Press conference with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias
Good afternoon. And may I say, Minister, thank you very much for the extremely warm welcome extended to me today in Athens. It is a great pleasure to be here with you. We have used the challenges of COVID to form a virtual friendship as Foreign Ministers during recent engagements, but it is not the same as the opportunity to be here in person and I very much appreciate your invitation and the warmth with which I was received. May I thank the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia, Secretary Kathryn Campbell, who is accompanying me on this visit. And of course our Ambassador, Arthur Spyrou, is here, a son of Australia and Greece and a very proud product of the Australian diplomatic service.
We deeply appreciate our close and enduring relationship with Greece. Our two countries share important historical ties, close people-to-people ties and, above all, common values. Our relationship is further strengthened by the very large and energetic Greek community in Australia. I think we are claiming the third largest Greek city in the world after Greece, in the city of Melbourne, Victoria. It is a Greek community that enriches our society through its contributions to business, education, tourism, culture. And I’m proud to say that our 400,000 strong diaspora is one of the largest Greek diasporas in the world.
This year, in fact, celebrations were held across Australia to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the start of the Greek Revolution. As nations, we share lasting historical ties thanks to the presence of Australian troops in Greece during the two world wars. During the First World War, the island of Lemnos was the base of more than 50,000 Australian soldiers, sailors and nurses. It was the staging area of the Gallipoli countryside. It is the last resting place for those who have succumbed to their injuries.
This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Greece and the Battle of Crete, in which Australian soldiers fought alongside Greek, New Zealand and British troops to defend Greece against an invasion. It was a great honor today to commemorate our fallen servicemen by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, including those who have no known grave and those who were buried at sea. This link is recalled , every year, every year, in Australia as we commemorate the events of the world wars.
The emergence of the new variant of COVID-19, Omicron, reinforces the importance of international cooperation to support the global recovery from COVID-19. We are partners in this challenge. I know this is a concern for Greece, as it is for us, but above all that Europe is again encountering a wave of new infections. Australia has also been hit by the pandemic, of course. And we are focusing our efforts on global access to vaccines. We have just finished a discussion on this issue and I am sure we will have more to say about it during our working lunch.
I am very happy, however, that despite the pandemic and despite the challenges it has brought with it, Australia and Greece continue to enjoy healthy trade and investment relationships. I am particularly pleased with the deepening of our clean energy investment relationship, as mentioned by Minister Dendias. And that we will start negotiations on a double taxation treaty early next year.
We are both strong supporters of the rules-based international order, multilateral institutions and international law, supported by the Charter of the United Nations. Today the Minister and I discussed at length the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As maritime nations, we strongly support efforts to defuse maritime tensions and resolve disputes. on maritime borders peacefully and in accordance with international law. The Minister and I also discussed our enduring commitment to NATO – Australia is a partner of increased opportunity and a strong supporter of NATO – and to the non-proliferation regime.
There is no doubt that globally we face a more contested policy environment, and it has never been more important to work together in support of international rules, laws and standards. Australia strongly supports the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which has many synergies with our own Indo-Pacific agenda. The EU’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific is key to upholding rules and standards and supporting states’ resilience. EU free trade negotiations in the region will also support regional resilience and economic recovery after COVID-19.
I look forward to the conclusion of the Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations and I am sure we will discuss this further today as well. Australia and Greece will continue to work together, including in multilateral institutions, to uphold the rules-based international order. It reflects our values, reflects our common interests. It reflects our shared commitment to the kind of world Greece and Australia want to see.
I remind you that we are also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. I am convinced that Australia and Greece want to see a stable Afghanistan that prevents violent extremism, contributes to security in the region and respects human rights, including and in particular the protection of the rights of women and girls. . It is a subject that I raised with interlocutors in Athens this morning and reinforced today with the Minister this afternoon.
Dear colleagues, our discussions today have been substantive and productive. Australia attaches great importance to our relations with Greece. It is very important to me that I was able to make this visit in person in 2021, despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented to us in terms of international travel. I know it has been some time since an Australian Minister, a Minister of Foreign Affairs, has been able to visit Greece in person and I especially want to thank you, Minister, for your generous hospitality, for our excellent talks today. And I look forward to continuing to develop and strengthen the Australian-Greek relationship in the months and years to come with you. Thank you.