Germany plays an important role in Australia’s international relations, even though Australian bilateral foreign policy focuses on the Indo-Pacific region. Australia maintains a close political and military alliance with the United States; extensive economic ties with four of its major export markets, China, Japan, South Korea and India; a relationship of growing political importance with Japan and India, two partners with whom it shares common values, as well as with its ten times more populous northern neighbour Indonesia; as well as its close relationship with New Zealand and the Pacific island states.
Australia is, however, aware that not only its European roots but above all its key interests and values make it a member of the Western family of nations. For Australia, this means that Europe and Germany – with its key role in the European Union and the eurozone – continue to be important partners.
In 2012, Germany and Australia celebrated an important milestone in their shared history: the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. During a bilateral visit to Germany by the then Australian Foreign Minister Robert (Bob) Carr in January 2013, the Berlin-Canberra Declaration of Intent on a Strategic Partnership was signed.
Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel last visited Australia in November 2014. During her meeting with then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the two Heads of Government established a high-level Australia-Germany Advisory Group, which over the period of a year developed 59 recommendations for further strengthening German-Australian relations. In December 2016 and February 2017, the co-chairs of the Advisory Group, German Minister of State Maria Böhmer and Australian Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann, submitted a progress report to both Governments on the implementation of these recommendations.
The Asia-Pacific Regional Conference (APRC), an international business conference held in Perth from 3 to 5 November 2017, was opened by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Over 1100 high-ranking delegates from Australia, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region attended the APRC.
Germany is Australia’s second-largest European trading partner after the United Kingdom and its tenth-largest trading partner worldwide. In 2016, bilateral trade in goods was worth nearly16 billion Australian dollars, while bilateral trade in services amounted to some 4 billion Australian dollars. However, Australia has for many years run a large trade deficit with Germany, with German exports exceeding imports from Australia many times over. The reasons for this trade deficit are largely structural: Germany mainly exports high-quality final products to Australia, while importing raw materials and primary products. In 2016, imports from Australia were worth approximately 2.4 billion Australian dollars, and goods exports to Australia approximately 13.5 billion Australian dollars.
Germany’s main exports to Australia are motor vehicles, medicines and pharmaceutical products, and machinery. Australia’s main exports to Germany are gold and other precious metals, coins and agricultural products (especially oilseed).
German industry is represented in Australia by the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which has offices in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as a new Queensland Chapter in Brisbane. The Australian trade and investment development agency Austrade is affiliated in Germany to the Australian Consulate General in Frankfurt am Main, where it is represented by a seconded Trade Commissioner. In November 2016, a so-called Landing Pad for Australian start-ups was opened in Berlin’s Betahaus co-working space, with support from Austrade and the Australian Embassy. It is the only Australian Landing Pad in Europe (there are others in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Singapore and Shanghai).
Australia and Germany have a long tradition of close cultural ties. Germans were among the first European settlers in Australia and made major contributions to the exploration and development of the “fifth continent”. In regions with a large number of German immigrants, such as the Barossa Valley in South Australia, there is today a re-emerging awareness of this heritage. Numerous German associations (mainly choral societies and rifle clubs) can be found throughout the country.
German scientists and researchers also played a significant role in Australia’s discovery and exploration. Figures still remembered today in Australia include the explorer and naturalist Ludwig Leichhardt, the botanist Ferdinand von Mueller and the geophysicist and polar explorer Georg von Neumayer.
In Australia, there are Goethe-Institut branches in both Sydney and Melbourne as well as two German schools (also in Sydney and Melbourne) and several Saturday schools. The long-established German International School Sydney has awarded the International Baccalaureate – recognised in both Australia and Germany – since as early as 2002. In contrast, the newer Deutsche Schule Melbourne opened in January 2008 as a primary school and now has approximately 100 pupils enrolled in bilingual classes. In addition, the bilingual Froebel Early Learning Centres in Melbourne and Sydney have begun offering the “Haus der kleinen Forscher” (Little Scientists’ House) programme, a German initiative aimed at encouraging young children’s interest in science, technology, computer science and mathematics.
There are some 90,000 learners of German at Australian schools (approximately one percent of all students). Among final-year pupils, German is – after French – the most popular European foreign language, though there is now a general trend towards learning Asian languages.
Particularly intensive relations are maintained at university level. The number of partnerships between German and Australian higher education institutions has risen to over 570 within the past ten years, making Germany the fourth largest cooperation partner of Australian universities worldwide, after China, the United States and Japan. The lively exchange between universities and scientists and academics on both sides is promoted by Germany through scholarship programmes, especially those of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). To this end, the DAAD runs its own Information Centre in Sydney, thus providing a first point of contact for anyone interested in studying or pursuing research in Germany. The Institut Ranke-Heinemann in Essen and Berlin represents Australia’s and New Zealand’s universities, schools and vocational academies in Germany. The Institut Ranke-Heinemann and the organisation GOstralia!-GOzealand! advise and assist on all questions relating to studying in Australia.
The high-level Australia-Germany Advisory Group has given further impetus to the already excellent bilateral relations in the cultural sector. A Year of Australia in Germany – under the motto “Australia now” – was held in 2017, organised by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Germany is also currently a priority country under Australia’s Catalyst International and Cultural Diplomacy Stream. Following a recommendation by the Advisory Group, the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and Saarbrücken’s Saarländisches Staatstheater staged a joint gala opera performance in July 2017, which proved to be a major cultural highlight of that year.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.