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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7943

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (18:12): I am very pleased to speak to this report as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and as someone who has taken a keen interest in this inquiry into Australia's relationship with the countries of Africa. For too long, Africa has been a continent that has not received from Australia the attention it deserves, except perhaps in the form of the images of non-government organisations delivering aid projects in Africa and, to a lesser extent, of Australia's participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Unfortunately, this has meant that some Australians tend to associate Africa only with extreme poverty, corruption and conflict.

While these aspects still exist in some parts of Africa, the reality is, as DFAT submitted to the inquiry, that Africa is changing for the better. Overall, it is a more stable, free and prosperous continent than 10 years ago. Following economic reforms, many African countries have enjoyed strong growth in recent years. Africa is especially rich in resources, offering major economic opportunities but posing a challenge to governments. Collectively, African countries are becoming more important in global economic and political terms. They play an influential role in multilateral forums, including in the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations. African countries make up 25 per cent of each body.

Of course, the growing involvement of Australian companies in mining in Africa has led to the continent being viewed more recently through the prism of our economic interests. The reality is that Africa is significant to Australia's interests in so many ways, not just economically, but also politically, strategically, educationally, environmentally and socially and from a global and regional security point of view. Indeed, it is a matter of common sense that we should engage comprehensively with a continent of nearly one billion people that comprises more than 50 countries. Importantly, witnesses to the inquiry emphasised that the 53 countries of Africa are extremely diverse and should not be considered as a homogeneous group of nations. For example, according to Ms Margaret O'Callaghan's submission:

… so often "Africa" is taken to be one homogenous mass. It is far from being that, with significant economic, historical and social differences between regions and countries. Factors such as population size, extent of urbanization, type of resources, human resource capacity, infrastructure, agricultural base, type of climate and geography and disease burden vary considerably.

Professor Gareth Evans is quoted as follows:

I think it is most unwise to try and impose any kind of cookie cutter analysis, any more than it is wise to impose cookie cutter solutions.

I am also pleased that the committee quickly dispatched the notion that Australia is only interested in Africa now because of its candidacy for a UN Security Council seat. As noted in the report:

The Committee is of the firm view that Australia’s increased interest in Africa is not motivated by its seeking a seat on the UN Security Council. Rather, it is motivated by a commitment to contribute to the development of the continent including through trade and investment, education and research links, and achieving progress towards the MDGs. As Mr Negin noted, if the aim was to buy a place through the aid dollar, that strategy would be ineffective. The Committee considers Australia has a long-term commitment to the continent.

While Australia's involvement in aid security and mining in Africa are clearly among the important issues examined in this report, the inquiry also carried out an examination of Australia's education and research involvement, its governmental, parliamentary and people-to-people links with African countries. The committee has made some useful recommendations on those and other matters in this report, and I will canvass some of them now.

First, the report recommends enhancing Australia's diplomatic representation in Africa, particularly in Francophone, West Africa, where there is currently no Australian representation. The post introduced in Addis Ababa last year has been very helpful but, as noted just now by the member for Kooyong, Australia still only has eight high commission or embassy posts on the African continent. These are: Abuja, Nigeria; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Accra, Ghana; Cairo, Egypt; Harare, Zimbabwe; Nairobi, Kenya; Port Louis, Mauritius; and Pretoria, South Africa. To place our eight posts into context, the diplomatic representation of some other countries include Japan with 32, India with 26, Malaysia with 13, Korea with 16, Canada with 18, China with 41, the US with 47 and the UK with 34.

With regard to Australia's aid program, the report notes:

Australia‘s ODA to Africa, administered by AusAID, in the past has been modest, but it has been increasing in recent years. Budget papers for 2011-12 show actual AusAID expenditure on Africa in 2009-10 was $103 million; the estimated outcome for 2010-11 was $173 million; and the Budget estimate for 2011-12 was $218 million.

That is more than a 100 per cent increase over three budgets, which is significant and welcomed. It is pertinent to note that a large proportion of the money donated by Australians to NGOs goes to Africa. As noted in ACFID's submission:

In 2008, nearly 35 percent of these funds were used in NGO programs in Africa. In dollar terms, this amounts to $280 million in 2007—8.48 and $323 million in 2008—9.49. This money was used to support programs in 39 African countries.

This demonstrates that there is significant support within the Australian community for aid programs in Africa.

Australian NGOs have generated considerable expertise in a few areas, and given their extensive experience on the ground in Africa are well aware of priority areas for assistance. The programs they are engaged in are varied and diverse, and include such areas as HIV/AIDS and health; food security and emergency relief; refugees and internally displaced persons; literacy and education; rural development; and child sponsorship and children‘s issues more generally. CARE Australia drew attention to the ways in which Australian NGOs add value to Australia's official aid program, including through their ability to build civil society capacity in African countries; their ability to link communities to broader policy and program efforts; their orientation towards learning, experimenting and innovation; their capacity to work in places where direct bilateral engagement is not desirable or possible; their capacity to respond quickly and effectively to major humanitarian emergencies; and through their proven ability to transition to effective post-emergency recovery efforts. Australian NGOs are notable for their high degree of accountability. The report notes:

As Australia‘s aid budget for Africa expands there will be increasing opportunity to involve NGOs in delivery of aid projects in Africa.

I certainly welcome this.

The report also recommends that AusAID provide funding assistance to capacity building programs such as that conducted by the Australian Leadership Program for Africa and the expansion into Africa of AusAID's Australian Business Volunteers program, which currently only operates in the Asia Pacific. A witness to the inquiry, Mr David Wheen, argued that by extending the program to include African countries like Rwanda, recipient countries could achieve considerable gain with a minimal increase in spending on Australia‘s part. He noted that this would make a real contribution in enhancing the quality of public administration and that there are Australians, including retired businesspeople and public servants, with the skills and willingness to become involved. The committee also had regard to Australia's extensive experience and involvement in the mining industry and considered that this presents a major opportunity for the Australian government, state governments and the wider mining sector to assist the development, implementation and administration of sound mining codes and practices in a range of African countries. The committee also recommended that the government work with the mining industry to promote corporate social responsibility and to continue to promote the extractive industry's transparency initiative, or EITI, principles and other corporate social responsibility instruments to the Australian mining sector—in particular at the Australia Down Under Conference and especially to new entrants and small operators. The committee also recommended that the government undertake steps for Australia to become an EITI compliant country, given that Australia has been criticised for encouraging countries to implement the EITI while not yet taking steps to become an EITI compliant country.

With regard to education, the committee noted that there are Australian universities engaged in African studies, including Sydney University and Monash University, which also has a campus in South Africa. In my own state of Western Australia, Edith Cowan, Curtin, UWA and Murdoch University are all engaged in various programs with Africa. For example, Murdoch University's program in Africa includes work on the application of legumes to improve soil fertility under the supervision of Professor John Howieson, Director of the Crops and Plants Research Institute. Through Professor Martin Mhando, Murdoch has also undertaken work in the area of engaging with African Australians in order to explore the potential for such communities to enable better links between Australia—including Aboriginal communities—and African countries.

I also take this opportunity to congratulate Murdoch University for their Sustaining Reconciliation in Rwanda project, which aims over five years to support the success of the reconciliation process and also to spread the messages of that success and hope to an international audience. Professor Craig McGarty leads this effort. In the project team's own words, they are working to establish 'a broader view of Rwanda not only as a place where infamous atrocities took place but where compellingly positive expressions of reconciliation and renewal can be found'.

Despite the efforts of bodies like the African Studies Association of Australasia and the Pacific and Universities Australia the engagements on Africa of a number of Australian universities are as yet not widely known or as well coordinated as perhaps they might be. One witness, Dr David Lucas, commented that Australian universities did not specifically identify scholars engaged with Africa or highlight courses or projects in this area. Indeed, they appeared to be less than fully aware of such work being done within their own establishments. Other academics pointed to the lack of an Africa specific focus in relevant topics available to tertiary students and related observations touched on issues including the absence of dedicated academic appointments in the area, the closure of the only dedicated African research institute and an absence of jobs for African experts in Australia, whether in universities or in government. This is in sharp contrast to countries like the UK, the US, France, Canada and China, all of which have a strong African studies focus.

A number of submissions noted that Australia needed to improve its understanding of Africa if it were to improve its relationships with African countries and in order to more effectively pursue foreign policy objectives through bilateral and multilateral engagements. The committee noted evidence from Dr Dymock and Dr Lyons regarding the role of the former African Research Institute, which operated at La Trobe University from 1985 to 2006, and the committee considered whether a successor to the ARI would answer the needs identified for the revival of African studies in Australia. There was consensus around the desirability of creating a centre for African studies as a means to enhance Australia's engagement with Africa through a focus on teaching and research on Africa. The committee has made a recommendation to this effect.

With regard to parliamentary links, the report notes that processes are underway within the parliament to establish an Australia-Africa parliamentary friendship group. It is hoped that this will be the conduit for increased interaction between Australian parliamentarians and African parliamentarians, diplomats and others with an interest in Africa from across the spectrum of business, academia and civil society—including African migrant communities in Australia and NGOs that have significant operations in Africa.

There are many other aspects of this report that I have not had the time to speak to today, including the issue of scholarships, scientific and agricultural research, security and the need for better engagement with the Australian African community. But I hope that persons in this place and within the Australian community will have a chance to read the committee's report. In conclusion, I want to thank the chair of the committee, Senator Michael Forshaw, who took a great deal of interest and pride in this inquiry as the last one completed by the committee prior to his retirement from the Senate. I also thank my fellow committee members, especially Senator Russell Trood, who has been the distinguished and knowledgeable deputy chair of the Australia-UN Parliamentary Group since its establishment in early 2009 and who is now also retired from the Senate. Furthermore, I wish to thank the hardworking secretariat—in particular the secretary, John Carter—for whom this inquiry and this report have represented a massive amount of work—very worthwhile work, in my view. Finally, I wish to thank all of those people and organisations who made a submission, those who appeared in person before the committee and the individuals and organisations that the committee delegation met in Africa. It is through these contacts and on the basis of the information provided in the many submissions to this inquiry that the committee has been able to come up with a report that advances our understanding of Australia's relationships with the countries and peoples of Africa and that makes strategic and forward-looking recommendations which will, if adopted, enhance these relationships.