Labor takes the multicultural road: “Yes” to immediate family abroad and language survival

While Australia’s leaders were thrashing out details of the border reopening plan at a meeting of national cabinet on Friday after a week of federal-state disagreements over vaccine coverage and surging infections, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese was meeting with Greek Australian journalists.

Earlier he had met with stakeholders of the Greek Community of Melbourne. GCM President Bill Papastergiadis said the conversation focused on numerous issues from travel and quarantine passports, to the teaching of languages, and even the temporary extension to pensions of people stuck overseas, and unable to get back to the country – where Mr Albanese said “a common sense view” should be adopted.

“We’ve had a really good conversation about many issues that pertain to the Greek Australian community and the impacts, obviously of COVID on that community , but also more broadly on the importance of education, the shift of culture to the next generation of Greek Australians and the work that’s been done there and also the issues around travel particularly for the Greek Australian community but, more broadly, of migrant communities need their connection to the rest of the world,” he said.

Mr Albanese stressed his support for the national plan and having more openness once vaccine targets of 70 and 80 per cent are met, however he said that the reason lockdowns are still happening comes down to a slow process, reminding journalists of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s claims that vaccine rollout “wasn’t a race”.

“Supplies of vaccines just haven’t been there, and we saw this week with Pfizer being available for 20-39 year olds in Victoria and the system crashed because people wanted to register and get vaccinated but up until now the availability hasn’t been there,” he said.

“The problem we’re seeing is that the rest of the world is opening up as Australia is locking down in recent weeks.”

Mr Albanese also pointed to political parties converging in other countries, however in Australia Labor has been left out as far as National Cabinet meetings are concerned.

“Scott Morrison chose not to include Labor in the National Cabinet and that is a decision for him,” he said, while pointing to meetings he has had with Labor party premiers.

Labor understands the human need to see loved ones

Asked by Neos Kosmos about what Labor would do to push for a more humane approach rather than the current situation where families are unable to see aged loved ones, even to say goodbye, Mr Albanese took a sympathetic approach.

“We need to recognise people as human beings and individuals with real needs,” Mr Albanese said.

“For many of them it is so important that they are able to visit relatives. They are going in the knowledge that there may be an issue of them coming back. They are adults and they are able to make those decisions and there need to be more compassion.

“We’re trying to assist in many cases for that to happen. I’m very conscious of it as well. I have family in Italy who I haven’t been able to see. It is really tough for people. We have made representations for individuals to try to visit their loved ones, their relatives, it has been very difficult. And I don’t understand how in some cases you see some people who seem to be able to just come and go and others who want to visit perhaps there mum or dad, who is not well, and in some cases – let’s be honest – to say goodbye, and that’s a basic human need that people have.

“My own father died in January 2014 in Italy, and I went to see him to say goodbye in December 2013 because I knew that in Southern Italy, he would have got buried the next day, within 24 hours, is what they do. That was important for me and that was important for him as well.”

Mr Khalil spoke of Labor MPs efforts to fight for constituents rights to travel to see immediate family “and we have to go through this whole process”, he said “it takes forever” and sometimes there is success and other times “we are stonewalled”.

There are still 38,000 Australians who remain stranded abroad.

“The Australian passports should be a guarantee that Australian citizens have the right to come home,” he said, adding that processes should be in place for a safe return also.

Language programmes affected by COVID

Mr Albanese commended the Greek community for keeping its language and heritage alive, but also reiterated Labor’s position on increased funding for SBS and ABC as well as efforts to keep languages alive.

“I think the Greek community, from my experience, is better than most with Greek language schools and making sure that culture is there, and it is so important that we need to view this not just from an individual’s perspective,” he said.

“One of Australia’s greatest asset is our multiculturalism. The fact that we are a multicultural language with language skills needs to be something that doesn’t benefit just the Greek community.”

He pointed to the world “becoming a smaller and smaller place” where “different language skills are so important”.