' Athens both teaches and warns. The right of all free males to participate in the deliberations of the ecclesia, to be elected to high office, to serve on the juries and which required elected officials to be held publicly accountable for their stewardship in office are all fundamental to the way in which our democracy has developed. However, Pericles' democracy was based upon the exclusion of most of the population—the women and the slaves. It could be tragically intolerant also, as it showed in the condemnation of Socrates for doing no more than insisting that "the unexamined life was not worth living" and for allegedly corrupting the youth by encouraging them to question and think for themselves.
It is our determination to make Australian democracy fully inclusive so that no-one is left out and no-one is left behind. In Australia we, along with our cousins in New Zealand, led the way in enfranchising women. It is worth recording today that this is the great anniversary in that process of expanding democracy from the domain of the privileged few to the truly represented masses of the people. It was on 7 June 1832 that the Great Reform Act was passed by the British Parliament. By that Act all antiquated forms of the franchise were eliminated and replaced with a single requirement, which, although still based on some economic criteria, nevertheless extended the franchise further in one sweep than had ever been previously recorded.
Today is also the anniversary of the first direct elections for the European Parliament in 1979. I know that your country, Mr President, is now playing a leading role in the affairs of Europe. We all watch with great interest what will develop for the future of a more integrated Europe. Your own country struggled long and hard to bring unity where disunity prevailed, to overcome historic ethnic linguistic and geographic divisions, and I am sure in this regard that you and your country have much to teach Europe. Australian democracy has some unique features, one of which is compulsory voting, and I am most proud of that. To some it seems strange that we should compel our people to vote in a democracy. However, the concept may be found in the very words of Pericles. Of course, as you would know, there is a great paean to democracy recorded in Thucydides' version of Pericles' funeral speech given in reverence over the bodies of the fallen at the end of the first year of the great Pelopennesian War. Your distinguished predecessor said:
Democracy requires all of us to be active in its works and operations, to take responsibility for selecting our leaders and for making our voices heard in the deliberations and decisions of public policy. In addition, of course, compulsory voting does what participation in the ecclesia did: it eliminates the disproportionate influence of either the fanatic or the fantastically wealthy. Democracy requires great tolerance also. It is our job as parliamentarians in Australia and Greece to stand firm against intolerance.
We do not say that a man who takes no part in civic affairs is minding his own business, we say he has no business here at all.
Your Excellency, I said that people from Greece have made a notable contribution to our nation, and that is indeed the case, although Greek migration to Australia commenced relatively late compared with many other settler communities. It was not until after your nation had achieved independence in 1830 that much was reported in your country about ours. Indeed, in 1832 a Greek geography book stated in relation to Australia:
Very little is known about the country, and scarcely anything is worth mentioning.
Your presence here today proves how that has changed. The first Greek settlers shared a particular bond with the first European settlers of Sydney—they were convicts. On 27 August 1829 seven young sailors from Hydra convicted of robbery by a British naval count in Malta arrived here on the convict ship Norfolk. They were assigned to work—two of them for Macarthur's vineyards. After eight years the new Government of recently independent Greece asked for them to be pardoned and offered repatriation. The pardons were granted, but two of the convicts decided to remain in this new nation. Adonis Manolis became a gardener in Picton and Ghikas Boulgaris became a grazier, married an Irish colleen and died in 1874 leaving nine children and 50 grandchildren.
Our first Greek woman immigrant has one of the most fascinating stories of all. Her name was Aikaterini Plessas. We do not know exactly where in north-west Greece she was born, but at age 12 she was betrothed to the physician Ioannis Koletis, who later became Prime Minister of Greece. Obviously he was one of those very rare breed of politicians—he did not keep his word! Aikaterini Plessas returned home where she met Lord Byron several times, escaped a Turkish blockade and married a local British commandant, also an Irishman, who was a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo and eventually became a police magistrate at Newcastle. She lived to the ripe old age of 97. Mr President, I do not know what the particular attraction between the Greeks and the Irish might be—perhaps it is something to do with the red hair—because our first free Greek male settler, known as John Peters, also married an Irish woman.
This Parliament is the home of many proud Greek sons: George Souris, James Samios, Michael Costa, Milton Orkopoulos and John Hatzistergos. Might I say on behalf of the Liberal Party that we are very proud that the Leader of our Coalition partner, the National Party, is himself the son of successful hard-working Greek immigrants. From a tiny trickle of early settlers a veritable flood tide of your countrymen and women have chosen Australia as their permanent home. In our 1901 census data we recorded only 1,000 people listing Greece as their place of birth. By 1971 it was 160,000 and in 1999 it was 140,000. The 1996 census in New South Wales lists just over 41,000 people giving Greece as their birthplace.
Although statistically this does not represent a great proportion of our State population, nevertheless the impact of the Greek community on our lives and on multiculturalism in New South Wales goes way beyond those simple figures. I invite you, Mr President, in your brief trip, to travel to our suburbs to see the extent and success of the Greek culture and community. The Greek community has contributed much also to the spiritual lives of this State with the foundation in 1898 of the first Orthodox Church, Holy Trinity, not far from here in Bourke Street. Today under the leadership of Archbishop Stylanios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of Australia, the church has grown to over 120 parishes, a theological college, welfare centres, high schools and nursing homes.
The community has contributed to our sporting life, especially through the world game of soccer. It has contributed to the development of our media with newspapers and community broadcasts on radio and television. Modern Greek is taught in a number of high schools and ancient Greek is maintained in some. Our cultural life is enriched by Greek Australians at all levels, especially by a new emerging group of playwrights, film-makers, television personalities and actors.
Mr President, we are proud in New South Wales that many of our academic institutions have made the study of Greek archaeology and the classics an important part of our intellectual tradition. Research trips to your part of the world are very common and many Greek Australians are members of historical and archaeological associations that support this research. However, just as many indigenous Australians have sought to commence negotiations with institutions in other countries which, for historical reasons, have become the repository of important and sacred indigenous material, we understand why the Greek people feel an incompleteness, knowing that the Parthenon Marbles—arguably one of the most important artefacts from the classical Greek culture—are on foreign soil.
Just as we understand the need for many Aboriginal people to seek the repatriation of those important pieces of their culture and heritage, so we support you in your wish to see a resolution in the matter of the Parthenon Marbles. In conclusion, may I again draw inspiration from the words of that famous funeral speech and say I hope that your abiding memories of our people and our nation, and the manifestation of the deep and abiding ties between our peoples, may, like the memory of those fallen heroes, be graven not so much on stone as in the hearts of men.
Mr SOURIS (Upper Hunter—Leader of the National Party): Axiotime, kiri Prothere, tis Ellathos. Mr Speaker, Madam President in the Speaker's Gallery, Deputy Premier, Leader of the Opposition, His Excellency the Ambassador for Greece, the Consul General of Greece, members of Parliament. I will use English because I know that very few of us in this Chamber have bilingual proficiency in Greek and English. Mr President, welcome to the New South Wales Parliament. This is the first House of parliamentary democracy in Australia. The Parliament of New South Wales dates from the Legislative Council's origins in 1824 to the establishment of representative-elected democracy in this Chamber in 1856. Mr President, apart from the Monarch, who has opened Parliament, you are only the third Head of State to address the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales.
I acknowledge, as the Deputy Premier and the Leader of the Opposition did also, the presence of Greeks among the early migrants of Australia—in fact in the Second Fleet. I was delighted to hear the Deputy Premier make reference to Mr Capsanis, who is a distant relative of mine. The great migration from pre-war and post-war Europe has created a diaspora around the world almost equivalent in number to the Hellenic population itself. I commend the Government of Greece and the people of Greece for recognising the importance of this phenomenon, and indeed the Council of Greeks Abroad and the work that it is doing. I acknowledge also the presence of the director-general, Dimitri Dollis, who is a former member of the Victorian Parliament and who is present as part of your delegation today.
The struggle for those early migrants was a simple one: to find a new life, to educate the children, to make a contribution to society, and to eventually return to Greece. All succeeded in various ways in the first three objectives. Very few, however, pursued the last option. Mr President, I ask you to imagine the sight and scene of two little boys arriving at Woolloomooloo, which is just near this Parliament, on a ship sailing under the Greek flag, with a piece of paper on which was written the name "Quirindi"—the name of a town quite a few kilometres away in the countryside to the north-west of Sydney. Those two kids somehow made their way from Woolloomooloo wharf to Central railway station in Sydney.
I cannot imagine how they made the journey from Greece to Australia, but I often contemplate how these two little boys—incapable of speaking English—even knew where Central railway station could possibly be located or that the North-west Mail was the train to catch, let alone that they had to get off at a town called Quirindi, where there were people who would take them in and give them a job in one of the cafes. Of course, cafes are a feature of the landscape of country New South Wales. Well, they did it: they got off the train at Quirindi. They were put into the kitchen—that was the best place to put newly arrived kids because it would slow down their ability to learn English, buy another cafe, and start making their own money! Those two kids are my two uncles and, of course, I am very proud of them.
Mr President, Greek migrants found their new life here—many of them in the country, as I have just described—and there is a strong and continuing bond, not only with the metropolitan area of Sydney but with the vast hinterland of Sydney and the country areas of New South Wales. The Greek Orthodox Church and archdiocese is one of the most significant in Australia today, and Greeks in Australia have made a contribution to industry, to commerce, to the professions, in academia, and, of course, to parliamentary democracy. Yannis Hatzistergos is from Kos, Mitiathis Orkopoulos is from Katerini, Dimitris Samios is from Kythera—and I am also from Kythera in heritage and origins—and Mixalis Costa is from Cyprus. Throughout Australia there are 20 members of Parliament presently serving in State parliaments or Federal Parliament who are of Greek heritage or Greek origins. Many more have served in State or Federal parliaments over the years, and others have become or are mayors or councillors within the structure of local government in this country.
We wish Greece well for the 2004 Olympic Games. We in Australia are very pleased that the Games of Sydney are to be followed by the Games of Athens. It would have given us even more pleasure had the Sydney 2000 Olympics been preceded by an Athens Centenary Games. Mr President, I hope you are able to report the good standing of the Greek community in Australia and the integrity with which the Greek culture and heritage is represented, and carry the best wishes of all Australians for the prosperity and success of the Hellenic Republic. Zito I Hellas. Kei Australia. Efxaristo.
Mr SPEAKER: It is my pleasure to invite His Excellency to address the Chamber.
HIS EXCELLENCY CONSTANTINOS STEPHANOPOULOS (President of the Hellenic Republic): Honourable President of the Council, honourable Speaker of the Assembly, honourable Premier, honourable Deputy Premier, honourable Leader of the Opposition, honourable Leader of the National Party, honourable members of the Legislative Assembly, I ask permission to speak in Greek because maybe I understand English but I am not able to speak it well. I will ask my interpreter to help me.
I should like to thank all of you for your warm welcome, as well as the references you have made to ancient Greek democracy and for the stories that you have related to us about the first Greek settlers in New South Wales, as well as for your kind words about my country. I have many things for which to thank you but allow me to mention only some of them.
First and foremost, I should like to thank you because in Australia and in your State you have a functioning democracy that makes you proud and makes us proud as well. Ladies and gentlemen, we have to understand that democracy is not global yet, though it is considered to be. It truly is the best possible political system. Geographically, we can say it is rather limited. Even where democracy is the political system, even then we must think of ways in which to further perfect it to make it more complete because democracy is an ideal for which we have to continuously strive. Allow me say a few things about the functioning of democracy in my country. After the fall of the dictatorship in 1974, already in 1975 our country adopted one of the most modern and most democratic constitutions in the world, and we are proud of that. In 1986 there was a first reform of this Constitution and last year, in 2001, there was a second one, and, therefore, we still boast that we have a very modern Constitution.
The main focus of the 1986 reform was to strengthen the authority of the Prime Minister, who is the most important person in our system, and at the same time remove some of the authority of the President of the Republic, who did not need it at the time. The second reform, that of 2001, was extensively debated, both among the specialists on constitution but also by the media. It mainly focused on the strengthening of the articles on human rights protection, strengthening local government and strengthening the democratic system. At the same time, for the first time, it recognised the independence of certain very important institutions for the functioning of democracy, such as the Ombudsman and the authority for the protection of personal data.
But, ladies and gentlemen, what is very important now is the phenomenon and disappointment in Greece, in Europe, among the people who are the sovereigns in every country and in every democracy, in relation to political life. People are not very interested in politics and politicians, and this is of great concern to us. This could be due to the fact that major ideologies are retreating. There are great similarities among political parties in the same way that globalisation is proceeding around the world. Moreover, there have been other phenomena, cases of extreme right parties—and, of course, I have nothing against any ideology—and extreme cases where people are very concerned or become concerned by looking at the increasing number of newcomers in their countries who threaten them. There have been such examples in many European countries, such as in France, The Netherlands and Denmark, and there is a general movement for things that are not fully compatible with the democratic rule, but I am sure that the antibodies of democracy will manage to deal with these problems.
I should also like to thank you for making reference to a common fight in the battlefield. I am aware of the fact that one of the most important battles for Australia is that of Gallipoli. Please let me refer to that briefly, although Greece did not actually take part in this battle. It was in 1915 when there was major disagreement in Greece between the then King and the then Prime Minister about whether Greece should go into World War I on the side of the Allies, which was the entente at the time. At the time, Greece was called on to take part in the expedition to Gallipoli. The matter was heavily debated at the time. One subsequent dictator, who was a very able officer in the armed forces, said that Greece should not take part in this expedition which was bound to fail because it lacked the element of surprise. He said, "We have been discussing it for too long and the other side, the Turks, will be prepared. Therefore, we cannot bear the cost of taking part in an expedition that is bound to fail."
But that, of course, does not diminish the bravery of the Allied forces and the Australian forces who were fighting alongside them. Those forces fought for a long time. They suffered a lot and they suffered many victims. This is a great glory for them. Greece and Australia fought side by side inside territorial Greece, in Crete. That battle was also lost but it is still a great glory, just like Gallipoli. Yesterday in Canberra I was very moved when I was able to lay a wreath, first of all, at the Australian war monument which, as you all know, bears the names of all those who were lost in battle, and then at the nearby Greek-Australian monument where we paid our respects to the common struggles of Greeks and Australians. I have laid many wreaths during my visits to many countries. The programs always provide for the laying of a wreath. I always feel very moved after looking at the glory of those countries. But those feelings are no match for what I felt yesterday when I laid the wreath at this monument. I should like to thank you very much for this feeling that is part of my trip to your country.
I should also like to say a few things about the pride that we feel for Australian citizens of Greek origin who now have Australia as their main homeland and who serve Australia with commitment. But I know that they do not forget their country of origin, just like the Hon. George Souris—who really moved us with the story of his two uncles—about which I should like to say a few things. Our country, Greece, has gone through many periods of great difficulty. There was a time when this country was so poor that the people could not prosper; therefore, it was with great sadness that we lost many young people to many foreign lands—the United States of America, Canada, Australia and, more recently, just before our recent economic recovery, Germany.
It is possible that figures about Greek immigration are exaggerated but we think that, around the world, those people of Greek origin—either from both parents or one parent—must total around seven million. In our country, we have 10 million to 11 million people. We are proud of Greeks who have migrated all over the world, but we are especially proud of those who have come to Australia because of the welcome they have received here, because they were immediately recognised in their own right, and because they were given equal opportunities for education, prosperity and a better life. That is why we are very proud of our Greek-Australians. I should like to thank you very much for receiving them in your country, and I thank them very much.
Australia is a unique example of a nation in modern times. It is made up of different nationalities. You have managed to create a multicultural society much sooner than the United States of America. In this country, Irish people, Italians and Greeks live alongside one another, prosper and are able to enjoy everything. I would like to thank the Australian people and the institutions of this country, including your Parliament, the Parliament of Victoria and the Federal Parliament. I am very grateful for the way in which you have received our citizens. I am sorry that I am not able to meet all of them, and I ask the Hon. George Souris to convey my best wishes to those who live in Sydney and all over Australia.
I thank you for referring to the Olympic Games spirit and for the manner in which you organised the Olympic Games in Sydney. I also thank you for your assistance in our efforts to repatriate the Parthenon Marbles. We are not asking for the repatriation of all antiquities from all museums around the world, but we believe these Marbles are part of an existing monument from which they were violently removed, and we ask that they be returned to the Parthenon. Mr Speaker, I am fully conscious of the honour that you have given me in allowing me to address those members of Parliament who are in the Chamber. I feel deep gratitude and I can only thank you all and wish you all the best personally. To your country, Australia, I wish further prosperity, a constant improvement of democracy and your continuing contribution to the fields of culture, science and the arts. We are most grateful to you, and we cannot but thank you once more.
Mr SPEAKER: I will accompany His Excellency to the Speaker's Square. I know that some honourable members would like a pictorial record of his visit to Parliament, and they are most welcome to join us.
His Excellency left the Chamber.