Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram “First and foremost it’s about your electorate, that’s who put you here.”Snatching what was the safe Labor seat of Barton at the election, Liberal MP Nickolas Varvaris is the most recent Greek Australian recruit to federal parliament. Not that he is unfamiliar with high public office. Twice mayor of Kogarah City Council in south Sydney, Nick Varvaris knows a thing or two about the workings of government and meeting the needs of a diverse electorate. But being a member of the Australian Parliament’s House of Representatives is a different matter, says the former accountant and company director. “There’s a lot to learn, I’ve had a lot of experience in local government but this is a different kettle of fish altogether. “There’s a steep learning curve,” admits Mr Varvaris, who a month after induction, is like all novice MPs, still getting his head around the myriad of rules governing life at Parliament House. The prime minister’s welcome to Liberal backbenchers wasn’t something that was ever going to be lost on the new member for Barton. “His focus was to get settled in,” says Nickolas, “work out what areas you want to contribute in, and more importantly, his emphasis was ‘though you’re stuck in Canberra – never lose sight of the fact that you’re there to represent your community, that should always be the priority’.” A motivation to help “create stability”, says the former mayor, is the reason he ran for Australia’s 44th Parliament, after the growing uncertainty of Labor’s minority government reign. “I saw the impact the last government was having – families were struggling, small business was struggling, and to me governments are there to help not to hinder.” One of his immediate agenda items, he says, is to bring his new found influence to bear on environmental issues in south Sydney, particularly in relation to water quality. Under Varvaris’ mayorship, Kogarah won a sideboard-full of prestigious international awards for its pioneering approach to environmental sustainability. He’s keen to apply the lessons learned in his new role. “In my seat the water is an important part of our community, people don’t want to live on a river that’s full of garbage. A lot of my electorate is surrounded by Botany Bay … and the Cooks River is a mess. “I’d like to think I can contribute to improve the water quality in our bays. That’s an important project for me to impact on.” Beyond the vital minutiae of delivering positive outcomes for his constituency, does he see himself as an advocate of Greek Australians generally, and the issues the Greek community faces? “I’m proud of my Greek heritage. I think you appreciate your culture more as you get older. “When I first went to school I didn’t know a word of English. Unfortunately my Greek these days isn’t what it should be,” he says, adding that with an ethnically diverse electorate – 45 per cent of Barton’s residents having been born overseas – coupled with his own background, he’s a strong advocate of multiculturalism. “The largest ethnic group in Barton is Greek, with about 20,000 residents. There are some 18,000 Chinese, 10,000 Lebanese, it’s a broad multicultural community.” On the wider – but not unrelated – subject of foreign affairs, is he keen to involve himself in issues around Australia’s relationship with Greece? “The [Greek] ambassador has been keen to approach me and work on those links, and I’m obviously happy to reciprocate. It’s important. “Being one of the few Greek representatives – I understand that there’s myself and Arthur Sinodinos, and his time is limited considering his position, so there’s a void there that I might need to fit into. “You’re there as a voice. Being of Greek heritage I’m happy to stand up for some of those issues.” With barely a month since getting his feet under his new parliamentary desk, Nickolas Varvaris is focused on the local. “First and foremost it’s about your electorate, that’s who put you here,” he says. “It’s not about the big national issues – though you do get to deal with the big national issues. At the end of the day you’re here to represent your community. “I’ve always focused on, even at local government, what’s going on in my backyard, it’s not so much the bigger picture. That’s what I’ll be fighting for.” Nickolas Varvaris will make his maiden speech in the House of Representatives on December 11.
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