Africa Down Under Plenary opening remarks

  • Speech, check against delivery
Pan Pacific, Perth


Thank you, Bill, for that warm welcome.

Good morning, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Whadjuk [Wahd-juck] people of the Noongar nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with us today.

And like all members of the new government, I reaffirm my commitment to the full implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – Voice, Treaty and Truth.

Thanks again Bill, for your introduction. And thanks to you and your team at Paydirt for bringing us together again for Africa Down Under, after the disruptions of the pandemic.

To the Honourable Mining Ministers visiting from Africa and delegations here today: welcome to Perth.

I would also like to acknowledge the Government of Western Australia, and Honourable Bill Johnston MLA, the WA Minister of Mines and Petroleum, Corrective Services and Industrial Relations.

Thank you for your continued support for Africa Down Under and Australia-Africa Week.

This conference has become a key focal point for Australia’s engagement with the countries of Africa.

And of course, it’s only logical that we’re gathered here in Perth.

Western Australia is at the heart of Australia’s mining industry. And with its Indian Ocean coastline and westward orientation, Western Australia is Australia’s gateway to Africa.

Australia-Africa connections

The great representation at this event from countries across Africa, and so many Australian businesses, speaks volumes about the ties our continents already share.

Australia is a proudly multicultural nation. It is home to more than 300 ancestries, and to the oldest continuing civilisation on earth.

In my own electorate in Victoria, two thirds of my constituents were either born overseas, or have at least one parent born overseas.

It is this diversity that connects us with the world.

African peoples’ connections to Australia goes back well over 200 years, and many of them tell a remarkable story of tenacity in the face of hardship.

Fanny Finch, for example, a London-born businesswoman of African heritage and a single mother of four, ran successful restaurants in the Victorian gold rush towns of Forest Creek, and then Castlemaine.

She was also the first known woman to cast a vote in an Australian election in 1856, fifty years before women were granted the right to vote.

In the end, the vote wasn’t counted – but what a wonderful assertion of her dignity, and an act of courage.(1)

Today, almost half a million Australians are of African heritage, and make outstanding contributions to our society and our economy.

That includes:

  • Lawyer and human rights advocate Nyadol Nyuon, who works tirelessly to protect the rights of marginalised communities, and empower migrant and refugee women.
  • My parliamentary colleague, Dr Anne Aly, Minister for Early Childhood Education and Minister for Youth, whose electorate of Cowan is just north of where we meet today.

    Dr Aly’s expertise in countering violent extremism is matched by her passion for helping the people, families and communities affected by radicalisation.
  • And Perth’s own Peter Bol, Australia’s star 800 metre runner. 2.46 million enthralled Australians watched him run in Tokyo, where he placed fourth(2). And this year in Birmingham, Peter won a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games. 

And there so many more African-Australians in our society – sportspeople, performers, businesspeople and community figures – who make Australia what it is, and remind us of the many ties that bind Australia and the countries of Africa.

I’m proud that my community in Melbourne’s west is home to some of Australia’s largest African Australian diasporas.

It was my connection with these communities that led me to visit Kenya and Ethiopia in 2018, to better understand the journey they had travelled to become a part of our nation, and to explore the continuing relationships they maintained with their African countries of origin.

Future engagement with African countries

Our continents and our peoples are connected – but the Australian government has not always engaged with African countries as deeply or as knowledgeably as we could have.

That has been to our detriment. We know that by 2050, Africa is projected to represent a quarter of the world’s population, and by 2060, 1.1 billion Africans will have entered the middle class.

And so, reinvigorating our relationships with African nations is a key focus for me in my role as Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Importantly, I’m looking forward to hearing from you on your own priorities.

I’ve already had the honour of participating in several Africa-related events in recent months.

And later this year, I plan to visit West Africa, where I’ll meet with the Ghanian and Nigerian governments, and open the 2022 edition of the West Africa Mining Security Conference in Accra.

African nations are important partners, and the Australian Government wants to expand our engagement and cooperation in a range of fields – including through social connections, trade and investment and security collaboration.

Because if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the stability and prosperity of all our countries are interlinked.

Our global strategic environment is shifting fast, and we face unprecedented challenges.

Instability and insecurity threatens the international rules-based order, and our shared peace and prosperity.

The Australian Government will continue to stand up for a global rules-based order that respects the sovereignty of nations.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong recently said that Australia may not be a global power, but we have global interests.

Our global interests matter in their own right, and they also have implications for our region.

So, across the globe, we will continue to promote democratic principles and effective governance.

Another challenge that is top of mind is climate change, which is already disproportionately affecting African countries(3).

The Australian Government will work with our African partners on facing and responding to the challenges of climate change – including food insecurity and energy transition.

The Australian mining industry has a vital part to play in meeting growing energy transition demands.

Australian companies are world leaders in the mining of critical minerals like cobalt, lithium and silicon – all essential in technology we need for a sustainable future.

Their expertise can support African nations to take sovereign advantage of your own resource wealth.

This will be more important than ever as we all work to rebuild economies and societies battered by the pandemic.

And the Australian Government will continue to champion predictable and fair regulatory environments, where businesses and investments can flourish for shared benefit.

Economic recovery and capacity building

The dedication and energy of Australian mining companies – along with the African governments who have recognised the value and expertise of Australia’s mining industry – is already contributing to Africa’s economic recovery.

Australian mining companies have invested an estimated $40 billion across the African continent(4), employing thousands of people; contributing substantial revenue to host countries; and sharing Australian expertise and technology.

One excellent example of Australian technology and innovation which empowers African nations is Digital Earth Africa.

And I am pleased to offer a warm welcome to Digital Earth Africa board member, the Honourable Samuel Jinapor, Minister for Minister for Lands and Natural Resources in Ghana, who will be joining us later in this conference.

The satellite information generated by Digital Earth Africa will help with the discovery, planning, governance and transparency of resource developments, benefitting governments, communities and resource developers alike.

It also captures patterns of land use, urban development and climate change impacts which are of immense value to policymakers, and is worth billions of dollars to Africa’s economy.

Digital Earth Africa has opened its new office in South Africa(5), thanks to the South African National Space Agency.

If you’d like to find out more about Digital Earth, I encourage you to visit Geoscience Australia’s booth in the exhibition space next door.

The Australian Government also recognises the importance of investing in the skills of people, and in the capacity of institutions. This has long term payoff – for individuals, communities and societies.

That’s why we are helping build capacity in the mining sector in Africa will be a focus for us. We want to help African governments deliver responsible, accountable and effective mining governance.

Through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we intend to offer new Australia Awards short courses focusing on the mining sector in Africa in 2023.

We will ensure more women are able to access these capacity building initiatives, helping to build their pathways into senior roles in mining.

It is also my hope we will see more women participate in this conference in future years.

Australian mining companies contribute economically to African countries, but importantly, they have also earned a reputation for integrity and corporate responsibility, mining safety, ensuring environmental sustainability and protection, and for developing their workforce.

Last year, companies like Base Resources, Perenti Group and Walkabout Resources were recognised for their development initiatives through Africa Down Under’s Australia-Africa Minerals and Energy Group Mining Awards.

Their initiatives included scholarship programs for young people in Kenya, apprenticeships for Malagasy youth, a training centre for underground mining skills in Botswana, and the building of a school, church and mosque in Tanzania.

In particular, I recognise the important information sharing and coordination role of the Australia Africa Minerals and Energy Group, its Board members and its CEO Roger Staley.

The Group excels at promoting best practice in the mining industry, and supports members to embrace their Environmental, Social and Governance responsibilities.

I understand the AAMEG Awards ceremony will be held tomorrow evening – congratulations to all the finalists and good luck.

I’d also like to extend a thank you to Minister Bill Johnston and his Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, here in Western Australia, for offering to share mining governance expertise with visiting delegations from Africa this week.


Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, ladies and gentlemen.

The Australian Government believes that Australian technology and private sector expertise can contribute to the peace and prosperity of Africa.

Because we are all – government, industry, and community – stakeholders in our shared success.

Before I finish, I want to reiterate one thing: the Australian Government takes our relationships with African nations seriously.

We’re keen to hear from you.  We’re keen to find more ways to work together with you towards our shared interests.

For our visiting African delegations – I hope that you will have a chance to experience the story of Australia’s rich diversity – a diversity of peoples, cultures, languages and landscapes.

A story which starts with our First Nations peoples, who represent the oldest living culture on earth.

And a story that extends to the modern, multicultural Australia of today, with its storied African links.

I hope you enjoy the conference, and Australia-Africa Week.

Thank you.

(1) Kacey Sinclair, The Conversation 2019.

(2) Athletics Australia.

(3) African Development Bank Group.

(4) Austrade figure

(5) Commenced operations on 1 July 2022, and will be formally launched in October.

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