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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 3686

Senator FORSHAW (New South Wales) (12:53): I present the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade entitled Inquiry intoAustralia's relationship with the countries of Africa. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I think this will be the last time I will make a formal speech in this chamber and I am particularly delighted to do it on the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee report I have just tabled. This is the first comprehensive report of our relationship with the countries of Africa by this committee or indeed by any other parliamentary committee.

This report is timely for a number of reasons. Many other advanced countries are turning their attention towards Africa. Indeed, in 2009 the President of the World Bank, Mr Robert Zoellick, called for the 21st century to be 'the century of Africa'. Why is this? In geopolitical terms, African countries have increasing influence on international organisations; in resource terms, Africa has vast reserves—about 30 per cent of the world's mineral resources; in trade terms, the African population represents a huge potential market; and, in agricultural terms, Africa's underutilised arable land represents great opportunities to feed not only the African continent but other parts of the world.

Australians have for a long time been interested in Africa. The Australian public donates far more to aid organisations than Australia's official development assistance. Academics too have been interested in Africa, although recently expertise has been fragmented across the universities in Australia. Now the Australian mining sector is becoming a major investor in Africa. The committee received evidence that 227 Australian resource companies have projects on the ground in Africa. At least 53 com­panies and 172 new projects commenced operation for the first time in Africa since the beginning of 2010. The total projected capital investment of projects is more than A$27 billion.

I can already report on one outcome of this inquiry. It has brought together people throughout Australia with an interest in Africa and African issues, including academics, businesses and Australian non-government organisations. This rich vein of knowledge and expertise is ready to be harnessed in promoting Australian interests in Africa.

Let me highlight some of the key findings of the report. Australia's diplomatic representation on the African continent is significantly less than that of our major trading partners: the US, China, Japan, the UK and the EU. Further, Canada and, in our region, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia all have substantially more diplomatic posts than Australia, and Thailand and Vietnam have comparable representation. Whilst the importance of Africa and African issues has increased over the past 25 years, Australia's diplomatic presence has decreased from 12 to eight posts in the same period. Our diplomatic presence is now concentrated in southern and eastern Africa and the former British colonies. There is a considerable gap elsewhere, particularly in Francophone Africa.

Therefore, this report recommends a comprehensive review of Australia's diplomatic representation on the African continent with a view to opening an addi­tional post in Francophone Africa as a priority. Also it recommends increasing the number of Australia based French-speaking diplomatic staff in the existing west African high commissions and, as a short-term measure, increasing the number of Aust­ralian honorary consuls in Africa.

The committee welcomes the increasing level of Australian development aid to Africa in recent years. The areas where Australia is focusing its assistance—agriculture, food security, water, sanitation, and maternal and child health—are where Australia has expertise and can, therefore, generate the greatest impact. The committee has not commented on Australia's aid effectiveness, because that is currently being reviewed by an independent panel. Nevertheless, a committee delegation, which visited four countries in Africa, was impressed by the potential benefit of supporting private sector initiatives. Provided such projects are carefully selected, there is the advantage of leveraging additional funds from the private sector, affecting large numbers of people through an expanded local economy and supporting a sustainable enterprise with the potential for growth. The committee received evidence from the private sector and individuals about initiatives which develop capacity in African countries. The committee believes these programs should be encour­aged and has recommended that AusAID provide assistance to such programs.

Whilst in Africa the members of the committee delegation were regularly approa­ched by African government ministers, officials and businessmen advocating Australian involvement in creating regu­lation frameworks for the mining sector in African countries. As a major minerals exporter, Australia has the experience and expertise in this area and could readily assist African countries. Robust regulatory frame­works offer certainty for business and would benefit resource-rich African countries. There is thus a major opportunity for the Australian government, the state government and the wider mining industry to use their expertise to assist the development, imple­mentation and administration of sound mining codes in a range of African countries. The committee has recommended that there be established a special unit in the Australian government tasked with establishing a regulatory framework model for the mining and resources sector which African countries could consider adopting according to their requirements.

The higher education sector is now a significant contributor to Australia's export earnings. The sector has a growing reputation for building links with academic institutions in developing countries. It is in Australia's interests to further develop these valuable ties and similar relationships in research and higher education in Africa. The committee recognises that there needs to be a balance with respect to the provision of scholarships to Africans. On the one hand, Africa will benefit through the transfer of skills if African students return to their country of origin after completion of their studies. Australia also benefits because the African alumni will act as ambassadors from Australia. On the other hand, the immediate benefit to Australia occurs when African students remain in Australia, because their skills alleviate Australia's skills shortage. Such a brain drain is of concern not only to African countries but also to other countries providing talented students to study in Australia.

The committee has recommended that AusAID's scholarships program should include providing scholarships to African students to undertake tertiary education in Africa. This could involve study at African universities and at Australian universities with links with Africa.

There is within Australia a substantial body of expertise on African issues. The committee believes that it is important to promote its coordination and further development. Therefore, the committee has recommended that a centre for African studies should be established, preferably within a university in Australia. A centre will facilitate a coordinated approach to education and training both at undergraduate and graduate level. Further, it will establish a focal point for coordinating expertise on African issues.

There are a range of other matters that the committee dealt with, including trade and investment, recognising the potentially huge market of Africa, and issues to do with corporate social responsibility. One that I wish particularly to refer to because my time is running short is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. This is a process whereby host governments publish what they receive from mining companies which in turn publish what they pay. This promotes transparency and is aimed to reduce the risk of corruption.

The only First World country that has signed up to the EITI is Norway. No other First World country, including Australia, either is an EITI candidate or has signalled intentions to adopt its principles. It would certainly enhance Australia's advocacy of EITI adoption on the African continent if it were itself engaged in the process of becoming EITI compliant.

I will seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my speech, but I do want to mention one other recommendation. The committee believes that the increasing opportunities for links with Africa, including the potential for increased trade with Africa and the increasing levels of investment that are already occurring, warrant the establish­ment of an Australia-Africa council similar to those that currently exist for other countries and regions. I point particularly to the great success of the Council on Australia Latin American Relations. That organisation had its genesis in a report by this committee back in 2000 when it looked at Australia's relations with Latin America.

As I said the committee report also discusses other issues, including defence and security, the work of our peacekeeping forces over many years on the continent and also issues that face African migrants and refugees living in Australia. In conclusion I thank firstly the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, who supported a delegation from the committee visiting the country and particularly their visit to Zimbabwe. Finally I thank my colleagues on the Africa subcommittee. I particularly thank the hard-working secretariat, I know some of them are here in the chamber today, Dr John Carter, James Bunce, Dr Brian Lloyd, Rhys Merrett, Jessica Butler and Gillian Drew. I also thank Dr Margot Kerley, the secretary of the full committee, who is leaving the parliament after some 20 years service. I believe this report will enhance our relations with Africa and I commend it to the Senate. I seek leave to incorporate the remainder of my speech.

Leave granted.

The remainder of the speech read as follows—

Turning to trade and investment, Mr President—

The 53 countries of Africa have a total population in excess of one billion; in Sub Saharan Africa the population is in excess of 870 million. This represents a potential huge market. Australia's trade links with Africa are currently modest, but there are opportunities for joint ventures with businesses in South Africa and in the horticultural and tourism sectors generally.

Australia is increasing its trade and investment links with the continent, yet has only a handful of Austrade personnel in Africa. Due to the increased importance of trade and investment in Africa combined with the large geographical area and increasing workload, the Committee has recommended that the number of Austrade offices and personnel that are based in Sub-Saharan Africa be increased.

The corporate social responsibility obligations of Australian resource sector companies operating in Africa was raised by a number of witnesses. The report discusses in some detail the activities of several Australian mining companies in Africa including the links with NGOs with an interest in this area.

Of particular note, Mr President, is that BHP Billiton has a target of spending one per cent of its pre-tax profit on community programs. In 2009-10 this amounted to $200 million which makes BHP Billiton the third largest development agency in Australia—after the Australian Government and World Vision!

The Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) is a process whereby host govern­ments publish what they receive from mining companies which in turn publish what they pay. This promotes transparency and is aimed to reduce the risk of corruption.

Norway is the only First World country that is EITI compliant; no other First World country, including Australia, is either an EITI candidate or has signalled intent to adopt EITI principles. It would considerably enhance Australia's advocacy of EITI adoption if it was itself engaged in the process of becoming BM compliant.

The Committee has also recommended that the Government promote corporate social respon­sibility and continue to promote the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative 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 believes the increasing opportunities for links with Africa, including the potential for increased trade with Africa and the increasing levels of investment that are already occurring, warrant the establishment of an Australia-Africa Council similar to those currently existing for other countries and regions. An example of such a council is the Council on Australian Latin America Relations—an organ­isa­tion which had its genesis in a recom­mendation from this Committee in 2000.

The Report also discusses the defence and security aspects of Australia's engagement with Africa, and issues facing African migrants and refugees living in Australia and how the African community in Australia can contribute to Australia-Africa relations.

The Committee has recommended that the proposed Australia-Africa Council should include within its goals, support for activities that encourage and facilitate cultural interchange and exchange, particularly including the Australian African community.

In closing, Mr President, I would like to thank all those who provided submissions and gave evidence at the public hearings I also wish to thank the Prime Minister and the Foreign Affairs Minister for enabling a delegation of the Committee to visit four countries in Africa as part of the inquiry. In particular, the Foreign Minister encouraged the Committee Delegation to visit Zimbabwe. This provided valuable insights into the situation in that country.

Finally, I thank my colleagues on the Africa Sub-Committee, and the secretariat.

[Those who worked on the report were Dr John Carter, James Bunce, Dr Brian Lloyd, Rhys Merrett; office staff were Jessica Butler and Gillian Drew]

Mr President, I commend the report to the Senate.

Senator Michael Forshaw

Senator for New South Wales