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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 19:46 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 19:46 | SYDNEY

Australia at the St Gallen Symposium

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17 May 2012 10:48

Dr Daniel Woker is the former Swiss Ambassador to Australia, Singapore and Kuwait and now a Senior Lecturer at the University of St Gallen.

Probably more than at the 2012 Davos Word Economic Forum (the uebervater of all public-private talkfests), Australia was a topic at the 42nd St Gallen Symposium (ISC), held traditionally over two days before the first May weekend.

Most notably, Australia came up during a blue ribbon panel discussion when Germany's Peer Steinbrück (former German Finance Minister and State Premier of Nordrhein Westfalen), commonly considered the only person within the social-democratic camp who could beat Angela Merkel at the polls, exhorted the Europeans not to permit Europe's slide into a somewhat marginal global position (eine Art zweites Australien, 'a kind of second Australia').

This writer gave a brief remonstration (see 41:01). But still, a note to Australian brand managers abroad (diplomats, traveling politicians venturing for once from the British Isles to the continent, academic leaders, etc): the perception of Australia as a crucial part of the Asia Pacific future is not yet universally accepted. 

St Gallen is a small university town in eastern Switzerland, across the mountain from Davos, if you like, and the St Gallen Symposium is run by students from the university for students from all over the world, including a small but growing and vocal contingent from the best Australian universities, selected by an essay competition and having all expenses paid.

Just like 'Davos', ISC brings together big names from business, politics, academia and the media. Unlike Davos, it is intimate, personal (everybody gets to talk to everybody) and unencumbered by excessive security, as on the political side it is ministers rather than prime ministers who participate, as well as past (or future) leaders of large institutions rather than the present officeholder.

ISC is above all a meeting where promising young people, somewhat pompously called 'leaders of tomorrow', occupy central stage and are not only permitted, but encouraged to take the leaders of today to task. Young Australians were very much part of the event this year. In a particularly interesting debating panel on the the proposal, 'In the long run, the West will prevail', umpired by the BBC's Peter Day, the Australians lined up without exception in the 'aye' camp.

Australia came up again in a second panel on energy, comprising the CEOs of HSBC Bank, Infosys, Glencore and the Indonesian Minister of Trade. This panel came to the interesting conclusion that, despite the current high and rising energy prices, the future was not all bleak: 'Shale gas will be a game changer, away from the Qatar's of this world and towards traditional energy producers such as the US, if and when the environmental impact of fracking can be tamed'.

Generalising from that, this year's ISC might have been a bellwether for a fundamental shift: growth will not come from the BRICs (Brazil's growth rate for 2011 was 2%!) or MISTs (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey) any longer but from the traditional heavies. The optimism with regard to the US economy was striking, and even the much maligned eurozone was given basic thumbs up from the all four participants of the energy panel.

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