Saturday, 29 September 2018 – Saint Ignatius’ Riverview College, Sydney
Organised by the Council of the Swiss Abroad representing Oceania hosted by the Swiss Club of New South Wales
The Oceania Swiss Club Presidents’ Conference 2018, organised by the Oceania Delegates of the Council of the Swiss Abroad, coincided with the 50th Anniversary of the Sydney Yodlers and was held at the expansive campus of Riverview College on Sydney Harbour. 38 participants, including five from New Zealand attended. The distinguished panel of presenters included no less than three Swiss Ambassadors: Pedro Zwahlen, Ambassador of Switzerland to Australia; Yasmine Chatila Zwahlen, Ambassador of Switzerland to Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu; and David Vogelsanger, Ambassador of Switzerland to New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu. Included also was Consul General Bernadette Hunkeler Brown and, all the way from Switzerland, Simone Flubacher, Delegate for Swiss Abroad Relations, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), Bern.
The morning session was reserved for relaying various messages from the Swiss government representatives to our region of Oceania. We learned a lot about the Pacific area, which often gets overlooked in the equation as there are few Swiss people living on these Pacific Island nations. But from an environmental viewpoint the Pacific is enormously important for the whole world, because the Pacific Ocean is the planet’s blue lung and, according to some models, absorbs around 13% of the annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry every year. Swiss involvement is mainly on an ecological, scientific level to asses changes in climate and Switzerland works closely together with the Pacific Forum based in Fiji. We also learned that there are about 60 Swiss nationals living in Papua New Guinea, mostly in a missionary function. In Oceania there are around 33,000 registered Swiss of which about 7,000 reside in New Zealand. All presenters stressed historic facts as far as early settlers in both countries are concerned, where Swiss migration played an important role. The various diplomats also highlighted the importance official Bern gives to all matters concerning the Swiss Abroad and their efforts to accommodate the demands of the Swiss Abroad in our area and ensure it has been adequately serviced. Australia ranks number 7 and New Zealand number 17 within the top 20 most popular destinations for emigrating Swiss. For the Swiss community in Oceania the ratio is 46% male to 54% female and 61% are between the age of 18 to 64.
The afternoon session brought various subjects to the forum such as the perennial fight of the Swiss Abroad with Swiss banks, old age pension payments and resulting tax problems, health insurance and, of course, e-voting. Various speakers urged the Swiss Abroad to sign the petition to the Swiss authorities for enabling e-voting by the year 2021.
Another topic stresses the importance of managing the archives of the Swiss Clubs in Oceania in an orderly way so as to ensure their survival and availability for future research. A publication was prepared to this end by CSA Delegate Roland Isler. Other topics on the agenda, presented by CSA Delegates Carmen Trochsler and Katja Walliman Gates, were “Good Practice for sharing children’s photos online” and the establishment of an “umbrella organisation” for all Swiss Clubs in Australia in a way similar to that already in place in New Zealand, the UK, France, Germany and Italy. The idea and proposal was discussed at length and the advantages of having such an “umbrella organisation” has been highlighted by some Club Presidents. The idea will be discussed further among Swiss Club members and their committees so as to ensure a broad-based approval. An umbrella organisation would guarantee a more unified approach for requests and demands presented in Bern and would also facilitate communications and collaboration in all directions. One of the main benefits of the meeting was certainly the interchange between the Club Presidents from the various areas and it was noted with pleasure that some Swiss Clubs (like Perth and Adelaide) with new and dynamic young Presidents are achieving a positive reversal of membership numbers and who reported a record new membership list. Obviously, well planned and well organised functions are still attractive to all ages.
The meeting concluded with an invitation from the Swiss Clubs in New Zealand to host the meeting of the Oceania Swiss Club Presidents 2020 in Auckland at a time between the end of September and the beginning of November.
The Chairman, Beat Knoblauch, acknowledged the generous sponsorships from the Swiss Community Care Society in Sydney, from the Swiss Club of NSW and donations in kind from the Swiss Consulate General, Lindt Chocolates and printed materials from various sources.
Preceding the conference was a magnificent harbour cruise the night before with over 250 participants, which included Swiss Yodlers from all over Oceania. Swiss music was heard all over Sydney Harbour which presented itself to great advantage in the benevolence of a balmy evening on the water.
The meeting finished with a Gala Dinner at which Yodlers from all over Oceania presented a magnificent show and overseas guests were amazed at the variety of the program and about the Swiss-ness of all the presentations. It was a delight vocally as well as visually.