Greece’s Minister of Interior Niki Kerameus spoke directly to the Greek community in Australia on Monday, December 4, as part of The Hellenic Initiative of Australia‘s 6th Digital Conversation Series.
The webinar with Minister Kerameus touched on a range of important issues, including her priorities in her current portfolio, her views on the not-for-profit landscape in Greece, and the announcement of reforms to the public service sector in Greece.
‘You are ambassadors of our country’:
Of significant importance of course, was the Minister’s comments on the recent introduction of postal voting for the Greek diaspora in the upcoming European Parliament elections.
Greece’s government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis confirmed on December 1 that the diaspora will be able to vote in European elections via postal vote, however there may be a “different procedure” for Greek national elections.
During the THI Australia event, Minister Kerameus commented on this historical news and said the government wanted to remove all barriers to the diaspora participating in Greece’s democratic system.
“In July 2023, we lifted all legal barriers regarding Greeks living abroad who want to vote. During the past elections, in order to vote you had to prove you had lived in Greece for a certain period of time, you had to file a tax declaration, etc. We thought it was extremely important to lift all such barriers and that’s what we did,” the Minister said.
“But truth be told, there were some practical impediments. We had lifted legal barriers but at the same time, as you know, during the past elections if you wanted to vote you had to travel for instance from Perth to Melbourne. So that was a huge impediment… and that’s why we have been striving to lift all practical burdens as well.”
Minister Kerameus said the postal voting system now “removed all legal and practical barriers” for the diaspora, and encouraged them to spread the word to the Greek Australian community.
“The role of the diaspora is crucial and we are grateful for all that you do. You are ambassadors of our country abroad and that’s why we are so adamant also about lifting all barriers for Greece’s voice to be heard as strong as possible across the globe,” she said.
“The law is expected to be voted on in January 2024 so five months ahead of the next European elections.
“We depend on you to get the message across for every single Greek living in Australia to become aware of this most important change that he or she will be able to vote through postal vote during the next European elections.”
Greek language maintenance and potential visit to Australia:
Following on from this topic, the Chairman of THI Australia, Nicholas G Pappas, asked the Minister for her thoughts on maintaining the Greek language in Australia.
This question came in the face of schools and tertiary institutions such as Macquarie University in Sydney and Northcote High School in Melbourne at risk of discontinuing their Modern Greek Studies programs.
The Interior Minister, who was also Greece’s former Minister for Education and Religious Affairs between 2015 and 2023, said although there are many ways to enhance the Greek language, there are also difficulties when it comes to recruitment of teachers.
“There are many ways to maintain and enhance the teaching of the Greek language – one has to do with school and the other has to do with universities,” she said.
“As far as the schools are concerned, I know that the Ministry of Education is working very hard in terms of securing the necessary personnel – it’s not always easy, I must tell you. It’s not always easy to find teachers who are willing to travel and to live abroad given also the high living expenses.”
Minister Kerameus also stressed the importance of utilising material provided by Greece to schools abroad, as well as the value of international partnerships between Greek and Australian universities.
To conclude the webinar, Mr Pappas asked the Minister when we could expect to see her in Australia to discuss these topics with the local Greek community in person.
She replied, “With these recent changes, both the Alternate Minister Thodoris Livanis and myself, we are looking at conveying the message and getting in touch with Greeks abroad and in Australia as well.”