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Greece and Australia enjoy a close and constructive relationship based on strong community ties. Large numbers of Greeks migrated to Australia during the 1950s and 1960s; the 2006 Census records 109,980 Greece-born migrants, and 365,145 people of Greek ancestry living in Australia (based on country of birth of parents). Some estimates suggest the Greek community in Australia could be as large as 600,000. The Greek population is concentrated in Melbourne (41 per cent) and Sydney (30 per cent). Melbourne, Sister City to Thessaloniki, has been described as the third largest 'Greek city' in the world and is an important overseas centre of Hellenism.
The strong community links between Greece and Australia are a major focus of Australian Government business in Greece, including the provision of consular services. Frequent cultural exchanges take place, often between specific communities in both countries. Several Aegean and Ionian Island communities migrated in large numbers to Australia after World War II (for example, more Kastellorizians and Kytherians live in Australia than on their home islands). Nowadays their descendants are reinvigorating the bilateral relationship through frequent travel back to Greece for holidays, study and work.
An enduring historical link has resulted from the involvement of Australian troops in the defence of Greece during World War II. Australian soldiers fought alongside Greek, New Zealand and British troops during the Battle of Crete (May 1941) to defend the island against German invasion. Many were killed and several thousand taken prisoner in a battle that is still commemorated annually. The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, the Hon Warren Snowdon, led a delegation including six veterans to Greece to attend commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete in May 2011.
Greece is Australia's 67th largest trading partner. Two-way merchandise trade in 2010-11 totalled A$191 million: exports to Greece totalled A$40 million while goods imported from Greece were worth A$151 million. Australia's key merchandise exports to Greece vary considerably from year to year. In 2010-11, medicaments, non-ferrous waste and scrap, raw hides and skins, and pigments, pains and varnishes comprised the majority of Australian exports to Greece. Australia's main imports from Greece include vegetables, medicaments, aluminium, and cheese and curd products. In 2010, two-way services trade between Greece and Australia was worth about A$394 million. Services exports to Greece were worth A$41 million in 2010 and services imports A$353 million. Trade was primarily composed of personal travel.
Australia and Greece signed a bilateral social security agreement on 23 May 2007 to provide improved social security protection to people who have lived and/or worked in both Australia and Greece. The social security agreement also exempts Australian employers from the need to provide Greece social security support for Australian employees sent temporarily to work in Greece, provided the employee remains covered in Australia by compulsory superannuation arrangements. Further information is available on the Australian Taxation Office website (http://www.ato.gov.au/) .
Educational links between Australia and Greece are still emerging. Modern Greek is taught in many Australian schools and Modern and Classical Greek Studies are available in some Australian universities, but there is little study of Australia and its region undertaken in Greece.
-- List of bilateral treaties with Greece and their full texts (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/dfat/treaty_list/bilist/Greece.html).
-- June 2011: Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, the Hon Jan McLucas, visited Greece for the Special Olympic Games.
-- May 2011: Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Warren Snowdon, and six veterans visited Greece to attend commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.
-- April 2011: A Parliamentary Delegation led by the President of the Senate John Hogg visited Greece.
-- February 2011: the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd, visited Greece.
-- June 2008: the Governor of Western Australia, Dr Kenneth Comninos Michael AC, and Mrs Michael visited Greece May 2007: the former Greek Prime Minister, H.E. Mr Kostas Karamanlis, former Foreign Minister H.E. Ms Dora Bakoyannis and a delegation of Greek officials and media visited Australia.
Greece is a parliamentary republic, with its national day of independence celebrated on 25 March. The current President, Dr Karolos Papoulias, was sworn in as Greece's President on 12 March 2005, and served a five-year term. He was re-elected to a second and final five-year term on 3 February 2010.
The President has no powers to initiate legislation and is required to appoint as Prime Minister the leader of the political party with an absolute majority of seats in Parliament.
The unicameral parliament consists of 300 members, elected under a system of reinforced proportional representation. Each Parliament is elected for a maximum of four years. On 5 November 2011, two years since taking office in October 2009, Prime Minister George A. Papandreou resigned to allow a transitional government under the leadership of former European Central Bank Vice President Lucas Papademos to take power. Prime Minister Papademos leads a unity cabinet comprising ministers from PASOK, New Democracy (ND) and the right of centre LAOS party. After winning a decisive confidence vote from Parliament on 16 November, the government's main task is to oversee the approval and initial implementation of the country's second EU/IMF bailout package. Elections have been foreshadowed for the first quarter of 2012.
Greece is a member of the European Union and last held the Presidency from January to July 2003. In the June 2009 European Parliament elections, PASOK won 36.65 per cent of the Greek vote (or 8 out of the 24 Greek seats). Greek voter participation (52.61 per cent) in the European Parliament elections was slightly higher than the European average of 43 per cent.
The Asia-Pacific region has not historically figured prominently in Greece's foreign policy agenda, which focuses on the European Union, the Balkans and its near neighbours (in particular Cyprus and Turkey). In 2009 Greece held the chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Greece is also a fellow member of the Contact Group on Libya and assisted in the evacuation of Australians from Libya to Greece in early 2011.
Greece has a long-established political and cultural relationship with the Republic of Cyprus. Resolution of the Cyprus issue remains a key foreign policy priority of the Greek Government. While the relationship between Greece and Turkey has historically experienced difficulties, in the past few years signs of improving bilateral cooperation have emerged.
Greece is also keen to establish closer relations with its neighbours in the Balkans. The Greek Government views the Balkans as being of high strategic and economic importance and believes their closer association with the European Union would ensure peace and stability in the region. Balkan states are an important destination for Greek investment. Obstacles remain, however, particularly regarding the protracted dispute over the "name issue" with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Greece has a population of 11.2 million and GDP of US$312 billion (2011 estimates). The Greek economy grew on average by almost 4.0 per cent per year between 2003 and 2007; this was partly due to infrastructural spending related to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. However, following the global financial crisis in 2009 Greece went into recession as a result of tightening credit conditions. Its real GDP growth in 2009 was -2.0 per cent, and declined a further in 2010, with -4.5 per cent growth. Economic growth is expected to decline a further -3.0 per cent in 2011.
However, following the global financial crisis in 2009 Greece went into recession as a result of tightening credit conditions. Economic growth went from -2.3 per cent in 2009 to -4.4 per cent in 2010 and is expected to contract further to -5 per cent in 2011.
The IMF estimated the budget deficit at 10.8 per cent of GDP in 2011 with public debt levels at around 153 per cent of GDP. Unemployment reached 15.9 per cent and inflation 3.3 per cent in the first half of 2011. It is estimated that approximately 20 per cent of the Greek population lives below the poverty line (less than €6 000 income annually).
Since 2010, Greece has been under pressure to implement austerity measures — in the form of spending cuts and tax increases — in exchange for a series of EU/IMF loan packages. The latest €130bn EU/IMF bailout package was agreed to on 26 October 2011. Public opposition to the package prompted Prime Minister Papandreou to call for a referendum over its implementation, plans he quickly abandoned and which ultimately led to his resignation. The transitional government headed by Papademos is expected to approve the package to avoid Greece's default and departure from the Eurozone.
Greece's principal export destinations are France, Belgium and the Russian Federation, while its main import sources are Cyprus, the United Kingdom and the United States (see Greece — Fact Sheet). The main engine of the Greek economy is the services sector (78.5 per cent of GDP in 2010) although industry accounts for 17.6 per cent of GDP (2010 est.). Greece has little heavy industry, with the once substantial shipbuilding industry in decline over recent years. Greece still has one of the largest registered merchant marine fleets in the world, constituting around 20 per cent of the world fleet in terms of capacity in deadweight tonnage. Agriculture is of major socio-economic importance to Greece (constituting 4.0 per cent of GDP in 2010), with 12.4 per cent of the population employed in the sector. The main agricultural products are wheat, corn, barley, sugar beets, olives, tomatoes, wine tobacco, potatoes, beef and dairy products.
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