Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Australia and Africa: Looking to the Future

Speech by Stephen Smith MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs (check against delivery)

University of Sydney International Forum on Africa, Sydney

19 March 2010

Thank you for your kind introduction.

Your Excellency Marie Bashir, Governor of New South Wales

University of Sydney Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence

Erastus Mwencha, Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission

Tendai Biti, Minister of Finance, Zimbabwe

Sue van der Merwe, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa

Mr Brahim Fassi-Fihri, President of the Amadeus Institute of Morocco

Marie Roussety, High Commissioner for Mauritius and Dean of the Africa Group in the Diplomatic Corps

Ambassadors and High Commissioners

Professor Geoff Gallop

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am pleased to be here today to speak about the importance of the relationship between Australia and Africa, the continent, its countries and its peoples.

I have on many occasions spoken about the Government's commitment to broaden and deepen Australia's engagement with Africa.

From Perth, there is a somewhat different perspective on our region, seeing Australia both as a country of the Indian Ocean, as well as a Pacific nation.

Australia needs to look west to Africa.

For too long Australia had not given Africa the priority that it deserved.

I am pleased to be here today to outline the progress the Australia Government has made in enhancing that relationship.

A changing Africa

Africa is changing for the better and this is under appreciated in Australia as it is internationally.

It is a more stable, free and prosperous continent than it was a decade ago.

The number of countries in crisis has declined and significant conflicts have ended, including civil wars in western and central Africa.

Later this year, South Africa will host the World Cup.

The South African Government predicts there will be as many as 400,000 international visitors during the tournament.

Australian already bought over 40,000 tickets, a goodly sum of these numbers will come from our shores.

We look forward to the tournament being a great success for South Africa and for Africa as a whole.

Africa, of course, continues to face serious security and development challenges.

Australia is concerned about developments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Sudan, among others.

HIV/AIDS, poverty and food insecurity remain serious problems.

We can't and we don't gloss over these issues, but we do recognise recent progress.

Today, Australia sees a more confident Africa, engaging with the world.

We see millions of African men and women enjoying more freedom, greater economic opportunity and greater security than before.

Governance has improved markedly, with progress on accountability, political liberalisation and economic management.

Nearly all African elections are now genuinely contested and political representation has broadened to reflect the diversity of African society.

When this is not the case, the African Union these days is quick to condemn challenges to democratic principles.

Australia also recognises that Africa is taking greater responsibility for its own security, including through the work of the African Union, and its regional Peace and Security Missions.

Earlier this month Australia supported an African Union high-level symposium in Addis Ababa on the protection of civilians in peacekeeping missions.

Robust economic growth is also transforming Africa and raising living standards.

The World Bank has said it expects Africa-wide economic growth of nearly four per cent in 2010 compared to 1 per cent last year.

Working with the African Union and the countries of Africa, Australia wants to continue to contribute to Africa's future.

Change Brings Opportunity

The many positive changes I have mentioned herald enormous opportunity not just for Africa but for Australia.

Australia is a continent and a country of over 20 million people.

Africa is a continent of more than 50 countries and nearly a billion people.

To prosper into the future, Australia, as a great trading nation, cannot ignore this.

Until recently, the Australian private sector had been quicker to recognise the economic importance of Africa than had the Australian public sector.

This has particularly been the case for the mineral resources industry.

Already more than 150 Australian minerals and petroleum resources companies have interests in more than 40 African countries, with current and prospective investment estimated at $20 billion.

Australia's minerals and resources companies have more projects in Africa than in any other region of the world.

It is not just investment. Trade with Africa is also growing.

Trade in goods with Africa is valued at close to $5 billion, having grown at more than 6 per cent annually over the preceding decade.

Recognising Africa's economic potential, the Australian Government is committed to supporting expanded economic linkages with Africa.

I reinforced this message at the Africa Down Under Conference in Perth last year, as did my colleague, Trade Minister Simon Crean, at the Cape Town Mining Indaba meeting in February this year.

A number of our African colleagues have hosted trade and investment fora here in Australia, including the Australia-Africa Business Council Conference on the Gold Coast in September last year and just this week, South Africa hosted a trade and investment seminar in Melbourne.

Just as there are sound economic reasons for enhancing our engagement with Africa, there are also good strategic and geopolitical reasons.

Africa's role in the World

African nations have an important and growing influence in multilateral fora.

They comprise more than a quarter of the membership of the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

For Australia it makes strategic sense to engage with Africa bilaterally, regionally and through the African Union.

As a committed multilateralist, Australia wants to work closely with African nations to tackle the challenges of this century.

It is difficult to imagine progress on issues such as climate change, the millennium development goals, trade liberalisation, disarmament, and United Nations reform without working closely with Africa, African countries and the African Union.

Of course, in Africa, as in all regions of the world, Australia seeks to build support for its candidacy for a temporary place on the United Nations Security Council for the 2013-14 term.

The cynics who assume Australia's engagement with Africa is simply or only about this really miss the fundamental point: Australia's re-engagement with Africa is driven by a clear-eyed and pragmatic view of our long-term strategic and economic interests into the future.

It also reflects Australia's commitment to be a good international citizen, and to support Africa, which remains the continent with the highest percentage of people living in absolute poverty, in making progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Whether you look to Europe, the United States, India, Japan or China, the world sees opportunity in Africa and opportunities for Africa in the world. Australia's re-engagement is part of this long-term common sense, wider trend.

Implementing our Africa agenda

Over the last two years, the Australian Government has strengthened Australia's relations with Africa and its constituent nations.

We have set about

Australia now has diplomatic relations with 51 of Africa's 53 countries, excluding Guinea Bissau and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is compared with 41 in 2007.

In 2008 Australia established diplomatic relations with Burkina Faso and Liberia.

In 2009 Australia established diplomatic relations with Niger, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo and Cape Verde.

In 2010 we have established diplomatic relations with the Central African Republic and Somalia.

We have expanded our missions in Abuja, Accra, Cairo, Harare and Nairobi.

There has been a steady stream of visitors in both directions.

In January 2009, it was my privilege to be the first Australian Foreign Minister to address a meeting of the African Union Foreign Ministers Executive Council Meeting in Addis Ababa and to then formally meet almost 30 of my African Foreign Ministerial counterparts.

In January this year I was the first Australian Foreign Minister in more than seven years to visit South Africa, a country which remains by far our most important economic partner in Africa.

I made the first ever visit by an Australian Foreign Minister to Botswana and to the Headquarters of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) based in Botswana's capital Gaborone.

The Governor-General visited ten African nations last year, and my colleagues Trade Minister Simon Crean, then Minister for Defence Joel Fitzgibbon, Parliamentary Secretary for Development Bob McMullan and Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support Mike Kelly have also made important recent visits to Africa.

Last year I hosted in Australia, the Foreign Ministers of Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania.

This month the President of Botswana visited Australia.

Today and this week we have seen important visits by distinguished African colleagues.

This represents more such visits in one year than the previous 10 years combined. We will work to maintain a high level of engagement.

As I indicated, I am very pleased that we have many distinguished African visitors here with us today.

These high-level visits have focused attention on Australia's relationship with Africa on both sides of the Indian Ocean.

They have begun to lay the foundations upon which we will work to further our common interests.

We of course work closely with many African countries on a range of global challenges.

Australia and South Africa, for example, cooperate closely in the G20.

We are engaging closely with African countries on climate change and in the WTO, especially on issues like agricultural trade liberalisation.

Australia is also working through the United Nations Peace Building Commission on its priority countries Burundi, Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone.

In Pretoria in January 2010 I announced that Australia would contribute $ 6 million over the next two years to peace building efforts in the United Nations system, including $ 2 million to support peace building initiatives focusing on Burundi and Sierra Leone.

To further this important work on African peace and security issues, I'm announcing today that Australia will make a further $500,000 contribution to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The Court is mandated to try those who bear greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian and Sierra Leonean law.

This will bring Australia's total contribution to the Special Court to $1.5 million.

Development assistance

In this financial year 2009/10, Australia's development assistance to Africa will increase by 40 per cent on the previous financial year 2008/09, providing assistance to over 30 countries.

Our assistance explicitly focuses on areas where Australia is best able to make a difference.

This includes assisting African countries reach their Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the areas of food security, water and sanitation and child and maternal health.

As part of Australia's assistance to Africa, we have previously committed through our budget processes $100 million over four years to support Africa's own efforts to improve food security.

Our support will enable the opening of rural markets and increased crop and livestock productivity.

In this endeavour, we will work closely with key African regional organisations in agricultural research and market development.

Education is also a vital part of our development assistance, building the capacity of African countries and forging enduring people-to-people links.

The Australian Government also recognises the importance of fostering institutional links.

I am delighted at the interest that Sydney University and others have shown in grasping these opportunities.

To support this goal, I announce today a new Australia-Africa Millennium Development Goals Research Partnerships Program.

This $8 million initiative will assist African and Australian education and research institutions to work together to support African economic growth and progress against the Millennium Development Goals.

The Program will promote research linkages and exchanges on issues such as food security, maternal and child health, climate change and natural resource management.

It will also enable African institutions to draw on Australian development research expertise to build the capacity of counterpart African institutions.

Australia has a long tradition of assisting countries with access to education through scholarships and we are committed to delivering an expanded scholarships program in Africa.

In 2010, we have doubled the number of scholarships to Africa to more than 250, and made them available for the first time to five West African nations, including Nigeria and Ghana.

This brings the total number of countries in Africa receiving scholarships to 19.

We will continue to expand our scholarship program in Africa, with 400 awards to be offered in 2011, and 1000 scholarships offered a year across Africa by 2012-13.

We have also put in place fellowships that will cover resource sector governance. This year these fellowships have been offered to 24 African officials from 15 countries.

In 2009-2010, Australia will also expand its volunteer programs in Africa.

Fifty new Australian volunteers will be placed in nine countries, including the first 10 Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development to Africa, who will depart for Ghana in April and July.

Ghana, Kenya, Namibia and Tanzania will all host Australian volunteers for the first time, this year.

Conclusion

Australia is committed to Africa for the long term.

This commitment is based neither on sentiment nor short term expediency but on the mutual economic, social and political interests Australia and Africa can advance together.

We want to draw on our experience and expertise in ways that will make a unique and positive contribution to Africa.

We want to work with Africa to make a contribution to development, to security and to global engagement.

We want to work with Africa to tackle global challenges from climate change to free trade.

We want to work with Africa to be a part of the future that Africa is forging for itself.

This is clearly in Australia's long term national, social and geopolitical interests.

Thank you.