Sophie Cotsis is the first Greek Australian woman to be elected to the NSW Parliament. She is the Labor Candidate for Canterbury in NSW and the Shadow Minister for Women, Ageing, Disability Services and Multiculturalism.
This weekend Sophie will be running for the NSW State seat of Canterbury in the Lower House of Parliament and she credits her parents and forefathers for how far she has come. “It is all about Philotimo- we Greeks feel as though it’s our purpose to give back to the community and to leave a legacy- this is something I am very proud of,” she says.
In between Sophie’s long hours of door knocking, community work and campaigning, she recently took some time to chat to GCT about her vision for the Canterbury community- where she, along with so many other Greek Australians were born and raised- and is now ready to serve its people of all different ages and cultures.
By Penny Zalalas
When did you decide you wanted to help the community and take the path of politics?
From young I was involved in Student Council, I was a prefect and on the social committee at school, so I was always community orientated. However, I think it was at university when I became involved with the Macquarie University Greek Association and then the Macquarie University Greek Studies Foundation, that I realised how rewarding it was to give back. That was actually 20 years ago to date, where there were a number of elder community activists from the Greek community and younger post graduate students who pretty much got together and started raising money for the Greek studies department at Macquarie.
We had a program, which the late Vasilis Georgiou had established but we wanted an actual department and we raised $350,000 by organising event after event. This campaign ran for 18 months and it was a new experience for me- where you had elder people and young people coming together with one goal and we achieved it. We had such enormous support from the Greek community and I was so grateful for being involved in a project that would leave a legacy- not only for the Greek community but the community at large and now we have the inter-relations between the ancient Greek departments and other departments at the university.
What drives and inspires you?
My childhood and my parents. Like so many other migrant families, my parents struggled and worked very hard to make ends meet. They worked in factories, shops, my dad who worked so hard for many years as a self-employed painter. Then I worked at Sydney Airport and I became involved with the union there as a lot of the women were migrants and couldn’t speak English and were being ripped off. So I became involved in translating for them, looking at their pay slips and getting things sorted. This was the kind of thing I used to do for my mum and felt so strongly about it and wanted to help all these other women. To answer the question- I believe it was because of our parents- their commitment, determination and their sacrifice that these people made for us to be in the position we are today. This is what drives me. Now I feel as though it’s my duty to give back to the community and that is what I have been trying to do for many years and feel as though it is such a privilege to be here today, doing what I am doing.
What is your vision for the Canterbury community?
I think there is enormous potential in this area. The Canterbury area of NSW is very multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and you have so much corporate capital and corporate knowledge. We speak so many languages in this community and I am very committed to ensuring that young kids are learning the language of their heritage or learning a second language. I want to build on our corporate capital and use our skills to ensure people here have better jobs, new jobs, the emerging jobs- the jobs in innovation, sciences, export jobs. That is my bigger vision and we can do that through the universities, partnering with the schools, with Tafe- the key stake holders and saying we need to do something but we have to look at the skills of our people and harness those, in order to advance our community.
Also the hospital. This is an area that is growing as there is a population growth and we need to accommodate for the elderly, for people with disabilities, we need social housing, we need affordable housing. For key workers, for people in public services, for people who can’t afford to buy in these areas. We have to look after our public servants. Schools are overcrowding- there is a huge need for investment in that infrastructure- that is a big thing for me.
What do you believe are your key strengths that can help the community?
My perseverance. If I am elected as the member for Canterbury, I will campaign over the next two years until the next election. I will put pressure on the Baird Government to invest in Canterbury Hospital at the next budget and if we win in 2019, we want to invest in the Emergency department of Canterbury Hospital and this is something that myself and residents have been advocating for a long time. We are also looking at expanding the maternity ward, ageing and rehabilitation and palliative care- as we have a high birth rate and we have an ageing population, so we need these services. We have made a commitment and it’s a priority for me. I hope we can win in 2019, so we can deliver.
How has your Greek upbringing influenced you?
We are beneficiaries of our ancestors who created democracy and we are so lucky as Hellenes across the world to be able to hold on to that. There are so many successful Hellenes and it is thanks to our Philotimo- that one word that can’t be translated- but it’s what we have in us- that Philotimo to give back.
We have endured so much in our history and for us it comes naturally to help people- it’s part of who we are- and we do it in many ways. Whether you are part of the church group, community group, involved in the local nursing home- there are Greeks there helping, contributing. I travelled a lot and drove out to the bush and you come across elderly Greek members of the community who are there every day volunteering and giving back to their community.
It’s our purpose to leave a legacy, something for the next generation to build upon and to continue our democratic values and that is what we bring to the table. It doesn’t matter what political party you come from- this is something that all Greeks have- and for that I am very proud.