By Panagiotis Dalatariof.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne made her first official visit to Greece on Wednesday and met with her Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.
The Greek Herald was among the only three media that were given an exemption to attend and report on the first official visit of an Australian Foreign Minister to Greece in 10 years.
‘We are proud of Greeks who immigrated to Australia’:
During the joint press conference of the two leaders, Dendias welcomed Payne to Greece and focused on the relations between Greece and Australia and on the ties that remain strong over time.
“Timeless relationships, based on inseparable bonds of friendship, have been forged between our peoples,” Dendias said, while stressing that the presence of Australia’s Ambassador to Greece, Arthur Spyrou, is a link between the two countries.
“And we are, and I want to say, particularly proud of the Greeks who immigrated to Australia and integrated into Australian society and contributed to the progress and prosperity of their new homeland.
“Our expatriates in Australia are the solid foundation, the bridge for the development and strengthening of ties, not only of friendship, but of mutual understanding between the two countries.”
The Greek Foreign Minister also referred to the two countries common history during WWII and the Battle of Crete connection. He stressed how 80 years after the Battle, Greece and Australia continue to defend the same principles and values of democracy and freedom.
“The Greeks, do not forget the sacrifices of Australia, of the Australians, on the battlefields of the two world wars,” Dendias said.
Strengthening multilateral cooperation:
During the talks, Dendias also had the opportunity to brief Minister Payne on issues in the Eastern Mediterranean and the destabilising role of Turkey in the region.
“I’m very pleased with the way Australia is dealing with the Law of the Sea and UNCLOS, because there is a broad consensus between us, as well as a consensus on the need to respect international law,” Dendias said.
The Greek Foreign Minister then stressed there is ground for improvement in economic relations between both countries, especially after “the significant Australian investment in Greece in [Greece’s] electricity distribution network.”
Investment opportunities in tourism, transport, energy, the green economy and manufacturing were also discussed.
“We agreed that our first meeting after ten years… will be the beginning of a series of close contacts between our two countries, a visit of the President of the Republic, a visit of the Prime Minister, our own meetings, also contacts of lawyers, of the scientists of the two ministries on the issues of Maritime Law and the evolution of UNCLOS,” Dendias concluded.
Role of Greek Australians in advancing bilateral relations:
In response to Dendias, the Australian Foreign Minister thanked him for welcoming her on her historic trip to Greece and focused on the strong relationship between both countries.
“I am very proud of our country’s diplomatic mission here. We really have close relations with Greece. They are two countries that share essential historical ties and a very close bond at the level of our peoples and common values,” Payne said.
“Our relationship has been further strengthened by the very large and active Greek community in Australia. It is a very vibrant community with a very significant contribution to the business sector, to investment, to culture. It is one of the largest expatriates in the world.”
Payne then stressed the historic ties between Greece and Australia through the presence of Australian soldiers in Greece during WWII, before acknowledging the “many events” held by the Greek community in Australia this year to mark the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution.
Lastly, she said Australia will continue to support the efforts for de-escalation in maritime areas based on International Law.
“We are strong advocates of international law and the institutions based on the United Nations Charter. Greece and Australia will continue to cooperate at the level of international organisations based on common principles and common interests,” she said, adding that Australia also supports strategic relations in the Indo-Pacific region.
Meeting with President Sakellaropoulou:
Minister Payne also met with the President of Greece, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, on Wednesday at the Presidential Mansion.
During the meeting, Sakellaropoulou spoke of the active presence and participation of Greek Australians in the political, economic and social life of the country. She stressed that they acted as a stable bridge of communication between Greece and Australia.
There was also a special mention of the historic ties between the two countries, along with a series of issues, such as battling the pandemic, the situation in the Mediterranean and Indo-Pacific regions and the political, economic and cultural ties between Greece and Australia.
Given Payne’s dual ministerial capacity, as both foreign minister and minister for women, they also discussed the role and position of women in both countries and the initiatives to strengthen their rights.
Wreath to the Unknown Soldier:
During her visit to Greece, Minister Payne also paid tribute to the monument of the Unknown Soldier in Athens by laying a wreath.
Present at the wreath laying, which took place prior to Payne’s meeting with Dendias, was the Deputy Minister of National Defence, Nikolaos Hardalias, the Secretary of the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kathryn Campbell, the Ambassador of Australia to Greece, Arthur Spyrou and a delegation of diplomats of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During the ceremony, Payne recalled the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, where troops from Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain “fought with great honour together with the Greek soldiers.”
She also pointed out that “this bond is honoured every year in Australia.”
Finally, she expressed her concern about the situation in Afghanistan and noted that Greece and Australia want to see a stable Afghanistan that will move away from extremism and support human rights, especially in terms of protecting women and girls.
At the conclusion of Payne’s visit to Greece, she will visit Austria and Belgium to meet with diplomats in those countries.