Yanis Varoufakis delivers keynote address at HACCI SA event

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By Peter Tantalos.

Launching their 2024 calendar, the South Australian Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce (HACCI SA) held a sold-out event titled “Global Events and Local Impact” with a keynote address by prominent economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

The event also featured a dynamic Q&A session with the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis MP, a senior Minister of the South Australian Government, which provided insightful dialogue on global and local challenges facing Australia and the world.

Kosta Koutsonas, the Chair of HACCI SA, articulated the essence of these gatherings in his opening remarks.

yanis varoufakis HACCI SA
Chair of HACCI SA Kosta Koutsonas. All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Peter Tantalos.

“Each meeting we host carries a theme reflective of our collective aspirations – from Unity in Prospect to fostering gender balance in Unley. Today, we emphasise Gratitude; Gratitude for our members’ unwavering support, gratitude towards our sponsors, and our acknowledgment of the public servants,” he said.

Koutsonas emphasised the importance of HACCI in promoting and recognising both Hellenic cultural roots and business ambitions.

In his speech, Varoufakis navigated through the complex terrain of political and economic discourse, aiming to transcend political divides and engage in constructive dialogue, by emphasising first the commonalities that bound attendees regardless of their political affiliations – their Greek heritage, their shared Australian identity, and an underlying respect for the native land and its significance to the First Nation people.

yanis varoufakis HACCI SA
Yanis Varoufakis.

On Greece, Mr Varoufakis outlined broad perspectives on the domestic economic landscape. First, he outlined the optimistic narrative provided by the Mitsotakis Government:

“If I were a Minister of the Mitsotakis government, I would come here and ask you to join me in celebrating Greece’s great recovery. It is a position that resonates with the Wall Street Journal, with the Financial Times, with international press, everybody is indeed celebrating that Greece is out of the woods… If anything, it is being talked about and talked up as a result of the fact that [Greece] has a higher growth rate than Germany [and that Greece] is no longer under the Europeans Union fiscal rules… in terms of deficit limits,” he said.

Varoufakis also outlined the achievements as touted by the current government including the political stability of the government after securing a decisive electoral victory, Greece’s close alignment with NATO and strategic interests of Washington via their support for Ukraine and Israel.

yanis varoufakis HACCI SA
Sold out event with address.

However, Varoufakis presented an alternative viewpoint from his political perspective of MeRA25, bringing to light a sobering counter-narrative to the Government’s triumphalist claims.

He pointed out Greece’s economic recovery is exaggerated, with GDP and public debt figures indicating long-term challenges. This included the comparison of Greece in 2010 to the GDP figures today, where Varoufakis suggests that Greece’s debt is much higher today and income is lower as compared to 2010 levels.

“80% of population have zero savings, and of the remaining 20% they have savings of no more than 3000 euros. Savings in general are declining because people are finding it hard to make ends meet, increasing their private debt and using savings to live,” he said.

“The median Greek is today, in terms of spending power, 26% below the levels of 2007. If that happened in Australia, this country would be up in arms.”

Varoufakis highlighted other critical challenges facing Greece, emphasising the burden of non-performing loans and the systemic pressure they exert on approximately 1.2 million Greek households and businesses. Additionally, the discourse also touched on the adverse effects of the country’s housing stock being “exported” to foreign investors in exchange for Schengen visas that offer visa holders the right to live in Europe, further complicating the economic landscape.

yanis varoufakis HACCI SA
Special guests with Kosta Koutsonas and Yanis Varoufakis.

Finally, Varoufakis discussed the changing international economic and social landscape in the context of his new book Techno-feudalism – What Killed Capitalism.

Varoufakis claimed that “Big tech – Google, Facebook etc – has built a new form of capital. A kind of capital, being the hypothesis in my book, which has never existed before… and it is a produced means of behavioural modification.”

Expanding on this, Varoufakis explained that this behavioural modification has existed since the time of Homer, through means of written, rhetorical, and advertising language. However, the distinction here, he suggests, is that the algorithm which underpins the technology is trained by the user, who consequently trains the technology to train the user, and so on.

The result, Varoufakis hypothesised, is that the “machine which we train to put desires into our heart, sells us what we now desire by bypassing every market directly… It makes you want a specific electric bicycle, and it also sells it to you.”

After Varoufakis delivered his address, the stage was set for a Q&A session between Varoufakis and Minister Koutsantonis. During this session, they discussed several key topics including the future of green energy production in Australia, the capitalisation of Australia’s wealth of natural resources to accommodate the green energy transition, the interconnection between the Australian economy and Asia, the current status of Australia-China relations, the issues surrounding private and public debt in Australia and its associated risks, as well as the state of economic growth in Greece and its position on the global stage.

yanis varoufakis HACCI SA
Hon. Tom Koutsantonis MP and Yanis Varoufakis on Q&A panel.

In relation to the new laws which enable Greek diaspora to vote in the upcoming European elections, Varoufakis provided an exclusive to The Greek Herald.

“…I would like to invite people to help my party, not to vote for us, but to help us to make one important change in the electoral administration. Because the Greek political system is exploiting Greek Australians. They want your votes, with no representation. They want your vote without representation,” he said.

“Our view is that we should have the Italian system, where South Australia should be a constituency, NSW should be a constituency, so you can elect your own representatives into Greek Parliament, otherwise you have the right to vote but not the right to be represented. That is very important.”

Special guests included the Hon. Tom Koutsantonis MP, South Australian Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Minister for Energy and Mining; the Hon. Andrea Michaels MP, Minister for Arts, Minister for Small and Family Business and Minister for Consumer and Business Affairs; The Hon. Chief Justice Chris Kourakis, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia; The Hon. Connie Bonaros MLC and The Hon. Steve Georganas MP, Federal Member for Adelaide.

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