Celebrating the 60th anniversary of Australian-German diplomatic relations

National Library of Australia, Canberra

15 February 2012

Speech, E&OE

It's good to be with you tonight to celebrate sixty years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Germany.

We need only look around us here at the National Library of Australia to be reminded of both our countries' rich and deep histories.

The National Library has one of the greatest collections to document the richness of our first Australians, whose culture we celebrate as amongst the oldest continuing cultures.

And then there's the Handwritten exhibition, which you will see tonight.

The exhibition has given Australians rare access to original manuscripts penned by some of the greatest minds in human history.

This incredible collection from the vaults of the great Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin includes:

A rare personal letter from Otto von Bismarck's own hand alluding to the "excruciating" duties of office.

The intense scribblings of Ludwig van Beethoven as he constructs his Fifth Symphony, with all the crossings-out and amendments that came with his working manuscripts.

And the poem, "Wer bin ich?" [Who am I?], penned by one of the men I admire most, Dietrich Bonhoeffer– which gives us a rare glimpse of his self-doubt one month before he was executed.

The exhibition is testament to the deep, cultural history of Germany and the city of Berlin.

It also reflects the strength of the Australian-German relationship and the trust we have in each other, with this being the first time that many of these manuscripts have ever left Europe.

Sixty years since we established diplomatic ties, Australia and Germany stand today as two countries with shared values, shared global interests and strong links between our people.

We are also outward-looking economies that have been rewarded for taking advantage of the opportunities of global growth.

We here in Australia firmly believe that Germany is a great leader, not only in Europe but throughout the world, promoting democracy, prosperity and stability.

Likewise, Germany looks to Australia as an important partner in the G20, as the world's 13th largest economy and the fourth largest in Asia.

Australia and Germany's direct bilateral links have achieved many milestones in recent times.

In education and research, with our universities and research centres sharing hundreds of linkages and an ambition to work together to bring about important innovations.

In business, where, for example, over 750 German-owned businesses are active in all sectors of the Australian economy and generate over 90,000 jobs for Australians.

On my visit to Germany last month, my counterpart, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and I committed to taking our relationship to the next level through a new strategic partnership.

It will be an important step because we'll be committing to a partnership that's no longer purely focused on the bilateral but rather the common values that we bring to every region in the world.

It will take to a new level our strong partnership that is already making a difference around the world.

Take our work in Afghanistan, where both our countries are playing a leadership role both in troop contributions and in development assistance.

Together we've helped strengthen air traffic control safety in the country.

And Australian and German personnel have also jointly managed the construction of a major road in Uruzgan Province, which has helped link isolated communities and bring new economic prospects to them.

And in the Philippines, a joint development project between our two countries has helped more than 100,000 children in Mindanao get an education.

Today, we may be celebrating 60 years of Australia and Germany's diplomatic relationship but of our course the ties between our people go back much further than that.

Generations of Germans have helped forge modern Australia.

As explorers. As miners. As farmers. As wine makers. As industrialists.

And as academics.

German migrants were recognised very early on in Australia's colonial history as hardworking and industrious.

In May 1912 the former Australian Prime Minister Sir George Reid, in the first ever address by a foreigner to the German Reichstag, described the "force of character" and the "silent, but indomitable, industry" of German migrants to Australia. He said:

"We have amongst us many of your countrymen, and they have deeply impressed our people by their force of character, their silent, but indomitable, industry, their domestic virtues, and their social worth … I tell you candidly we would rejoice to increase the number of our German fellow colonists."

In true Australian style, the centenary of Sir George's address will be marked this May by a horse race in Berlin – the inaugural Sir George Reid Memorial Cup.

A letter held here at the library by Prussian naturalist and explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt, to his brother speaks volumes of the pioneering spirit of German Australians.

In it, Leichhardt, whose bicentenary we will commemorate next year, tells of the hero's welcome he received in Sydney after his eighteen month expedition across Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Despite almost dying during the trip, Leichhardt couldn't contain his excitement as he told his brother about his plans for his next expedition to the tropics.

With an exceptionally enquiring mind, throughout his lifetime Leichhardt catalogued thousands of species of Australian flora and fauna – many of which now bear his name.

I mention Leichhardt as a symbol of the links between our two countries.

Of course Australia's only literary Nobel prize-winner, Patrick White, essentially tells the Leichhardt story in the novel Voss.

Voss has been turned into an opera and, in a neat reversal and a sort of home-coming that speaks volumes about the cultural cross-currents between our two countries, the Staatstheater in Cottbus - near Leichhardt's birthplace in the Spreewald - plans to stage extracts from it as part of its own bicentenary commemorations.

So Leichhardt's contribution will be marked in both our countries.

It will be a further opportunity for both our countries to reflect on what we have achieved and to look to what we can do together in the future.

So tonight we celebrate a rich and robust friendship between Australia and Germany.

Our ties – politically, culturally, economically and socially – are growing stronger by the year because both of our countries place great value on friendship.

And we are both committed to building on our strong relationship in the future.

To benefit Australia.

To benefit Germany.

And to benefit the world.


Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555