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Australia and Switzerland strengthen their ties


Tourist attraction, Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a huge monolith rising in the center of Australia. The Aborigines consider it a sacred mountain. Keystone / Lukas Coch

Despite a distance of nearly 17,000 kilometers, Australia and Switzerland are closer than many think. Today, the two countries are getting even closer, with a new embassy in Bern and a visa specially designed for young globetrotters.

This content was published on January 12, 2022 – 13:04

Urs Walterlin

Swiss Foreign Minister and current President of the Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, tells the story of a young Swiss academic who was to become a Nobel Prize winner. This young man wrote 50 application letters before finally being accepted into the Australian National University (ANU). It was in Canberra, the capital of Australia, that Rolf Zinkernagel finally got his research position in the field of immunology.

The young Swiss shared a laboratory with an Australian colleague, Peter Doherty. The rest is history: the two researchers discovered how the immune system identifies cells infected with a virus. “They published the results of their research in 1973. In 1996, they received the Nobel Prize”, emphasizes Ignazio Cassis.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs speaks of it with emotion. A doctor by training, he himself had “had the unique opportunity” to observe Rolf Zinkernagel at work when he was a young student in Zurich: “He was my teacher”.

It was with this anecdote that the Ticino Federal Councilor recently illustrated the close friendship, often based on personal relations, which links Australia and Switzerland, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.External link between the two countries.

Around 26,000 Swiss live on the continent, i.e. the 7e largest expatriate community in the world, and the 3e greater outside of Europe. The year before Australia’s borders closed to tourists due to Covid-19, 43,100 Swiss visited the “Land Down Under” the equator.

Swiss traces in viticulture

The Swiss are part of historyExternal link of Australia since 1777 already. That year, on January 27, John Webber – actually Johann Wäber – was the first Swiss to set foot on Australian soil on Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania. This son of a Bernese emigrated to London was the painter of the third voyage to the South Seas of the British explorer James Cook. After the colonization of the Red Continent by convicts and British colonists in 1788, Swiss emigrants traveled to this mysterious territory on the other side of the globe.

The first wave of Swiss immigration began after Charles Joseph La Trobe was appointed Superintendent and then Lieutenant Governor of Victoria in Melbourne. He had married Neuchâteloise Sophie de Montmollin, who had accompanied him to Australia. Thanks to these contacts, winegrowers from the Neuchâtel region and the Bernese Three-Lakes region began to emigrate. Famous names like De Pury, De Castella, Leuben and De Meuron have helped produce some of Australia’s best and most famous wines.

The gold rush of the mid 19e century attracted thousands of Swiss gold panners, particularly from Ticino.

Later, it was mainly craftsmen from German-speaking Switzerland who sought better fortune there. Even today, young craftsmen with a Swiss apprenticeship can most of the time celebrate commercial successes quickly.

Swiss investments

In 1855, Switzerland opened a consulate in Sydney, then a year later in Melbourne. Diplomatic relations between the two countries officially began in 1961 with the opening of an Australian embassy in Switzerland. Since then, the two countries have signed a series of agreements aimed at promoting political, economicExternal link and cultural.

According to the Australian Department of Foreign AffairsExternal link, “economic relations with Switzerland are developing, particularly in the field of scientific research and development, trade and reciprocal investments”. In 2019, mutual trade in goods with Switzerland was worth CHF 3.5 billion. Switzerland exported 2.32 billion francs worth of goods to Australia, mainly medicines, watches, aircraft and spare parts as well as other pharmaceutical products.

Australia’s main exports to Switzerland were gold, medicines, meat (except beef) as well as silver and platinum. “Switzerland is a valued investment partner for Australia,” the ministry said. In 2019, the stock of Swiss investments in Australia amounted to 37.2 billion francs, according to the Australian ministry. Swiss investments in Australia focus on the pharmaceuticals, medical technology and services, banking and insurance sectors.

According to the Swiss-Australian Chamber of Commerce SwisschamExternal link in Sydney, Switzerland is the 10e largest source of foreign investment in Australia. Mining group Glencore, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Roche, Nestlé and financial services providers Credit Suisse, Zurich and UBS are among the best-known Swiss companies with representation on the continent. The main Australian companies present in Switzerland are Sonic Healthcare, the Macquarie group and the biopharmaceutical group CSL.

Back to Bern

In recent months, Australia has twice strengthened ties with Switzerland. On the one hand, Canberra announced its intention to reopen an embassy in Bern after 30 years. As the Swiss ambassador to Australia, Pedro Zwahlen, explained to swissinfo.ch, “this decision recognizes the importance of Switzerland in the global diplomatic network. Added to this is a structural strengthening of bilateral relations and the fact that the perception of Switzerland in Australia is also improved”.

A further step was taken with the decision of the Australian government to allow young Swiss to work in Australia in future with the so-called “Work and Holiday” visa and thus be able to earn the necessary money to travel. Switzerland is thus placed on an equal footing with 44 other countries to which Australia has granted this privilege for years.

travel and work

“If young people have the opportunity to live once in another country, learn the language and work, they gain a lot of life and work experience, which can only be useful to them in their future professional activity. in Switzerland”, argues Pedro Zwahlen. And then, “there is of course also the human dimension. The friendships formed at this age can mark you for life and thus contribute to cooperation in many areas between Switzerland and Australia. It is therefore a program where everyone is a winner.”

>> Becoming Australian, a report broadcast by Continents sans visa (RTS) in 1968 (39min.):

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