Labor apologises for 'highly offensive' Greek-Macedonian mix-up in Batman campaign

Exclusive: Bill Shorten and Labor candidate for Batman Ged Kearney have apologised over a mistake on a campaign flyer.

Bill Shorten and Ged Kearney.

Bill Shorten announcing Ged Kearney as the Labor candidate for Batman in February. Source: AAP

Labor leader Bill Shorten and the party's candidate for the Batman by-election Ged Kearney have apologised after a campaign flyer used Greek text under the subheading 'Macedonian' - an error which angered some in Austalia's Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia community.

The flyer printed policy information in several languages including Arabic, Italian, Vietnamese and Greek. But the Greek language was also used in the Macedonian section instead of the Macedonian language.

The flyer used the Greek language underneath the 'Macedonian' subheading.
Source: Twitter

In an email to SBS News, a joint statement from Mr Shorten and Ms Kearney said they "sincerely apologise for this error and the upset it has caused".

"A production error was made during the printing of a flyer that the campaign distributed this week, which saw a translated message in the Greek language placed beneath the headline 'Macedonian'.

"Clearly the translated message should have been in the Macedonian language ... We were not aware of it until the flyer was distributed.

"We appreciate the important contribution that the Macedonian community has made in Melbourne and in the electorate of Batman. 

"If Ged is elected ... she looks forward to working with all local communities to strengthen the diversity and multicultural vibrancy of the Batman community."

The by-election takes place on Saturday. 

'Highly offensive'

Campaign staff said an apology would be distributed to Batman's Macedonian community. But the error has already provoked anger among some.

The World Macedonian Congress Australia issued a public letter on Tuesday expressing "dismay" at the mistake.

"It is highly offensive and discriminatory to impose a Greek translation on the flyer, considering Macedonian is an internationally recognised language, that there are registered Australian Macedonian NAATI certified translators for the Macedonian language in Australia," the non-profit organisation said.

"The flyer has upset Macedonian émigrés, who do not read, speak or write in the Greek language and this is a provocation by the Australian Labor Party, highly discriminatory against a sizeable Australian minority."

Name dispute

Macedonia and Greece are currently locked in a bitter dispute over the former’s use of the name Macedonia, a dispute reignited after the break up of Yugoslavia. Thousands of protesters gathered in Melbourne and Sydney this month to rally for the country's right to keep its name.

Greece opposes the use of the name Macedonia, insisting it belongs to a region of Greece and nowhere else.

Labor's Ms Kearney and the Greens' Alex Bhathal are frontrunners the Batman by-election. The Liberal and Nationals parties did not field a contender in the Melbourne seat.

Ms Kearney has been president of The Australian Council of Trade Unions since 2010 and previously worked as a nurse.

Additional reporting: AAP

Published 14 March 2018 at 2:36pm, updated 14 March 2018 at 2:43pm
By Nick Baker