Your Excellency, Mr Molosiwa Selepeng, High Commissioner of Botswana and Dean of the African Region Group,
Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Pretoria, Ghana and Nairobi, Professors, welcome to Australia.
Members of the Diplomatic Corps, distinguished participants,
Mr Millward, Professor Hearn, distinguished officers of DFAT, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you here today at this important forum.
What a great initiative of the Australia Africa Business Council and the Australia Africa Universities Network to establish this joint Conference with the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy. Congratulations!
Many people around the world see Australia as either a Pacific nation that naturally faces east to the island archipelagos, or an Asian nation that faces north to the continent above us. But, and I know that the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop very much shares this view, Australia is also an Indian Ocean nation, sharing an ocean with Africa.
But it’s not the only thing we share – just like Australia, many African nations are members of the British Commonwealth and as such we enjoy the common heritage of British institutions and traditions successfully transplanted and cultivated of course in much warmer and more pleasant climates. But regardless of past history, today Australia and Africa increasingly also share a commitment to democracy, free societies, competitive economies and an optimistic, outward looking perspective on the world. I believe there is a great future in closer relations between our two continents.
Nowadays, whenever I read about Africa, the most common description I see is “rising”. “Africa rising” are not words I ever recall hearing in my childhood. Forty years ago, if someone ventured to predict “Africa rising” within their lifetime they would have likely been met with a quintessentially Australian dismissal “you’ve got to be dreaming”.
Well, we’re not dreaming any more – are we!
I firmly believe that just as the rise of Asia and the stunning lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of poverty was the greatest economic and social good news story of the last quarter of the twentieth century, so will the rise of Africa soon be seen as the greatest success story of the first quarter of the twenty-first century.
The achievement of the past decade has been nothing short of remarkable.
Building on a decade of strong economic growth, the International Monetary Fund predicts Africa’s GDP could increase by six per cent this year, and according to the World Bank, by more than six percent in over a third of African countries. Take that, Europe, North America – and Australia.
At the same time, public debt – that long-standing scourge of Africa - has reached its lowest level in thirty years. As a result of these positive trends, and the increasing openness to foreign trade and investment, the African Development Bank estimates that the African middle class now numbers 350 million people.
But we cannot forget that many challenges still remain.
Despite Africa’s recent achievements, the numbers of people living in poverty increased from 376 million in 1999 to 413 million in 2010. Some countries are doing much better than others. Perhaps the greatest task facing leaders and policy-makers is to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are shared more equitably – that, as the old saying goes, the rising tide does indeed lift all boats.
I’m very proud that Australia is there with you, playing its part in helping to make Africa’s growth sustainable and equitable.
As part of the Government’s new aid policy, announced by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last month, we are increasingly targeting areas where we can help to drive economic growth, trade and jobs. In 2014-15, we expect to provide a total of $187 million in development and humanitarian assistance to Africa, and our aid investment is focused on sectors where we have particular expertise to share – sectors of common interest and importance to Australia and Africa
In agriculture, we will continue to help promote growth by sharing our technical and research expertise hard won by Australians over two hundred years of farming in often difficult environments. Given around seventy per cent of Africa’s population live in rural areas, it’s vital that we work to modernise the agricultural sector - to improve productivity, to achieve food security, to boost nutrition and to improve livelihoods more generally.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research has been described by the Foreign Minister as the jewel in the crown of our aid program. I’ve seen personally on my trips what wonderful work our agricultural experts are doing with their overseas counterparts to unleash the Second Green Revolution across the developing world – to not just end hunger, but to begin the age of plenty for all.
And in mining, we are pleased to work with African and Australian partners to help ensure that the resources boom delivers growth, creates jobs and drives innovation – and, just as importantly – that its benefits are genuinely shared by everyone. The so-called “resource curse” is a condition we all sadly know too well. Australia has world-class expertise to share with our African partners in how to deal with this challenge, and the Australian industry representatives here today hold much of that expertise.
But Australia’s development assistance program is only one of the tools in our diplomatic toolkit. We see our aid efforts as part of, not separate to, our broader economic diplomacy agenda. In the end, our aid efforts will always be dwarfed by financial flows from Australian investment.
Two-way trade between our two continents more than doubled between 2009 and 2013 – and now stands at almost $12 billion a year – and we want to see a lot more of it in the future. This is good news, because in the end it is the private sector, and not governments, that will generate growth, create jobs, lift people into the middle class, and bring hope and prosperity to all corners of the continent. It’s a lesson that both our continents have learned over the past few decades.
Australia’s relationship with Africa, however, is not all about dollars and cents. We will always bring our values as a free, open and democratic nation to our bilateral relationships with our friends and partners in Africa. And we will also work with you on security issues.
Security challenges continue to plague many African countries: recent attacks in Nigeria and Kenya demonstrate that terrorism remains a threat we must face together. Internal conflict also continues to take its toll. From Sudan, south Sudan and Somalia, to the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Australia is there with our humanitarian support, helping to alleviate suffering and bring hope where hope is in short supply.
On the international level, we recognise our election to the UN Security Council came with overwhelming African support, and we will continue to contribute actively to the Security Council’s work on Africa.
But despite all these challenges, the road ahead, I believe is very exciting – for you and for us.
Some time ago I came across an African proverb which really stuck in my mind. It says “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
I say on behalf of Australia, we are looking forward to going together with you.
I wish you well for discussions across a diverse agenda in coming days.
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