BEVERLY O’CONNOR: Well, Ethiopia is hosting around 4,000 guests for the 28th African Union Summit; among them is the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. While on the trip, she is signing a number of aid deals for African countries, including a one million dollar gender equality partnership. Minister Fierravanti-Wells joins us live now from Addis Ababa. Many thanks for your time Minister.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Hello, Bev. How are you?

BEVERLY O’CONNOR: Very well, thank you. Tell us about Australia’s interest in this conference, in this Union meeting.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, this is an important meeting. This is my first visit to Africa and it is also the first time that we have had a minister here since 2012.

There are about 54 countries that are engaged in the African Union and during this time, of course, we are bidding for a seat on the Human Rights Council for 2018-2020.

I have had the opportunity to lobby quite a number of people, including about ten of the foreign ministers who are here at the moment, so that is one aspect of the visit.

Of course, we have had bilateral discussions with the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, and also Africa, of course, is important to Australia, not only from an investment perspective.

Australia has about USD 45 billion invested here in Africa, and we have got about 200 ASX companies that are investing in about 600 projects across 45 countries, so we do have a considerable investment here in Africa.

And then of course there is trade; there is also Australian humanitarian and other assistance that we give to Africa; and of course there is the considerable diaspora from African countries. At the 2011 census, it was about 420,000, but after the next census, I am sure it is going to be much, much more than that.

Of course, with that brings the remittances that come from Australia to Africa. So it is an important relationship with many of these countries and it is important for us to be here.

BEVERLY O’CONNOR: You have also committed extra funding to programs in Africa, particularly Somalia and South Sudan. Give us a sense of the sort of programs that we will be putting money behind.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, there has been a very, very difficult circumstance here as we know – not only difficulties before El Nino. In fact, this morning, I had a meeting with some of the key UN bodies here that are involved with aid and it has been a particularly difficult time as a consequence of the El Nino. Therefore, the funding that we give to various partners and United Nations partners is very important, not just in terms of assisting but also in terms of capacity building for the countries that are engaged here.

What is really important is that these countries themselves learn how to respond themselves to the humanitarian crises. Whilst there is support internationally, it really is important that they themselves build the capacity in their health sectors, in their education sectors, to deal with what will likely be future challenges.

So that is why the assistance that countries like Australia give is very important to help reduce the dependency for the future.

BEVERLY O’CONNOR: How connected do you think some of the African leaders might see us putting millions of dollars into programs to the lobbying that you talked of in terms of our seat on the Human Rights council?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, Australia has a good relationship with many countries. This is the first time that Australia is putting forth a candidature for the Human Rights Council; it would be the first time that a country for the Pacific would be represented. Of course, as Minister, not just for International Development, but for the Pacific, this is very important, to have the Pacific voice on the Human Rights Council.

We have a number of pillars upon which we are basing our candidature, and one, of course, of those is gender and gender equality and freedom of expression. These are important to Australia and we feel that we will bring a practical, pragmatic and principled approach that we brought to our term on the United Nations Security Council when we had a seat on the Council.

We have received a good support, many of the countries that I am speaking to, and that Australia has been speaking to, we have been a consistent partner over many years.

We are not just in Africa today lobbying, we have been in Africa for a long time, and so therefore we are seen as reliable – a reliable partner – and our record in terms of human rights is quite well recognised and so we are seeing good support for our candidature.

BEVERLY O’CONNOR: Many thanks for joining us Minister.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you.

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