Yesterday was a very bad day for Robert Furolo, MP for Lakemba in the NSW Parliament. By morning, his working-class constituents learned he’d recently crashed a friend’s $400,000 Lamborghini Murciélago while joyriding.

Furolo is also the mayor of Canterbury, and for nine years worked as an electorate officer to his predecessor in the seat, former Premier Morris Iemma.

He conceded “there’s no doubt it’s embarrassing, but accidents happen”. It’s not clear whether he was referring to losing control and banging hard into a gutter or the revelation he drove a car costing more than many of  his constituent’s homes. (Yes, even at Sydney prices.)

Locals had further cause to gasp when they learned that Furolo nobly paid the $7,000 insurance excess on the crash, likely more than the entire value of their family car.

But the day went from bad to worse for Furolo when his large local Greek community opened their letterboxes. In the electorate of Lakemba, two out of three households speak a language other than English in the family home, and Greek is second only to Arabic. Robert Furolo and the federal Labor member Tony Burke occasionally write to their constituents in their own language.

The letter received yesterday, bearing the smiling face of Premier Kristina Keneally and the local MP on the letterhead, wishes Greeks a  “Happy 70th Anniversary of Ochi Day”. Ochi means ‘no’, and on October 28 each year, Greeks commemorate the anniversary of the rejection of  Mussolini’s demand that Greece allow Axis forces to occupy Greece or face war. The ultimatum was met with the single word “no” and the day marks the beginning of Greece’s participation in World War II.

Robert Furolo writes, in Greek, “When Prime Minister Metaxas and his troops took their courageous stand for freedom against fascism, they helped define Greece as a nation of virtue and principle.”

Oops.

As every Greek knows, General Ioannis Metaxas was himself a fascist dictator. While it’s true that he did say no to Mussolini’s ultimatum, he is still reviled by Greeks then and now for his suspension of parliament, the banning of strikes and all political parties, and the introduction of censorship.

This week, Keneally said of Julia Gillard’s position on national workplace safety laws ”I never thought I’d see the day when a Labor Prime Minister criticised a Labor Premier for standing up for worker safety”.

Lakemba’s Greeks are saying “I never thought I’d see a Labor MP and Premier praising a fascist dictator.”

Peter Fray

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