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Australia's relationship with the countries of Africa
Joint committee
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
Australia's relationship with the countries of Africa

CHAIR (Senator Forshaw) —I formally open this public hearing of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquiry into Australia’s relationship with the countries of Africa. I acknowledge the presence in the audience this morning of His Excellency, Mr Lenin Shope, South African Higher Commissioner. Welcome, Excellency, and thank you for the submission from your high commission. We will be hearing from you after lunch today.

This is the first public hearing of this inquiry into Australia’s relations with the countries of Africa. Africa is a diverse continent of 53 countries spanning vastly different environments, sharing different experiences of Africa’s colonial past and with differing levels of resources and economic development. Africa also faces many challenges in such areas as governance, security, health, migration, food production and the impact of climate change. Further, there are also a number of serious and prolonged conflicts which have both regional and global impacts. Australia is actively pursuing a policy of increased engagement with Africa in recognition of Africa’s increasing global importance, both economically and politically. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has indicated that Australia’s engagement with Africa will focus on enhanced political and diplomatic engagement, supporting Africa’s efforts to promote economic growth through investment and trade, supporting African countries in their efforts to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals and addressing peace and security challenges in Africa.

These two days of public hearings in Canberra will enable the committee to discuss these and many other issues in detail with Commonwealth departments and other witnesses. Today we will hear from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAID and Austrade, plus the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. The South African High Commissioner and the Nigerian High Commissioner will also appear before the committee and offer an African perspective on the relationship. We are very grateful for their submissions and appearance.

There will be a third day of public hearings in Canberra next week on Tuesday, 27 April 2010, when the committee will be receiving evidence from representatives of the non-government sector. The committee will meet with academics with a research interest in Africa and NGOs providing aid to Africa. The committee will then move to Sydney on Wednesday, 28 April 2010, to hear from witnesses, including past Australian ambassadors to countries in Africa. Then in the beginning of May, the committee will be meeting in Melbourne to receive further evidence from mining companies, mining service companies, academics and NGOs. Further public hearings will be arranged and details will be advised in due course.

I refer any members of the media who may be observing to the need to report fairly and accurately the proceedings of the committee, as required by the Senate order concerning the broadcasting of Senate and committee proceedings. I remind witnesses that, while they are not formally required to give evidence on oath, these public hearings are equivalent to proceedings of the parliament and evidence must be truthful.

[9.39 am]