Press Conference with Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias
Good afternoon. And may I say, Minister, thank you very much for the extremely warm welcome that I have been shown in Athens today. 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 over 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 have been received. May I acknowledge 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 Australia’s diplomatic service.
We deeply value our close and enduring relationship with Greece. Our two countries share substantial historical ties, close people-to-people links and, importantly, common values. Our relationship is strengthened further by Australia’s very large and energetic Greek community. I think we claim the third largest Greek city in the world after those in Greece, in the city of Melbourne, in Victoria. It is a Greek community which enriches our society through its contributions to business, to education, to tourism, to 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, indeed, celebrations were held across Australia to commemorate the 200th anniversary since the start of the Greek Revolution. As nations, we share enduring historical ties through the presence of Australian troops in Greece through two World Wars. Through World War One, the island of Lemnos was the base for over 50,000 Australian soldiers, sailors and nurses. It was the staging area for the Gallipoli Campaign. It is the last resting place for those who died of their wounds.
This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Greece and the Battle of Crete, during which Australian soldiers fought alongside Greek, New Zealand and British troops to defend Greece against invasion. It was a great honour today to commemorate our fallen servicemen and women by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, including those with no known grave and those who were buried at sea. This link is remembered, every year, every single year, in Australia as we commemorate the events of the World Wars.
The emergence of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, reinforces the importance of international co-operation to support the global recovery from COVID-19. We are partners in that challenge. I know it is front of mind for Greece, as it is for us, but particularly as Europe again finds a wave of new infections. Australia has also been impacted by the pandemic, of course. And we are focusing our efforts on global vaccine access. We have just finished a discussion on that matter and I’m sure we will have more to say on that in our working lunch.
I am very pleased, though, that despite the pandemic and despite the challenges that it has brought, Australia and Greece continue to have a healthy trade and investment relationship. I’m particularly pleased by our deepening clean energy investment relationship as Minister Dendias referred to. And that we will commence negotiations on a double taxation treaty in early next year.
We are both strong supporters of the international rules-based order, of multilateral institutions and of international law, underpinned by the UN Charter. Today, the Minister and I have discussed, at length, the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As maritime nations, we strongly support efforts to de-escalate maritime tensions and to resolve maritime boundaries disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law. The Minister and I have also discussed our enduring commitment to NATO – Australia is an Enhanced Opportunities Partner and a strong supporter of NATO – and to the non-proliferation regime.
There’s no question that globally we are facing a more contested strategic 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 norms and to supporting states’ resilience. The EU’s free trade negotiations in the region will also support regional resilience and economic recovery from COVID-19.
I very much look forward to the conclusion of the Australia-EU free trade agreement negotiations and I’m sure we will also discuss that further today. Australia and Greece will continue to work together, including in multilateral institutions, to uphold the rules-based international order. That reflects our values, reflects our shared interests. It reflects our shared commitment to the sort of world that Greece and Australia are wanting to see.
I would note that we are also concerned by the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. I’m confident that both Australia and Greece want to see a stable Afghanistan that prevents violent extremism, that contributes to security in the region and upholds human rights, including and particularly protecting the rights of women and girls. It is a subject that I’ve discussed with interlocutors in Athens this morning and reinforced today with the Minister this afternoon.
Colleagues, our discussions today have been substantive and productive. Australia values very highly our relationship with Greece. It is very important to me to have been able to make this visit in person in 2021, notwithstanding the challenges that COVID-19 has presented to us in terms of international travel. I know that it has been some time since an Australian Minister, a Foreign Minister, was able to visit Greece in person and I particularly want to thank you, Minister, most dearly, for your generous hospitality, for our excellent talks today. And I look forward to continuing to grow and strengthen the Australian-Greek relationship in the coming months and years with you. Thank you.