Greece achieves pension agreement with Australia

By George Megalogenis

AUSTRALIA will pay old-age pensions to Greeks returning to their homeland under a landmark agreement to be signed on Wednesday by John Howard and Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis.
The two-way deal is one of the biggest of its kind and has taken more than two decades to negotiate.

Australia will calculate pension entitlements based on a pro-rata formula for each year that Greek immigrants lived here. The maximum payment will go to those who have been Australian residents for 25 years.

But those who have already resettled will receive a smaller amount than those who follow after Wednesday’s signing ceremony in Canberra.

Australia’s Greek-born population peaked at 160,00 in 1971, but had fallen to 116,000 by the 2001 census as the old guard either passed away or went back to Greece to retire.

Each year, up to 34,000 overseas-born residents leave Australia for good, with the largest group (about 7100) being New Zealanders who head back across the Tasman, followed by the British (5400). The Greek component was less than 1000 in 2005-06.

The Prime Minister flagged the pensions deal in a brief media statement yesterday. “Our governments also intend to explore mechanisms to aid the mutual recognition of family law orders in our respective court systems,” Mr Howard said.

Mr Karamanlis, who is due to arrive in Sydney this evening, is the first Greek prime minister to visit Australia – an unusual record given the Greeks formed, along with the Italians, the backbone of Australia’s post-war immigration program.

In an interview with The Australian, the centre-right Mr Karamanlis detailed how Greece was presenting itself as an honest broker between Europe and the Middle East, and between western Europe and the Balkan states, as part of a foreign policy drive that is akin to Australia’s diplomacy in Asia.

“Our greatest assets are our friends and allies,” Mr Karamanlis said. “At the crossroads of three continents, we are viewed by governments and peoples alike as a credible interlocutor, a fair and honest partner.

“This holds particularly true in southeastern Europe, where Greece is present as a factor of stability, development and security, and in the Middle East.”

As an example of his nation’s crossroads alliances, Mr Karamanlis called on all Palestinians factions to support their President, Mahmoud Abbas, to negotiate a two-state solution with Israel, while also urging Israel to maintain a dialogue with the wider Arab world.

“Israel is entitled to security for its citizens and has absolutely the right to defend its territory and people from terrorist attacks,” Mr Karamanlis said. “Nevertheless, security is not a matter of just military supremacy. It can only be obtained by a viable political compromise.”

Greece had been a socialist stronghold, with the Pasok party ruling for all but one three-year term between 1981 and 2004.

Mr Karamanlis’ New Democracy party won power at the general elections of March 2004, six months before the Athens Olympics.

But unlike NSW, which suffered a slump after Sydney hosted the 2000 Games, Athens has continued to surge.

The Greek economy achieved a 3.7 per cent growth rate in 2005, and a further 4.3 per cent last year, “which is very robust by European standards”, Mr Karamanlis said.

Yet Greece remains well behind Australia’s full-employment nirvana. Mr Karamanlis counts his government’s economic successes by its ability to reduce bad numbers: the unemployment rate has fallen from 10.5 per cent in 2004 to 8.9 per cent last year. And the budget deficit has more than halved over the same period.

Source: The Australian

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