State Luncheon hosted by the President of Greece, Her Excellency Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Presidential Palace, Athens
Your Excellency, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen.
Linda and I are absolutely delighted to be in Greece to celebrate the enduring bonds of friendship between our nations and our shared war history.
We are grateful to you, President Sakellaropoulou, the Greek Government and the people of Greece, for the warm welcome we have received since arriving in Athens yesterday.
I now better understand the term philoxenia [being a friend to a stranger].
Thank you, again.
This is an historic occasion.
The renowned Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis wrote that when you set out on your road to Ithaca, you should pray that the road is long.
I fear, however, that the road has been overly long in getting here!
As many of you are aware, my visit to Greece is the first by an Australian head of state in more than 20 years.
I hasten to add that that length of time does not reflect the warmth and closeness of the ties between Australia and Greece and the deep affection felt for Greece in Australia. Indeed, Linda and I have both visited Greece in a private capacity.
Despite our geographical distance, our countries have never been closer or more aligned in the way we see the world.
You are not, as a predecessor of yours once said, a ‘brotherless nation’.
We Australians certainly consider ourselves your brothers and sisters.
As an aspiring archaeologist in my youth, I have always admired Greece’s ancient civilization.
I am looking forward on this visit to learning more about Greece’s modern and European path as well.
Many thousands of Australians return home every year after a visit to Greece in awe of your country’s historical legacy but also aware of the warmth of our bonds and Greece's modern trajectory.
Democracy, our very own form of government in Australia, was conceived right here.
Later today, Linda and I will have the privilege of visiting the Acropolis Monument and the Acropolis Museum, two word-class cultural sites.
These ancient legacies, foundational as they are of the very way of life we enjoy in Australia, were refreshed in the 20th Century, when Australia and Greece stood side by side in two World Wars.
In March 1915, Australian soldiers arrived on the Greek island of Lemnos ahead of the Gallipoli campaign.
On that island, approximately 5,000 to 7,000 Australian troops found refuge from the battles at Gallipoli.
It was also one of the first times that Australian nurses were deployed overseas.
Their service, in extremely difficult conditions, was exemplary.
Tomorrow, at a memorial service on Lemnos, Linda and I will have the great privilege of honouring those nurses and the 148 Australian servicemen who are buried in the East Mudros and Portianos Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries, as well as all the fallen of the Gallipoli Campaign.
Friendships formed during service are special and enduring. A fine example of that is the Commemoration in honour of the Fallen of the Gallipoli Campaign organised each year by the Lemnian people.
Your Excellency …
Linda and I look forward to seeing you in Lemnos tomorrow.
Together, we will pay our respects to those who sacrificed their lives in the Gallipoli campaign, thank the Lemnian people for looking after our service men and women and keeping their memory alive, and participate in, literally, a ground-breaking ceremony for the Lemnos Remembrance Trail.
The Trail is an initiative of the Australian Government and will commemorate the service and sacrifice of Australian personnel, including nurses and doctors, and tell the Anzac story so that overseas visitors can understand why we consider Lemnos to be sacred Australian ground.
We also hope that the telling of this story will help to establish Lemnos firmly in the sights of Australian tourists.
Less than 30 years after the events in Lemnos, Australian soldiers were back in Greece, in defence of its freedom from aggression in World War Two.
Deeper bonds were forged on the modern battlefields of Vevi, of Thermopylae and during the Battle of Crete when Australians and Greeks fought together and local populations provided a haven for wounded and sick allied soldiers, putting their own lives at risk.
This is now our common history.
Today, we stand together against a new act of aggression in Europe, Russia’s immoral and illegal invasion of Ukraine. Australia and Greece are staunch supporters of a rules-based international order that respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.
Your Excellency …
Besides our historical and wartime links, I particularly want to mention the Greek diaspora.
They are Greece's valued unofficial ambassadors in Australia!
The Greek–Australian community has come a long-way since the first Greeks, according to records, reached Australia in 1829.
Today, Australia is home to almost 500,000 people who claim Greek heritage. The Greek diaspora has contributed enormously to Australia’s multiculturalism and prosperity.
Melbourne has the third largest population of Greeks in the world, after Athens and Thessaloniki.
Greek Australians play an important role in Australia’s politics, business, science, arts and sports.
Greek Australians have a deep love for Greece, travelling as often as they can and supporting Greece’s economic and social progress.
I was surprised to learn that there are today approximately 60,000 Australians who trace their roots to Kastellorizo.
And that during the summer, on islands like Kythera and Kalymnos, you quite often hear that instantly recognisable Australian accent!
Your Excellency …
Australia is proud to call Greece a fraternal country.
In recent years, we have worked together on some of the most critical challenges of our times.
From the COVID-19 pandemic to fire management, prevention and recovery, we have supported each other when it mattered the most. Moreover, our senior-level dialogue across the board, including on international security, has intensified.
Our economic ties continue to grow.
Together we are addressing common energy challenges and preparing our economies for a sustainable energy transition.
In the past two years, Australian companies have invested more than 3.6 billion euros in Greece’s energy sector and have an ambitious agenda for further investments.
We have welcomed significant investment from Greek companies in numerous solar energy projects in Australia.
A comprehensive and ambitious Trade Agreement between Australia and the European Union, when concluded, will strengthen economic and bilateral links at a time of considerable global uncertainty.
In addition, Australia and Greece are in the process of negotiating a Double Taxation Agreement.
This agreement will unlock further trade and investment opportunities between our two countries.
I am hopeful that the Trade Agreement and the bilateral Double Taxation Agreement will shortly become key pillars in the architecture of our relationship.
Your Excellency …
The relationship between Australia and Greece is enduring and based on strong foundations.
Ours is a rich history and we have achieved much together.
I am confident that we will continue to do so in the future.
On behalf of our Government and the Australian people, I say to you and our Greek brothers and sisters around the world:
“steen-ee-YA-sas” [to your health]