Canberra, 18-20 November 2022
The Swiss Alliance Australia (SAA), in partnership with the Australian delegates to the Council of the Swiss Abroad and the Embassy of Switzerland in Canberra, hosted the 4th Biennial Oceania Swiss Club President's Conference in Canberra last month. The conference titled ‘Communication, Collaboration and Innovation’ was to promote one of the SAA’s core objectives of increased and more frequent cooperation among the members of the Swiss community. Another founding objective of the SAA was to become more accessible and to create a virtual 'front door' to the Swiss community here in Australia and the Oceania for migrants, expats and importantly, the federal Swiss agencies looking to better connect with the Swiss in the region. The conference was attended by representatives of Swiss organisations from both Australia and New Zealand together with distinguished guests, Deputy Director General of the Consular Directorate at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), Laurent Perriard, Swiss Ambassador to Australia, Caroline Bichet-Anthamatten, Swiss Ambassador to New Zealand, Viktor Vavricka, Filippo Lombardi, President of the Organisation of the Swiss Abroad and the Consulate-General of Switzerland in Sydney, Conny Camenzind. The conference was open to all leaders of Swiss organisations in the region with the aim of strengthening the links between the representatives of the Swiss organisations in Oceania and to provide a forum for information exchange. With many delegates travelling from interstate and abroad, the Friday night proved an invaluable opportunity for delegates to unwind and introduce themselves over a dinner held the German Club Harmonie in Narrabundah, Canberra.
Saturday's conference was hosted by Ambassador Bichet-Anthamatten at the Embassy with world-renowned Swiss hospitality on show for all to enjoy. Attendees were addressed firstly by the host Ambassador who reinforced the objectives of the SAA in coming together more often and working together as 'one' Swiss community as well as providing an update on Swiss-Australian relations. A focus of the relations was for the safeguarding of the stable democracies both countries shared with a noteworthy reflection of how the much older Swiss constitution influenced Australia's constitution by the adopting mandatory referendum and the 'double majority rule'. A similar update was provided by Ambassador Vavricka highlighting the similarities with his own objectives in representing Switzerland in New Zealand. Both countries share in stable democracies which from an ambassador’s perspective, is not to be taken for granted. As was the case with Ambassador Bichet-Anthamatten, the briefing for his tenure in New Zealand centred on developing and strengthening the Swiss community abroad highlighting the importance of the umbrella organisations in Australia and New Zealand to facilitate such development. Having this ‘front door’ to access the organised Swiss makes the work of Embassies and Consulates much easier. Both Ambassadors look forward to working together with Swiss Club leaders to work through our shared goals of strengthening the Swiss community abroad. This message was echoed by OSA President Filippo Lombardi who joined the conference via zoom to congratulate and thank the Swiss Club leaders for their service and success in establishing the SAA as well as taking the time to attend the conference. He praised the volunteers that drive the organised Swiss abroad and highlighted the commitment by Swiss Club leaders to strengthening the Swiss community in the Oceania region. Carmen Trochsler, who sits on the executive board of the OSA with Filippo Lombardi, complemented his message with a brief overview of the organisation, the communication channels and the results of a needs survey conducted earlier this year. Carmen as well, stressed the importance and benefits of collaboration between the different groups and institutions to meet the needs of the Swiss in the region. The online event on “Education in Switzerland” in October, which was organised by the CSA delegates & the SAA in collaboration with the Swiss Embassy and the support of the Swiss Consulate General and Swiss Clubs was very well received and a great example of such collaboration. She concluded that, in order to be of service to the Swiss, including the younger generation and those in regional areas, collaboration and communication is key and the OSA is grateful to have the SAA as an important partner and link.
The conference was also delighted to have Mr Laurent Perriard, Deputy Director General, Consular Directorate attend and address the delegates with an update from the FDFA in Bern. Mr Perriard praised the organised Swiss in the region and provided examples of how the work of Swiss Club leaders was closely aligned with the objectives of his department. An engaged, strong and vibrant Swiss community abroad was the goal of the FDFA and it is the clubs that lay the foundations for this to be achievable locally. He thanked the volunteers and provided an update of the FDFA website which included an information portal to answer questions for retirees living abroad.
He also presented a new-look Swiss passport which apart from the pages representing each canton now also features one page dedicated to the ‘Fifth Switzerland’. The new passport will start circulation once stock of the current version is depleted, which is expected to take place late 2023 or early 2024.
Another initiative to pique the interests of attendees was the introduction to the new ‘SwissInTouch’ mobile application now available on Android and IOS devices. The new ‘app’ marketed as ‘Switzerland in your pocket’ allows users to set up a profile to manage a timeline of life events guided by the individual’s location abroad and the administrative supports available to that person from the FDFA at the time. The intuitive app helps users navigate the information and resources that are available to them in real time without having to search for it online. The information essentially ‘comes to you’ which was appreciated by the delegates who look forward to sharing the information with their clubs. Club leaders were inspired by the innovation from the FDFA and that the Deputy Director had taken the time to personally present and share the new resources with them. His presentation prompted much discussion in the room and reinforced that the FDFA was an ally and a resource to the club presidents and the organisations they represented. The newly appointed Consul General, Conny Camenzind, introduces herself and thanked retired Consul General Bernadette Hunkeler Brown for her services and for handing over the Consulate in excellent shape. She provided general information on the duties of the Consulate in Sydney. She also advised that there has been an almost complete staff turn-over and introduced some of the new staff, in particular the new Consul & Head of Chancery, Andrea Köppel Nko’o, who can be contacted to answer any questions that are not covered on the website eda.admin.ch/Sydney. Just prior to the afternoon session, CSA delegate Peter Ehrler, provided a contrast to the management of international pensions between Australia and New Zealand. Delegates were challenged by the methodology by which the NZ government assesses income for retirees. For many retirees in NZ, additional pension/superannuation income is deducted from the available NZ pension resigning many of the Swiss abroad there to live off only their international superannuation income as they are cut off from the NZ pension. Further lobbying is required to reassess this in the future. After a sumptuous Swiss-inspired luncheon in the embassy lounge, the afternoon of the conference provided the Swiss Club leaders with the opportunity to share updates and initiatives from their clubs. The conversation was led by SAA President Claude Staub who continued the sentiment of the morning session to explore the ‘how’ of strengthening the Swiss community in the Oceanic region. The development of the SAA as the umbrella organisation was a centrepiece for making the aims and goals of a stronger community, a reality. The umbrella organisation provides firstly a virtual ‘front door’ to the Swiss community where the FDFA and their broader consular network now have a central access point to communicate with the Swiss associations. Secondly, where at present Swiss associations have acted individually in representing their members, being part of the SAA now provides ‘one’ strong voice when making representations on behalf of the member clubs and their members. And thirdly, it provides more opportunity to communicate and collaborate and come together as a community more often. It is in this that we can create the opportunities to grow and develop the organised Swiss community here in the region. Examples of other successful umbrella organisation in Europe (FOSSUK) and the Swiss Society of New Zealand (SSNZ) provide a roadmap for the benefits of working together. The conference attendees were able to hear from the President of the SSNZ, Othmar Hebler, who outlined the structure of the NZ umbrella organisation and highlighted the contrasts that exist between the SAA and the SSNZ, in particular the rotating leadership structure which is a key feature of the NZ system – something for the emerging SAA to consider.
Having only been incorporated in 2020 the SAA has been busy in its foundational year with the development of its own strategic plan and key initiatives to address the 15 aims and objectives of the SAA. This was supported by the development of the new SAA website www.swissallianceaustralia.org which was presented by Carmen Trochsler on behalf of CSA and SAA Vice-President Roland Isler, who was incapacitated due to COVID and was regrettably unable to attend the conference. Club leaders were enthusiastic to highlight the new website’s professional appearance in representing the SAA member clubs online. There were opportunities to ask questions, in particular about the national calendar which was well received by the attendees who are now able to advertise Swiss club events on a central calendar.
Carmen again deputised in presenting the ‘new look’ of the ‘Swiss Review’. Everyone was pleased with the minor change in the structure of its content as well as some colour coding for an easier reference to the content that may be of interest to the reader. The new ‘blue’ section, edited by Roland Isler, represents the regional (Oceania) news which, it was noted, was of more interest to most Swiss Abroad.
Another initiative, co-presented by CSA Katja Wallimann Gates and President of the Swiss Community Care Society NSW, Regula Scheidegger, was that of closer collaboration between the three Australian benevolent societies. Whilst they operate in different states, they have commenced dialogue to share in best practices surrounding membership – managing members/volunteers; fundraising; events; intake and response; allocation of resources (discernment procedures); investments strategies; and administrative support to other states to establish new societies. This tangible example of ‘working together’ showcased the development of Swiss communities which is an important goal of the SAA and one that is welcomed and supported by the FDFA. Mr Perriard was keen to thank the benevolent societies for their valuable work on behalf of the FDFA as these volunteers carried on their backs the strategic objectives of his team also. He shared also that future projects could be supported by pockets of funding available from time to time with further details available through the FDFA website.
A new Topic emerged for broader consideration by all Swiss Clubs: one is digitalisation of all records kept by the Swiss Clubs, so as to salvage the archives for later generations and also for future research. It will also facilitate the other project: that is establish an e- library of biographies / profiles of Swiss migrants to Australia. CSA Beat Knoblauch and Carmen Trochsler also highlighted the project by a Canadian Swiss to promote an e- Museum of the Swiss Abroad. Beat mentioned the add printed in the documents to look for suitable / interested persons to engage in these projects and asks the Swiss Clubs to reprint the add in their publications.
Next on the agenda was for attendees to hear from Martin Scarpino (SAA Treasurer) about one highly anticipated benefit of SAA membership – the national public liability insurance policy. The umbrella policy has presented and discussed in greater detail. One major benefit, member clubs saving up to 50% off their existing policies, was of particular interest. The discussion revolved around the future direction of the initiative as well as non-member clubs canvasing their interests with questions regarding the policies inclusions, exclusions and what a transition to a national policy would look like.
The afternoon concluded with presentations from club presidents regarding the challenges and opportunities faced by most Swiss Clubs. A recurring theme from previous conferences was that of an ageing membership and difficulties in attracting new and younger members joining their club, and in particular joining their committee. It was accepted as reality that from 15-35 years old, many Swiss are preoccupied with other priorities in their lives and don’t find the time to consider membership to an ethnic social. To invest in the Swiss kids’ programs for the younger Swiss to inspire them and immerse them in their heritage in a fun and engaging way is all the more important. Such an investment early would ensure a greater success in attracting and retaining them at 35 when they are likely to have children of their own and receptive to giving their own children such experiences. In 2023, the SAA proposed to support the member clubs further to think through these opportunities through networks to engage and inspire club leaders more often than the 2-year cycle between conferences. Details were proposed to be released with the strategic plan in early 2023.
The Saturday of the conference concluded with a thank-you to the Ambassador and her team for all their hospitality throughout the day including a superb evening dinner for conference attendees and partners. Hand selected Swiss wines accompanied a culinary tour of Switzerland with several items showcasing typical delights of the various cantons of Switzerland. The evening event also provided an opportunity to farewell retired Consul General Bernadette Hunkeler Brown.