Ambassador Dr Anna Elisabeth Prinz in Australia

Which topics are currently shaping bilateral relations between Germany and Australia?

At the moment the main emphasis in bilateral relations is on implementing the recommendations made by the high-level advisory group (AGAG) which were finalized after Chancellor Merkel’s visit in November 2015. For the first time in history they provide for regular 2+2 talks between the two countries’ foreign and defence ministers. The recommendations also include intense cooperation in strategy issues, in economic policies – especially Industry 4.0 – innovation with cooperation between universities and enterprises, and a deepening of cultural cooperation.  

At the moment Australians are very interested to see what effects the UK’s Brexit decision will have. People are worried that Britain and, because of the close ties, Australia could lose influence and market access as well. So the interest in strengthening German-Australian relations is growing. Another concern is that uncontrolled flows of refugees could destabilize Europe. Media images from 2015 have made deep impressions, and the perception of the successes in joint European efforts and German responses is very hesitant. A third topic concerns changes in the labour market due to Industry 4.0. Although almost all of the processes in mining are already remote controlled, the discussion about changes in other areas has not been pursued as intensely as in Germany, and there is a definite interest to join in exchanges about innovative ways forward.

What special ties are there between Australia and Germany, and in which areas would you like to deepen the relationship?

Australia and Germany share many viewpoints and basic values. As an important industrial nation we are a partner in the G20, NATO and many other organizations. Consequently, we need to deepen strategic discussions in the face of increasing tensions in several regions of the world, including the nearby South China Sea which is important for our trading routes. In addition to this there is a need for action in research cooperation and economic networking, especially with reference to new technologies and Industry 4.0.

Australia is particularly advanced in medical research. For instance, in Melbourne there is one of the best hospitals and research centres for cancer treatment. There are also key developments in sensor implants in the brain that control artificial limbs and in the production of artificial ears, to mention just a few examples. In Germany we are often more advanced in the fields of technical application and the marketing of inventions, so there are interesting openings for cooperation. Another major field is improving cooperation between universities and companies. When our students go abroad for a semester, many of them also want to gain practical experience in companies. So we need to make new connections in this respect to create foundations for future joint research projects or cooperation between companies, or to create links between the start-up scenes in both countries. Another area in which cooperation needs to be developed and networked is environmental technology. On the one hand there is a need to catch up in securing alternative energy in Australia; on the other hand there are pioneering projects, such as a huge tomato plantation in the desert that has been developed by two Germans and is operated entirely with solar energy. Admittedly, the significant level of coal exports, especially to China, are a major contributor to carbon emissions in the region. In future Australia wants to shift the emphasis and expand its exports of liquid gas which is more environmentally friendly. This could also be a promising opening for joint projects that transform harmful emissions into useful products.

At the end of 2015 an Australian-German Advisory Group developed 59 recommendations for deepening relations between the two countries. What does this mean in real terms, and what progress has been made so far?

It applies to the deepening of relations on all levels, and more than half of the recommendations have already been implemented. One of the most important results was the decision to hold joint strategic dialogues between the two countries’ foreign and defence ministers every two years. The first meeting took place in Berlin in September 2016, and the next one is scheduled for 2018 in Australia. In the meantime there will be a series of conferences and talks on individual issues surrounding the recommendations. It’s important to keep up the conversation with friends rather than simply reacting to crises. It’s important to plan ahead for things we want to do together and for areas where we want to create mutual strength. Joint working groups and visits by delegations are also important for innovation and research, Industry 4.0, and issues concerning energy and the environment. Australia has also announced its intention to present the innovative 2017 “Australia Now” festival in Germany. At the end of this year Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Turnbull will be receiving the advisory group’s interim report from their respective representatives, Minister of State Maria Böhmer and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

Almost 30,000 Germans under 32 years of age spend time in Australia each year as part of the Work and Travel scheme.  What are the relations like between the young people from Germany and Australia?

It’s striking how easily the young people overcome the huge distance. In fact they really enjoy spending a night and a day in a plane watching films, flying to the other side of the globe for almost the same price as a ticket to the USA or Asia, and landing in a distant paradise with plenty of opportunities and high pay levels. They find their way around, communicate easily, and there are no unusual problems. Nevertheless, we need to make it clearer that in addition to working on farms and in restaurants, the Work and Travel students also have a chance to join in Study and Work schemes. We want to work on this together with Australian institutions, with the chamber of commerce, the German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, the Goethe Institut, businesses and the various consulates in Australia. There are many possibilities, but it isn’t always easy to spot them, so we need to develop their visibility.

The inside and the outside views of a country often differ. What, on the basis of your personal experience, should be said about Australia?

I have only been the ambassador to Australia for a few months and am busy making first visits to discover the individual states in the continent. This often means travelling for days because of the sheer size of the continent. After all, my accreditation will also include Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Vanuatu and the Salomon Islands. On previous postings I often spent a lot more time at my desk, but here it’s the reverse. It’s difficult to describe the continent’s potential adequately. From the outside Australia seems similar to a European country, and its great wealth of natural resources, the friendliness of its people and its western structures make it feel very familiar. When I’m travelling I see the continent from the inside, and it still has a wealth of undiscovered opportunities for pioneers – with unknown outcomes, continuing high levels of immigration from Asia and links with emerging regions. It’s good that we are intensifying political and strategic dialogue with Australia. Many people from Asia see Australia as the continent where the new leading elites are educated, where European and American experiences are translated for Asian contexts, a base from where innovations can access emerging Asian markets. Australia is still viewed from the outside as a British colony in Asia, and these attributes are also visible in Australian traditions. From the inside I can see a continent transitioning in the direction of Asia with continuing strong immigration, market openings and interconnections.

Dossier: Dispatches


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