DIADROMIC HELLENES: THE GREEK LOBBY
Though this diatribist may be excused for not having the requisite degree of separation from the image in order to convey it dispassionately, the enduring image I have of the word "lobby" in this country is of the skullduggery and disputes taking place along the long corridors of our brotherhoods' buildings or outside parliamentarians offices, where equally a crusty but less wealthy Greeks engage in endless disputes as to who will have the privilege of meeting and taking a photograph with, a particular politician. These are the labyrinthine paths that can only be negotiated by a true diadromist.
There is however an enduring unitary image of the Greek diadromist that transcends geographical boundaries and for which we have SAE to thank for. In SAE parlance, if it can be considered that all delegates are "petitioners" ostensibly present to petition the Greek government and each other on issues that concern them, a "lobbyist" is one of the majority delegates who do not attend meetings but hang around in the lobby, drinking themselves into nirvana, marveling at how the ratio of time over blood alcohol percentage can transform the most masculine looking female security guard, into a veritable Aphrodite. These diadromists are not to be passed over lightly, for if one ever obtains the privilege of penetrating the aura of booze-stench and cigarette smoke that emanates from them, one will be astounded by the breadth of knowledge these bar-pundits have as to the behind the scenes lobbying action. They can tell you which politician tried to sleaze on which young girl the night before, who is causing mischief and the full content of the Prime Minister's speech, hours before this is given.
Here in Melbourne, coupled with all of these forms of lobbying, we are known to have perfected the singular art of extraneous lobbying. For us global citizens, the word lobby is extricated from the narrow confines in which it is closeted, is deconstructed and then reconstructed so as to apply to all outside spaces. The entire world is our lobby and we feel free to hang about its corridors, petitioning others in our favour while jumping up and down, ranting and raving in righteous anger and patriotism. This is also known as Kris Kross lobbying, encompassed as it is in those gloriously tacky 1992 song-lyrics: "Kris Kross is gonna make ya jump, jump. Pan Mac is gonna make ya, jump, jump." Indeed. For it was the Pan Macedonian Federation of Australia, affectionately known as Pan Mac, that first canvassed the idea of applying geophysics to lobbying. Harnessing the entire weight and mass of the Greek community by having them jump up and down in front of Parliament House would have, if nothing else, the effect of sending tremors down politician's spines or failing that, causing an earth tremor instead. The formidability of such lobbying cannot be underestimated, causing as it did, the State Government to stand up (in order to avoid the falling debris resulting from us shake shaking da room) and make determinations in the Greek community's favour.
However, the inevitable problem with this type of lobbying is that sooner or later people get bored of jumping up and down and want to return to their own narrow lobbies. Politicians breathe a sigh of relief and as soon as one's back is turned, they slink back along the tortuous lobbies of their own careers and forget what they have promised, or go back on it, in the interim, having earthquake proofed their offices.
The end result seems to be that in both our case and that of America, no method of lobbying seems to be working. There are some reasons for this and they deserve full consideration.
Firstly, it appears that we as a community only lobby the government on issues pertaining to foreign affairs that have little if nothing to do with domestic affairs. This reinforces an already negative impression that migrant communities are stuck in the past and not particularly interested in Australian issues. Instead, they are only interested in perpetuating the ethnic strife that caused them to come over here in the first place. Such attitudes make easier the choice of politicians to dismiss what we call our "national issues," as unimportant. We need to become pro-active and involved in our local communities. In that way "Greek" influence not only becomes all-pervasive but accepted as a legitimate factor in Australian society, rather than something belonging to a musty ghetto.
Secondly, all politicians are aware that our community is one of the most fragmented of them all. We all vie for the position of spokesman but in reality, the organizations which are supposed to 'represent' the Greek community are either inept or do not so represent anyone's views. In our extreme commitment to democracy, we have created a vast number of organisations, all of which fail to galvanise Greek-Australian public opinion. Politicians know this and while they don't mind being paid to while away the hours talking to insignificant and powerless people, they will certainly not take those conversations seriously.
Given that our community is so fragmented, there is little we can do to become a factor in domestic politics. Greek-Australians are not concentrated in any particular area so that they can influence any electoral vote, nor do they have the same politics. As such, there is absolutely no way that the vast whale-like underbelly of the Greek community could be ever utilized for any political purpose, let alone the making of soap.
Thirdly, we do not know how to lobby. While the first-generation obsession with taking pictures and speaking with politicians is a thing of the past, it is a fact that with the notable exception of Panagiotis Yiannoudis, Pavlos Toumazos and the late Nick Gantzis, whose successful lobbying of Australian federal and state governments on the Cyprus issue deserves to be studied closely, even the second generation has no idea how the echelons of power work, nor do they, having been bought up to study, get a good job and get married have the capability or the inclination to effectively serve as spokespersons of the Greek community. It is quite possible that in this regard, the Greek community will have to pool its resources and high a PR firm to assist them, that is, if it can ever agree on what its stance on "national issues" is.
Furthermore, and hang on to your hats gentlemen, we are going to have to be nicer to our elected representatives and their parties. For it is one thing to ask a favour from a pollie who doesn't know you from a bar of soap and another thing to ask a favour from a mate, who you have taken out to dinner a few times and whose party and local office has been donated to generously by you. This is the basis behind the saying that most politicians (except the nice ones) are dogs. Feed them a few times and you can teach them to roll over, sit and even play dead, something they do really well during Question Time.
Finally, it is worthwhile asking why it is that we, as an Australian based community should bear the burden of actively "lobbying" our governments on what are in effect issues that concern the Republic of Greece, especially given that we have enough troubles retaining our identity as it is. Should not the Consular representatives be developing such a relationship with our governments here so as to be able to bend their ear a little? What is the role of a Consulate when it leaves the key reason for its existence to be managed by an expatriate community?
The stomach rumble in the Greek community jungle these days is that we are steeling our loins for another bout of lobbying on various pertinent issues. While the jury is out on the actual form this latest bout will take and the success of the outcome, let us console ourselves by saying: Well at least we won the soccer didn’t we?
First published in NKEE on 6 December 2004