As Australia’s non-resident ambassador, I have the pleasure of visiting Switzerland – one of the world’s oldest democracies – several times a year. Each trip offers a valuable opportunity to meet with stakeholders in government and business to discuss Australia and Switzerland’s dynamic relationship (and, of course, to experience Switzerland’s breathtaking scenery and world famous chocolate!).
Swiss-Australian ties continue to go from strength to strength. Switzerland is a major investor in Australia (our sixth largest overall) and an important dialogue partner on issues such as international development, the protection of human rights and global finance. There has been considerable high-level contact between our countries in recent times, with the Australian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Trade and Investment Minister and Communications Minister all visiting Switzerland in 2014.
In the morning of 24 March I met with senior representatives from Glencore and UBS in the Zurich area. Both companies are important investors and employers in Australia. Together we exchanged perspectives on the Australian and Swiss economies and global financial trends. We also discussed Australia’s favourable business environment and new strategies for attracting further Swiss investment.
Later that day I joined other Ambassadors from the Asia Pacific for a tour of the Novartis Campus in Basel. The site was once littered with smokestacks and old industrial warehouses. Today, it boasts first-class architecture and impressive design, with individual buildings devised by greats like Frank Gehry, David Chipperfield, Tadao Ando and Álvaro Siza. The Campus supports a diverse and multinational workforce dedicated to researching, developing, and producing healthcare solutions. The Campus’ philosophy reminded me of a major tech company in the Silicon Valley. Novartis’ operations in Australia are an important link in the company’s global network.
On 23 March I met with Swiss officials from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the State Secretariat for Migration in Bern. We shared viewpoints on the Asia Pacific – a global engine for economic growth – and our responses to humanitarian crises in the Middle East and elsewhere. For lunch, I had the pleasure of dining with members of the Swiss-Australian Parliamentary Friendship Group.
So it was another exciting trip to Switzerland, a country that is approximately half the size of the Australian island Tasmania, but with nearly 16 times more inhabitants. Each time I learn an interesting new fact: most recently, that Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first lieutenant-governor of the Australian state of Victoria, spent three years in Neuchâtel and was married to a Swiss woman! I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to visit.