Lobbying ethnic voters: the case of the Greek community of Melbourne


The estrangement of ethnic voters from the two main political parties is one of the messages that came out of the last elections, as reported on June 13 by the local newspaper The Age. There are probably many distinct explanations for the diversity of cultural characteristics of ethnic communities in Australia, but the Greek community is the focus here, and it is vitally important that we learn from the past as we move forward, in especially for the Greek Orthodox. Community of Melbourne and Victoria (GOCMV).

In the early 1990s, the GOCMV faced enormous financial problems due to its large debt load, following a loan (approved in 1987 by the Annual General Assembly) for the purchase and operation of Alphington Grammar School and the sharp rise in interest rates. . GOCMV had faced a number of financial problems even before purchasing the school, but the purchase only accelerated the financial collapse of the organization. However, the board of GOCMV managed to obtain a loan from the National Bank of Greece ($4.75 million), guaranteed by the Greek government of Andreas Papandreou and approved by the Greek Parliament. The loan, which was never repaid, managed to save the community from bankruptcy, and subsequently the Greek government again came to the aid of the Greek community in the early 2000s, with another donation of $2.6 million to support Alphington Grammar School. No one would disagree with doing good deeds, but they should always be aligned with prudent financial decision-making. Greece finally faced its own demons of another bankruptcy and economic crisis in 2010, raising the question of a moral obligation for the GOCMV to meet its obligations to Greek taxpayers.

Fast forward more than 30 years later, and the final weeks of the election campaign have been intense, both publicly and behind the scenes. Publicly, until the very last week, political leaders made all sorts of promises, many of them costly, not to mention the spending cuts or tax increases that would be needed to pay them back in the future. This was the pre-election climate in Melbourne’s ‘formal’ Greek community, with negotiations by community organizations (religious and secular) to secure funding commitments from political parties. Along the way, the Federal Labor Party has pledged $1.8 million to fund GOCMV, the same amount has been pledged by the Liberal ruling coalition, to upgrade facilities at five key Greek community sites in Melbourne . It was preceded by an election pledge from the Australian Federal Labor Party to fund the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Melbourne with $10 million to establish a cultural centre. There was no apparent overlap between these funding commitments to these projects, despite the similarities. But as in the past, such an allocation of funds in the form of pledges or donations (also from Greece) spent by the “ruling classes” of the community without consultation can be seen as embezzlement.

In this context, there are some similarities between past and present decision-making that indicate a lack of transparent and careful behaviors. While the GOCMV may not face the danger of another bankruptcy these days, it is important that we understand that its progress would be far greater in the presence of decision-making based on independent feedback and constructive to avoid dangers in the future. Yet an indirect danger concerns the estrangement of the second and third (and so on) generations of the diaspora from unhealthy and non-inclusive community institutions that do not represent their values ​​and principles. Indeed, these institutions must be able to show flexibility and adaptability in order to engage with these generations who are constantly moving away from immigrant culture in constantly changing contexts, as well as from the new wave of Greek immigrants after 2010.

This danger of institutional shrinkage is significant considering that the GOCMV has a proportionately very small membership (around 1,500 members) given that Melbourne is the “capital” of the Greek Diaspora and as such is not really representative of the Greek dynamic. Melbourne community. Indeed, according to the 2021 Australian Census, Melbourne has the largest Greek population in Australia with 181,200 Greeks, which translates to a GOCMV representation of 0.8%. It will also be interesting to know how representative the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is of the Greek-Australian community, given that the last census in 2021 showed that Australia is very secular, with almost 40% of the population of the country reported as having no religion, a drop from 30% in 2016 to 22% in 2011. With this in mind, then, it is reasonable to ask whether these pledges of funding on behalf of the community to Greek Australians are taking place ( ultimately) in consultation with the wider community that GOCMV claims to represent. This does not appear to be the case, raising the question of how political parties view the interaction of ethnic community leaders with their members when making these funding pledges.

This in no way means that the funding pledges mentioned here have been misplaced, but it does raise concerns within the community due to lack of consultation, and political party citizens need more information as well as accountability expectations. for taxpayer-funded projects. Perceptions of political manipulation with ad hoc (or other) funding promises can be the flip side of the coin for many members of ethnic communities in a political landscape with unpredictable voting patterns, such as the emergence of so-called seats teal, where the most dominant feature was high levels of voter “education” according to emerging evidence.

The mainstream Greek-Australian community is not a predictable community that gives in to promises of political funding, but a community whose members express themselves politically as thinking, active citizens, taking an interest in public affairs, as was the case in the ancient Athenian democracy, as individuals. , as part of a larger society, not as part of an ethnic community. It is vitally important that the Greek government understands that its diaspora policy is selective and limited in terms of opening up to the traditional Greek diaspora.

Dr Steve Bakalis is an economist.


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