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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1561

Mr HAYDEN (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —by leave-I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond to the report of the Joint Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee concerning Australia's diplomatic representation in Africa and adjacent Indian Ocean island states. I appreciate that the Committee, and particularly its Sub-Committee on Middle Eastern and African Affairs, has found time to give attention to this important aspect of Australia's relations with Africa.

Since I took up the Foreign Affairs portfolio, I have been concerned to ensure that my Department's resources are deployed in a manner consistent with Australia's national interests. As regards Africa, this has meant a readjustment in diplomatic representation to reflect the fact that Australia's relations with and interests in Africa lie predominantly, though not exclusively, in east Africa, the Horn and southern Africa. In this respect my views coincide with those of the Committee.

The House will also be aware of my concern to develop Australia's relations with its Indian Ocean neighbours. In January 1984, the Government adopted guidelines for a comprehensive and integrated Australian policy approach to Indian Ocean issues based on recognition of Australia's interests in the region and its status as an Indian Ocean littoral state. Under these guidelines the Australian Government seeks to give greater attention to the development of relations with Indian Ocean island countries and, to a lesser extent, East African states. I am pleased to note that the Committee's report is in line with these objectives.

The Committee has made three major recommendations concerning Australia's diplomatic representation in Africa and the Indian Ocean. The Government has already implemented two of those recommendations. In January 1984, the Government approved the opening of a resident High Commission in Mauritius, and the post has been in operation since March 1984. The High Commission is accredited to Seychelles, Comoros and it is intended that it will be accredited to Madagascar. It will be the focal point for Australia's bilateral and regional policies concerning the Indian Ocean island states.

Following the 1984-85 Budget discussions the Government approved the opening of a post in Addis Ababa. The post was established in December 1984. This decision recognised the strategic importance of Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia's role as host to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Organisation of African Unity, and the value of having a resident diplomatic presence to deal more effectively with the Ethiopian Government and relief agencies in meeting both the short and longer term problems arising from the tragic famine affecting the region. It has been possible to open the additional posts in Africa, the Indian Ocean and Budapest as a result of the reassessment of the actual and prospective operations and purposes of all our missions.

The decision to close the High Commission in Accra was not easy. Australia values its good relationship with Ghana and has no wish to give the impression that it is not concerned with or interested in the issues of the area. I have assured the Ghanaian Government that Australia looks forward to maintaining close relations though the accreditation of a non-resident High Commissioner.

The opening of a new mission in Addis Ababa-the seat of the OAU and the ECA-demonstrates the Australian Government's continuing interest in Africa. The implications of the Accra closure, together with the question of our representation in the Francophone countries, will be kept under review. These decisions are the result of a rigorous reassessment of the overall functioning of our overseas posts. This reassessment is continuing generally, though it has not yet reached any conclusive stage.

I conclude by once again thanking the Committee for its useful and relevant report. I believe the Committee is to be congratulated on the work it has performed in recent years on Africa, which has complemented the Government's own consideration of Australian relations with this region.