Although Hungary and Australia have very different histories and are far from each other geographically, we have our hearts in the right place and have a lot to share, according to the Ambassador of Australia to Hungary, Dr. Brendon Hammer. In an extensive interview with Diplomacy&Trade, he also discusses what he calls a “rich and colorful bilateral engagement” in Hungary by the Embassy and through the contributions of the 73,000 Hungarians living in Australia.
Dr. Brendon Hammer took up his position as the Australian Ambassador to Hungary (resident in the Austrian capital, Vienna) in October 2016. When announcing his appointment, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop declared that Australia enjoys warm relations with Hungary, cooperating closely on a range of multilateral issues, such as human rights, security, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism and law enforcement.
The Ambassador tells Diplomacy&Trade that, “Australia and Hungary share a warm bilateral relationship. Having established full diplomatic relations in 1972, each has developed a wide-ranging institutional architecture to support bilateral engagement and cooperation since the end of communism in Hungary in 1989. Although, the two countries have very different histories, and we are far from each other in geography, both of us have our hearts in the right place and a lot to share. In particular, we can learn from each other. The bilateral relationship is growing in all fields and levels – community, trade and politically – and we share a commitment to the UN and international security.”
The Ambassador adds that recent high-level visits, in both directions, demonstrate growing political ties. “The visit (in September 2017) of Australia’s Governor General – the first ever by an Australian Head of State – was an excellent opportunity to exchange views with the most senior Hungarian officials and especially with his host, Hungarian President János Áder. There was excellent ‘chemistry’ between the two heads of state. They spent considerable time together,” the Ambassador notes. President Áder also visited Australia recently, during the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.
One area of growing mutual interest is water management issues. As the driest inhabited continent in the world, water management is an important question for Australia. In fact, Australian Prime Minister Turnbull is a member of the United Nations Leader-level High Level Panel on Water along with Hungarian President Áder. Moreover, adds the Ambassador, “Australia and Hungary have a strong track record of mutual support in a variety of multilateral forums. For instance, we supported each other’s candidacies to the Human Rights Council in 2017. And we work closely together in some areas of national security, for example we are together in Afghanistan (in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission) and against ISIS (Global Coalition against Daesh – formed in September 2014 to tackle ISIS on all fronts).” Australia is also a partner to the OSCE, where Hungary is a full member. “This provides an additional multilateral platform by which we can engage on matters of mutual security interest,” he adds.
Tackling people smuggling
Australia's policy of not letting potential migrants and refugees into the country in an unregulated manner and without thoroughly checking them has been praised by the Hungarian government. As Ambassador Hammer points out, Australia’s border management is focused on providing safe and legal pathways for protection to those most in need, while discouraging people smuggling. “These policies respond to our regional circumstances where often people are not directly fleeing harm. Strong border protection increases public confidence and underpins Australia’s generous migration and humanitarian intakes (190,000 persons migrate to Australia every year); in addition, Australia’s annual humanitarian intake is rising to 18,750 by 2018. This policy sends a message that the use of people smugglers does not offer a passage to Australia. My country works actively in a range of multilateral forums to advance international approaches and cooperation on questions of irregular migration, people smuggling, human trafficking and modern slavery.”
According to the Ambassador, the trade relationship offers plenty of room for growth and there is potential to do this. “Australia welcomes Hungary’s open, pro-free-trade position, which aligns with Australia’s view that free trade and open markets offer the best opportunity for development and prosperity. As I understand, Hungary seeks to increase exports to non-EU countries. Australia has welcomed this initiative, which was announced during Minister Szíjjártó’s visit to Australia in February 2017 to open a Hungary trade office in Sydney.”
The Australian Embassy is in regular contact with representatives of the ‘triangle of Hungarian trade policy’: Eximbank, the Hungarian National Trading House and Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) to explore opportunities and enhance trade between the two countries. Bilateral trade comes from a (very) low base but has large growth potential, especially in the agri-food sector, pharmaceuticals and natural resources. Currently, vehicles and other electrical equipment and machines are Hungary’s main exports to Australia, while it is medicaments that are mainly exported from Australia to Hungary.
Free trade agreement
In the view of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the European Union should conclude a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia and New Zealand before the Brexit, and before any Australia-UK FTA is concluded. As to what opportunities such an agreement would provide for Australia and Hungary, the Ambassador stresses that there is strong potential across a range of sectors. In particular, because Australia has excellent access into the world’s fastest growing markets in Asia, Hungarian products can travel into Australia and feed into products travelling from Australia to those destinations. Australia’s well-established, high-quality free trade agreements with the giant markets of China, Japan and Korea can greatly assist this. He believes it is hard to find any downside. In particular, he says, Hungary and the EU should not worry about opening their markets to Australian agricultural products. First, the amount of agro-products from Australia is relatively small when measured against total EU demand, and in any case, Australia’s agricultural products are increasingly being sucked into Asia, where they are in high and growing demand.
The Ambassador goes on to say that “launching an Australia-EU free trade agreement would send an important signal about Australia’s and Europe’s joint leadership role in global trade policy in these challenging times. As two major markets, Australia and the EU need to signal commitment to open trade and investment as well as shared values, a liberal democratic heritage and a commitment to the rule of law.” He again stresses that Australia is an ideal entry point for European business: “an FTA would provide the opportunity for European investors to link with value chains and commercial networks in Asia.” Beyond China, Japan and South Korea, Australia also has FTAs in force with the ASEAN Group, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, Chile and New Zealand. “All this means that we have established markets – and as the world enters a new growth cycle, we are struggling to meet rapidly-growing Asian demand for a range of goods and services.”
Colorful bilateral engagement
Regarding aspects of bilateral cultural, science and education relations, Ambassador Hammer points out that “in Australia, the government is particularly interested in fostering all areas of innovation, from science and technology to business start-ups and beyond. We know Hungary has much human potential across this area. There is a long list of Hungarians who have made big contributions in Australia [see BOX] while in Hungary, the Embassy manages a rich and colorful bilateral engagement by participating in several events including the annual ‘Australia Day’ in Budapest. “We also manage an Australian Alumni program in Hungary, which brings together Hungarians and Australians based in Hungary with academic/ professional links to Australia.” A Work & Holiday Visa Arrangement began with Hungary in January 2017, providing a great opportunity for young people via short term exchanges that build long-term relationships.
“The Australian Embassy’s Deputy Head of Mission, Alison Drury, has recently visited the ELI-ALPS Laser Center in Szeged and learned that Australian researchers were involved in establishing the center. More broadly, there are approximately 800 Hungarian students studying in Australia yearly. We would like this to grow. We were very pleased when Hungary offered to provide 30 scholarships to Australian students to study in Hungary, a great opportunity for further exchange between our two countries.” The Ambassador also mentions that in Solymár, northwest of Budapest, the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery holds the graves of 13 Australian airmen, killed far from home in action in 1944. “On a more somber note, their sacrifice links our two countries together in another, special way.”
Australia also maintains a connection with the ‘Nozzies’, a group based in Budapest that brings together Australians and New Zealanders living and working in Hungary. And most recently, Australia was the international guest of the 21st Békéscsaba Sausage Festival in October 2017, which was one of the Embassy’s largest public diplomacy events of the year. “It was a great success, very effective in promoting Australia as a tourism destination, its gastronomy, culture, education and friendship with Hungary. We took the opportunity to bring and proudly showcase our indigenous culture to Hungary, with performances by the Koomurri Aboriginal Group. Earlier in the year, in July 2017, we took part in the inauguration of an Australia Point in the town of Békés, initiated by the Association of Australian and Békés Citizens, a very enthusiastic and active friendship group in Hungary.”
As to how much he has had the time and opportunity to travel to Hungary, Ambassador Hammer states he has made three official visits: at the presentation of his credentials in February 2017, during the state visit of the Australian Governor-General in September 2017, and in Budapest again, on the way to attending the Békéscsaba Sausage Festival. Meanwhile, Deputy Head of Mission Alison Drury and the Embassy’s dedicated Hungary policy officer, Patricia Marity, regularly (every two months) travel to Hungary and there are quarterly consular visits, as well. The Ambassador says that one of the things he particularly appreciates about Hungary is the fruit brandy pálinka. “I don’t drink many spirits but I really like this one a lot. There are some wonderful varieties. I am building quite a collection.” He adds that he would very much like to visit Budapest more often as it is a beautiful city. “My wife and I have hiked all around the hill up to the Palace and we enjoyed that very much. I would also like to find out more about Hungarian wine. I have already been treated to some very fine Tokaji, but would like to explore the Hungarian wine regions and also go back to the southeast of the country. Travelling back from the sausage festival, I found the autumn landscape on the Great Plain extremely beautiful: the small towns and forests, the trees and the water. One can see why this part of the world has generated so many great empires and why people have been living here for many-many centuries.”
Australia has around 73,000 citizens with Hungarian ancestry. Ambassador Hammer highlights that “Australia is richer for our vibrant Australian-Hungarian community. As people-to-people links underpin the bilateral ties, these people are the cornerstone of the relationship. The vast majority of migrants to Australia from Hungary arrived in the 1950s. They are grateful to Australia for opening its doors following the 1956 uprising and this has established a positive footing for the broader relationship. These Hungarians form an active community, are key contributors to Australia’s multicultural society in all aspects of life and provide a good platform on which to grow the bilateral trade relationship.”
There were, and are, many well-known Hungarians in Australia, such as:
– Sir Peter Abeles (1924-1999), a businessman who was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia;
– Claire Dan, (AM OBE), the wife of Sir Peter Abeles was a Hungarian-Australian actress and philanthropist. She founded the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977;
– George Francis Bornemissza (1924- 2014), entomologist and ecologist who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to Australian entomology;
– Judie Kaszab (1920-2015), born in Vienna to Hungarian parents, was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in recognition of service to the visual arts. She was the first woman to win the Archibald Prize twice (in 1960 and 1967);
– Cheryl Bart AO, an Australian lawyer who also served on the Board of the ABC. In 2008, Bart and her 23-year-old daughter were the first mother-daughter team to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Her father was a Hungarian concentration camp survivor.
As mentioned enthusiastically by Australian Deputy Head of Mission, Alison Drury, prominent figures in sports include cricketer Jason Voros, Australian Rules footballer Patrick Veszpremi, Fencer Gregory Benko, boxer Joe Bugner or world champion canoeist Vince Fehérvári. A well-known sports journalist, soccer broadcaster and analyst, Les Murray (born László Ürge) passed away on July 31, 2017 accompanied by nation-wide mourning. Prominent in the arts and culture are Australian award-winning (Logie) actor Don Hany (born to a Hungarian mother), Laura Csortan (model and Australia Miss Universe and then Miss World contestant), along with film producers, actors, writers and poets. In the legal field, Anthony Endrey (1922-2010) was a Queen’s Counsel, and Master of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Another important linkage the Ambassador mentions is Ákos Niklai, former head of the Hungarian Hotel & Restaurant Association who used to be the Managing Director of Hayman Island Resort, Great Barrier Reef in NE Australia. “Ákos has been a great friend to Australia, and was very helpful to us during the recent visit of our Governor-General”, says Ambassador Hammer.