“People don’t realise, even though we’re of Greek heritage, it’s in none of our political interests to work on issues relating to Greece. The reality is, we do this stuff at our own political expense. We do this stuff, because, in Melbourne, in the third biggest Greek city in the world, you cannot not engage on these things. They’re important to us,” states Victorian state MP John Pandazopoulos.
Media focused on Pandazopoulos’ last visit to the Greek capital in July, and his role as President of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association (WHIA) along with MPs from diaspora nations who are invited to attend a bi-annual conference in Greece, financed by the Greek Parliament.
Pandazopoulos was presiding over the 8th General Assembly of the association, and the twenty-nine delegates attending (seven of whom were from Australia) had their travel and accommodation paid for by the Greek Parliament. The trip was largely discussed because it was taking place within days of the same parliament passing huge pay cuts and tax increases on its own citizens. The Victorian MP states that he is used to this kind of media attention when it comes to his passion for Australian – Greek relations.
“The cost of democracy is having to spend money,” says the former Tourism minister, who says he was not offended by accusations of some media in Victoria about last month’s trip to Athens. “I don’t get offended by the Herald Sun, because they’ll always have a go.” The Victorian MP added that ”all this is a competitive game and that when it became a media story, some of his detractors decided to be critics and withdraw from the conference”.
“We were guests of the Greek Government. We ran a conference that cost 80,000 euro this year, that two years ago cost 50,000 euro. Some people had business class fares, not all. Should it be economy? That’s under review. It was an offer that the Greek Government wanted to make for those travelling long-haul because the day we arrived we were starting work.”
Despite all criticism, Pandazopolous finds that the inter-parliamentary association is worth his and others’ time, as well as the Greek Parliament’s continuing investment. “As politicians we’re facing similar issues. If you’re trying to deal with climate change, you have to talk to other politicians around the world. The Greek diaspora community are facing the same challenges. This is about politician to politician relationships. At the end of the day, politicians drive public policy. The whole idea is about knowledge building, politicians having to talk to each other, not just government bureaucracy to government bureaucracy.”