Economic diplomacy

Strengthening Australian-Swiss Economic Ties: New Austrade Office in Zurich

I am delighted to welcome a new addition to the Austrade network in Zurich, reflecting the increasingly dynamic relationship and ever deepening ties between Australia and Switzerland. Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb marked the opening of the new Austrade office during his visit to Zurich on 19-20 January 2016, ahead of his attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Australia and Switzerland share many common political and economic values and interests. A key element of our contemporary relationship is Switzerland’s significant investment in Australia. Switzerland represents one of our largest investment markets and our economic ties with Switzerland are strengthening and growing. While the Swiss market has been well serviced by Austrade’s Frankfurt office, now is an opportune, and indeed exciting, time to further consolidate Australian-Swiss economic ties through an Austrade office in Zurich.

The office will complement existing strong bilateral ties in the areas of scientific research and development, education, and two-way investment. The Zurich office will work primarily on expanding Austrade’s network into the Swiss market and on driving the investment agenda across priority sectors.

Nicolas Bentel will head up the new Austrade office. Nicolas joins Austrade from UBS in Zurich, where he was most recently the Head Investment Specialist for the Latin American team and a member of the Regional Advisory Committee for Global Emerging Markets. Nicolas will work closely with me and my colleagues at the Australia Embassy in Berlin and the Australia Swiss Chamber of Commerce.



I am delighted to welcome Nicolas to Zurich and embrace this new opportunity to strengthen Australian-Swiss relations through this valuable addition to the Austrade network.


Cities and the Built Environment: Germany and Australia Learning from Each Other

We were delighted to welcome the Hon Jamie Briggs MP, Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, for a visit to Munich last week focusing on Munich’s approach to integrated planning, housing, public transport and accessibility, innovation and economic growth.

Munich is Germany’s third-largest city and one of its fastest-growing, with a current population of 2.8 million in the Greater Munich area, projected to grow to 3 million by 2030. Munich shares many similarities with a number of Australia’s fastest-growing cities, and the Minister was keen to understand how the city has managed its recent growth, as well as its approaches to the integration of migrant communities.

A highlight of the Minister’s visit was the meeting with Dr Marcel Huber MdL, Head of the Bavarian State Chancellery and State Minister for Federal and Special Affairs, where the Minister heard about Bavaria’s approach to integrated planning, as well as the significant integration challenges arising from the recent influx of asylum-seekers to the region.

Photo of Minister Briggs with Dr Marcel Huber MdL, Head of the Bavarian State Chancellery and State Minister for Federal and Special Affairs standing next to each other

Minister Briggs with Dr Marcel Huber MdL, Head of the Bavarian State Chancellery and State Minister for Federal and Special Affairs


The Minister’s meeting with representatives of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce for Munich and Upper Bavaria (IHK) focused on trade and investment, innovation and the collaboration between universities, institutes and industry in Bavaria. Minister Briggs said Australia was keen to collaborate more with Germany on innovation and commercialisation, and agreed we should do more to boost trade and investment, including exports of Australian wine to the Bavarian region.

Minister Briggs stands next to Peter Driessen, Managing Director IHK Munich. They have exhanged gifts and hold them in their hands. Briggs has received a Bavarian cup and Driessen holds a wrapped package.

Minister Briggs and Peter Driessen, Managing Director IHK Munich

A discussion with representatives of the Munich Transport Company (MVG) offered insights into the city’s highly successful integrated approach to public transport and urban planning. At the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the Minister heard about Munich’s experiences with the integration of asylum-seekers in the region, including the importance of targeted language courses, training and skills recognition to promote quick integration into German society.

During the discussions, Minister Briggs highlighted the warm and longstanding people-to-people links between Australia and Germany, including in his South Australian electorate. Echoing the recommendations from the recent report of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, Minister Briggs emphasised that Australia wanted to build on these existing links to strengthen bilateral ties.

Prime Minister Turnbull on a visit to Berlin

The Australian Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, made an enormously successful visit to Berlin on Friday, 13 November, only the third country he had visited since becoming Prime Minister.  Mr Turnbull was accompanied by his wife, Lucy Turnbull AO, and by the Australian Finance Minister, Senator Mathias Cormann.
During his visit the Prime Minister was hosted by Chancellor Merkel at a working lunch in the Federal Chancellery, met the German Foreign Minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, had a roundtable meeting with very senior German business leaders and attended a reception in his honour at the Australian Embassy.  He also met German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble during a private dinner on the evening of 13 November.

Prime Minister Turnbull was hosted by Chancellor Merkel at a working lunch in the Federal Chancellery

The main focus of the Prime Minister’s visit was receiving the report of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, established when Chancellor Merkel visited Australia in November 2014 to look at ways of upgrading and strengthening the already very close and warm bilateral relationship between Germany and Australia.  The Co-Chairs of the Advisory Group are Senator Cormann on the Australian side and the Staatsministerin in the German Foreign Office, Professor Maria Böhmer. Senator Cormann and Minister Böhmer presented the report to the Prime Minister and Chancellor following their meeting at the Chancellery.
The report contains 59 major recommendations aimed at building a much stronger and more modern relationship between the two countries.  All 59 recommendations have now been agreed to by both the Prime Minister and Chancellor and will now be implemented.  Of particular note is a decision by both countries to have a regular “2 + 2” dialogue of their Foreign and Defence Ministers to discuss major international and strategic issues.
In addition, on 12 November, Senator Cormann and Finance Minister Schäuble signed a revised Australia-Germany Double Taxation Agreement, the first such revision since the agreement was originally signed in 1972.  The revision of the Agreement will benefit both the Australian and German business communities significantly.  The signature of the Agreement represented the implementation of the first of the Advisory Group’s recommendations.

Senator Cormann and Finance Minister Schäuble signed a revised Australia-Germany Double Taxation Agreement

I commend the report to you all and urge you to read it.  It is an excellent outcome from a year’s dedicated work both by the two Co-Chairs and by all members of the Advisory Group, which included Lucy Turnbull.
Chancellor Merkel and the Prime Minister agreed that Senator Cormann and Professor Böhmer should continue to monitor the implementations of the report’s recommendations and to report back to them on progress in doing so in 12 months.
Sadly, following the completion of his program in Berlin, the terrible terrorist attacks occurred in Paris.  Follow this link to see the Prime Minister’s comments on these awful events from Berlin.


German-Australian Symposium in Berlin

This week I had the pleasure of taking part in the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s German-Australian Symposium held here in Berlin. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) is the political foundation affiliated with Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and has nearly 80 offices around the world. Though the Foundation has run a variety of events promoting German-Australian relations in the past, this is the first time that they have held a German Australian Symposium.

The event brought together leaders from business, academia, government and media from both our countries to discuss what a 21st century relationship between Australia and Germany should look like.

Ambassador David Ritchie, Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Dr Gerhard Wahlers, Alan Stockdale und Volkmar Klein

Ambassador David Ritchie, Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Dr Gerhard Wahlers, Alan Stockdale und Volkmar Klein (L-R), Photo: KAS

We were very fortunate to have the participation of Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and Co-Chair of the Australia-Germany Advisory Group. The Advisory Group was established by Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Abbott and is due to report to both leaders before the end of the year. Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who will soon visit Germany, is the Co-Chair of the Australian side. She spoke about how, in a globalised world, distance doesn’t matter. Despite our geography we have many common interests and shared values.

Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and Co-Chair of the German Australia Advisory Group, standing behind a posium and giving a speech.

Professor Dr Maria Böhmer, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office and Co-Chair of the German Australia Advisory Group, Photo: KAS

I spoke about the warm and friendly relationship that our two countries share, noting that, despite the good will on both sides, there is much more that the world’s 4th and 12th biggest economies can do together. The Symposium covered a diverse range of topics. Not only were the big global issues of national security discussed, we also got the chance to see where we can learn from each other in areas such as research, immigration and ways to we can cooperate in the Asia Pacific region. There was also detailed discussion about ways to strengthen our trade and investment relationship.

Ambassador Ritchie steanding behind a podium and holding a speech at KAS

Ambassador David Ritchie, Photo: KAS

I’d like to thank the Konrad Adenauer Foundation very warmly for hosting the event and also extend my thanks to those who took part. I was particularly impressed with the breadth of the discussion. At the event itself you could feel the warmth of our nations’ friendship. Still, as the Symposium highlighted, there is a lot more that we could do together. We need to be brave and make our relationship even stronger, warmer and deeper.

German-Australian Symposium

German-Australian Symposium, Photo: KAS

“Alumni Networking” und der “6th Australian-German Science Circle” – Bildung und Forschung in Australien

Wie vorigen Juni schon stand diese Woche – zur Mitte des Sommersemesters der hiesigen Universitäten – bei uns im Blickpunkt eine Reihe von Veranstaltungen zum Thema Bildung und Forschung in Australien. Dabei geht es uns insbesondere auch darum, die Studienlandschaft in Australien vorzustellen und Alumni australischer Universitäten in ein Netzwerk einzubinden.


Mädchen schaut sich Informationsmaterial an. Das material ist auf Tischen im Innenhof der Australischen Botschaft ausgelegt.

Alumni Networking Event in der Australischen Botschaft

(Fotos: Kate Seabrook)

Zunächst kam eine größere Anzahl Gäste in der Botschaft zu einem Alumni Networking zusammen, mit Präsentationen zweier ehemaliger deutscher Studenten der University of Queensland und der University of Melbourne, die heute in verantwortlichen Positionen der deutschen Bundesregierung sind: Dr. Rudolf Teuwsen vom Bundeskanzleramt und Dr. Stefan Klose vom Bundesumweltministerium erzählten in sehr anregender Weise von ihren Studienerfahrungen in Australien. Dabei habe auch ich selbst als Alumnus der University of Queensland noch sehr viel über die Arbeit der Naturwissenschaftler dort erfahren können – in diesem Fall konkret über die Lebensbedingungen der Flying Foxes in ihren riesigen Kolonien in den Bäumen im Hinterland von Brisbane.

Dr. Stefan Klose vom Bundesministeriums für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit steht am Rednerpult und hält einen Vortrag, hinter ihm ist eine Leinwand für den Powerpoint-Vortrag abgebildet

Dr. Stefan Klose, Bundesumweltministerium (BMUB)

Dr. Rudolf Teuwsen vom Bundeskanzleramt. In der Hand hält er ein Reclam Heft, um zu zeigen, was er dort studiert hat - Philosophy (Thomas von Aquin).

Dr. Rudolf Teuwsen, Bundeskanzleramt

(Fotos: Kate Seabrook)

Außerdem berichtete ein leitender Manager des Entsorgungsunternehmens Remondis – in seiner Sparte eines der führenden der Welt – über die Erfahrungen seines Unternehmens in Australien und wie seine Tätigkeiten dort den technologischen und logistischen Austausch zwischen unseren Ländern befördert hat.

Torsten Weber, der Managing Director bei REMONDIS International hält einen Vortrag am Rednerpult. Hinter ihm steht eine Leinwand für seine Powerpoint-Präsentation.

Torsten Weber, Managing Director REMONDIS International

(Foto: Kate Seabrook)

Fortgesetzt haben wir diese Kontakte zur akademischen und universitären Welt mit einem Frühstück mit australischen Humboldt-Stipendiaten, dem sich am gleichen Tag noch unser 6th Australian-German Science Circle anschloss. Dies ist eine nun schon traditionelle Reihe von Zusammenkünften von Vertretern aus Fachkreisen, bei der führende australische Wissenschaftler über ihre Arbeit und ihre Perspektiven auf die Hochschulwelt berichten. Dieses Mal war bei uns der Präsident der University of Queensland, Professor Peter Høj, zu Gast, der über „Excellence is essential but not enough: How to get to Excellence plus!“ sprach und damit eine angeregte Diskussion einleitete.

Gruppenfoto, Botschafter mit ehemaligen australischen Humboldt-Stipendiaten

Gruppenfoto mit australischen Humboldt-Stipendiaten

Zwischendurch war ich noch in Frankfurt und habe bei der German Australian Business Council über den Stand unserer derzeitigen Wirtschaftsbeziehungen gesprochen – eine Woche mit typischer Abwechslung also.

Travelling in Germany for visits spanning heritage and technology issues

The last two weeks provided opportunities for me to visit two regional German centres covering issues ranging from heritage links to the latest developments in transport technology.

On Friday 18 May, I travelled to Wiesbaden to attend a wonderful ceremony, hosted by the Hesse State Minister for Culture, Boris Rhein, at which I accepted on behalf of the Birch family a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge that belonged to Flight Sergeant Ernest Hugh Birch. Flight Sergeant Birch, a 21 year old from Bunbury in Western Australia, was the only Australian crew member of a Halifax Bomber who was killed with three of his comrades when their bomber was shot down over Germany during the Second World War. The hat badge was rediscovered in 2014, 70 years after the crash, during an investigation of the site by Hesse Archaeology.

Four persons, including the Ambassador (second from the right side), are standing around a table. On the table there is a photo ofFlight Sergeant Ernest Hugh Birch and a a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge.

Ceremony at which I accepted on behalf of the Birch family a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge. (Photo B. Steinbring, hessenARCHÄOLOGIE)

Prior to the handover ceremony I had the opportunity to visit Hesse Archaeology, where I met and thanked a number of the archaeologists who participated in the dig and the conservation specialists who cleaned and preserved the hat badge. I really enjoyed the opportunity to speak to the very passionate members of the team and to discuss the excavation of the bomber site and some of the other amazing archaeological finds that have been made in Hesse over the years.

We are in the process of making arrangements to have the hat badge returned to the Birch family in Western Australia. I want to pass on my sincere thanks to Hesse State Minister for Culture Boris Rhein and Dr. Udo Recker from Hesse Archaeology for their hospitality and efforts to ensure that Flight Sergeant Birch’s hat badge makes it way home.

Photo of a Royal Australian Air Force hat badge

Royal Australian Air Force hat badge (Photo B. Steinbring, hessenARCHÄOLOGIE)

Last week I also accompanied Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, The Hon Warren Truss MP, Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, to the International Transport Forum (ITF), held in Leipzig. The ITF is held annually, and Australian ministers attend when the opportunities arise. It provides a great opportunity for Ministers to meet and help better connect people in their own countries and throughout the world. Deputy Prime Minister Truss spoke on panels about a number of modern transport policy challenges, from how to regulate shipping to drones (a cutting edge transport technology). He also used the gathering of fellow transport ministers to meet with his counterparts from the European Commission, Germany, France and Japan – all of whom had interesting thoughts on how to use infrastructure projects and new technologies to better connect us. For me personally, it was interesting to visit Leipzig and see the immense transformation the city has gone through in the 33 years since my first visit. Some people are referring to it as the ‘new Berlin,’ and I expect its future is bright.

Different people sitting around a panel and talking at the International Transport Forum

International Transport Forum

Minister Truss standing next to the German Federal Minister for Transport and Digital Infrastructure; Alexander Dobrindt MdB

Minister Truss (left) and the German Federal Minister for Transport & Digital Infrastructure; Alexander Dobrindt MdB.


Minsiter Truss standing next to EU Commissioner for Transport, Ms Violeta Bulc.

Minister Truss and the EU Commissioner for Transport, Ms Violeta Bulc.

New communication channel opened between the cities of Sydney and Berlin

Last week saw a novelty in the official links between Australia’s and Germany’s biggest cities, Sydney and Berlin. At the initiative of the Committee for Sydney, a live video connection was set up between an auditorium in Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and a studio in Berlin, creating a platform for a direct dialogue between senior representatives and panels in the two cities about common issues and challenges.

Sydney opened the presentation and discussion, with Ms Lucy Turnbull AO, in her capacity as Chair of the Committee for Sydney and President of the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, welcoming and introducing participants at both ends.

Berlin’s Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, Ms Cornelia Yzer, then took the floor to talk about her city’s strengths, with its broadly-based research and development activities, supported by three major universities with a total of more than 100,000 students. This, she said, attracted increasingly more companies investing in new or expanded operations. I was certainly happy to confirm in a brief presentation over the video link that Sydney and Berlin were a good match in the way they spearhead developments on that front, in Australia and Germany but also as internationally leading cities.


Ambassador Ritchie sits at a table together with other panel participants (two other men and a women). Ms Cornelia Yzer, Berlin’s Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, hosted the panel.

The panel participants in Berlin. Ms Cornelia Yzer, Berlin’s Senator for Economics, Technology and Research, hosted the panel.

One of Berlin’s leading urban planning experts, Dr Ares Kalandides, continued the exchange with an impressive presentation outlining some of the issues Berlin is current dealing with in further detail, including with infrastructure planning and housing and social development – and that triggered a lively response from the panel at the other end, chaired by the Committee of Sydney’s CEO, Dr Tim Williams.

I was impressed to see the depth of discussion which followed, and clearly the two cities share many challenges as leading and strongly-growing centres in their respective countries. But, quite apart from the substantial exchange, the face-to-face interaction offered by the live video link was a very welcome addition to our bilateral channels of communication.

The picture shows a large auditorium full of people looking at a video screen showing the panel in Sydney.

Live video conference between Berlin and Sydney