Angela Vithoulkas and Fiona Douskou are two proud Greek Australian women who are running for the Australian Federal Elections tomorrow, Saturday 17th of May, with The Small Business Party.
Angela has been a successful small business owner for over 30 years and has a long history as a small business advocate, commentator, and advisor. In 2012 Angela was elected as an independent Councillor for the City of Sydney and again in 2016, where she was subsequently appointed as Deputy Chairperson of the City of Sydney Economic Development and Business Sub-committee throughout both terms.
In 2015 the NSW State Government began the Sydney Light Rail construction project and devastated not only the CBD but also several other suburbs – Haymarket, Surry Hills, Moore Park, Kensington, Kingsford and Randwick. Almost 2,000 businesses have been impacted along with thousands of residents.
Angela’s successful flagship store, VIVO Café closed on August 24, 2018, after 17 years of trading and 3 years of enduring the devastating construction that is Light Rail.
Throughout this experience Angela helped hundreds of small businesses fight for financial assistance and justice, launching a class action against State Government in 2018.
With a strong focus on “giving small business a voice”, she continues to advocate and fight for the community right across NSW, looking for justice for those who have no voice and no champion to fight for them.
In 2018 Angela formed The Small Business Party, an independent political party with a focus on small business owners and their families.
Angela has also brought on board Fiona, who is a proud resident of Potts Point Sydney, and a firm believer that small businesses are so much more than just shop fronts, and outlets, "they’re the families and the local communities," says Fiona.
Angela and Fiona recently took some time out of their campaign to chat to GCT about their passion for politics and small business.
When and why did you become involved in politics?
Angela: I started in 2012 when I was first elected to the City of Sydney as an independent Councillor. I successfully ran again in 2016 and was re-elected. I am currently serving my second term. I got involved initially to give small business a voice in local government, we pay about 80% of the rates but had no voice.
Fiona: I have always been interested in politics and have had the lofty ambition of representing my community. Having lived in Potts Point for a couple of years I realised that the small businesses in the area were feeling the negative impact of the lock-out laws and I decided to join Angela and The Small Business Party in order to give Small Businesses and the community, the voice they deserved.
When did you form The Small Business Party and tell us about your party’s main objective?
Angela: I formed the party almost 2 years ago, we are now successfully registered for Federal elections across Australia, and in NSW. The whole reason for the party is to give small businesses, their families and communities a voice in parliament. We don’t believe that the major parties care enough about small business, even though we employ more than half the workforce in Australia.
Why are you so passionate about small business?
Angela: I have been a small business owner all my working life, having bought/sold more than 25 businesses. I'm not a career politician, I'm a business owner who is standing up for small business because I really do know what it's like and what we need. The only way to make a true change is from the inside – representation in parliament.
Fiona: Being from a migrant Greek family, small business is in our blood and certainly in my family's DNA. My grandparents and my father have always been sole traders and have run their own businesses. Right after I left school I also started my own child entertainment business which I ran successfully for 8 years. I was so passionate about my business and it never once felt like a job. Small businesses are the lifeblood of the community and they have allowed many migrants in the past and even today, the opportunity the develop their passion. I also believe that small businesses are the glue of the community and the fact they employ around half the population, are integral to our economy and should be supported.
How has your Greek background influenced you in both your career and political life?
Angela: I have always been respectful of my Greek heritage and celebrate it. For me it's about our spirit and enthusiasm, we are a bit louder, more passionate and certainly more colourful. In my mother's village in Greece – Elika, near Sparta, they can trace back American Senators for 5 generations apparently, so it appears that I was always destined to be political in some way.
Fiona: Growing up in a Greek household, has instilled the value of working hard to attain your goals, which I have applied throughout my career in the Telecommunications industry and my studies. In year 12, I studied Modern Greek language with an amazing private tutor called Sotiria Larentzakis from Greece where I proudly learned about the formation of Democracy. I was also fortunate to major in Modern Greek at the University of Sydney and spent some time studying at the University of Athens, where I acquired an in-depth knowledge of Modern Greek politics, which I feel has inspired me to participate in politics.
How did you both meet and how are you working together to make a difference for small businesses in Australia?
Angela: Fiona and I met in the way most people seem to connect today – online! She reached out to me and asked if we could catch up for a coffee, and from there we just got on like a house on fire. Fiona is articulate, smart and dedicated. I love that she is my friend and my colleague, in today's political world it's hard to find people who stand and fight with you with as much heart as Fiona. She is part of my family. Together we advocate and fight for small business owners everywhere – Fiona has a lot of empathy for people facing challenges, and she doesn’t give up until we sort something for them.
What are your favourite destinations in Greece and what do you love most about Greek lifestyle?
Angela: My work and political life have kept me from Greece for the last few years, but of course my most favourite place is Zakynthos, where my father is from. I have spent a lot of time there, I actually moved there for a while. It's an island that has the most glorious blue water, caves, a laid back lifestyle that we all crave here in Australia, and family. Everything seems to taste different in Zakynthos.
Fiona: Again, I have been fortunate to study twice at the University of Athens and have travelled throughout the mainland and to many islands. I really enjoy the contrast of the mainland in winter with the islands in summer. If I were to single out a few places I would say the beauty of Meteora is mesmerising and last September I was unexpectedly surprised by the historical beauty of Rhodes. But of course, I must admit my favourite place if the Island my family comes from which is Lemnos. The laidback and friendly island lifestyle really makes me feel I belong there.
What are your main goals over the next few years for The Small Business Party?
Angela: My goal is to grow the party base, build on our brand and develop more policy that gives us more credibility. Its hard when you don’t have the resources or infrastructure of the bigger parties, I have self-funded The Small Business Party myself for the last few years and that’s been very tough. It's not an investment that pays back financially. But I truly believe in what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
Fiona: I aim to continue to represent the needs of Small Business alongside Angela, be an agent of change with a focus on small business innovation. More people should be able to run a successful business and government should support and enable this.