Dr Apollo Nsubuga-Kyobe memorial lecture: ‘Advancing the African-Australian Agenda: Reinvigorating Australia’s Relationships in Africa’
I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, the Wurundjeri people, and pay my respect to Elders, past and present.
I acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here with us today.
And I reaffirm the Australian Government's commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full – Voice, Treaty, and Truth.
I acknowledge the distinguished guests here with us today.
- Mr Nick Nsubuga-Kyobe
- Hon Ted Baillieu AO
- Ms Shillar Sibanda OAM
- Hon Josh Bull
- Mr Haileluel Gebre-Selassie OAM, and,
- Professor Johnson Agbinya.
I also acknowledge all of the leaders from the African Australian community who have joined us, both in person and online.
I’m honoured to be here today to speak at the inaugural Dr Apollo Nsubuga-Kyobe memorial lecture.
I never had the chance to meet Dr Apollo, but I knew of him by reputation – for his prolific academic work, as well as for his tireless advocacy for Victoria’s African-Australian community.
Those who knew Dr Apollo describe him as a “gentle giant”,
A dreamer, a leader, and someone who loved to bring people together.
He brought together Victorians of African heritage, supporting generations of African-Australians here in Victoria, and throughout the country.
And he connected Australia’s African diaspora to Africa through bodies like the Pan African Australasian Diaspora Network.
The Australian government has not always engaged with African countries as deeply or as knowledgeably as we could have – I have no doubt Dr Apollo would have agreed with that assessment!
This government is working to change that.
We live in an uncertain world.
One that we can’t take for granted.
We don’t want to just watch events pass us by – we want to shape, and we want to influence.
That’s why the Albanese government has set out such an ambitious foreign policy agenda.
The Indo-Pacific region which we are a part of is a vital component of our foreign policy.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage with other places in the world.
While we’re not a global superpower, Australia has global interests.
And we’re pursuing this global agenda with new resources and new energy – including through the creation of my role as Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs.
A significant part of my remit is to expand our influence and our representation in Africa and Latin America.
Australia and Africa have a lot in common – not least our shared interest in a world that is peaceful and prosperous.
Economically, culturally and politically, Africa’s influence is only growing.
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.
African voices are increasingly resonating through forums like the Commonwealth, the G20, and the UN on issues from UN Security Council reform to counter-terrorism to sustainable development.
There are huge opportunities for Australia to work with African countries on these consequential matters.
To do so, we need to engage with African countries meaningfully and respectfully.
And we need to show up – in person.
I’ve been proud to represent Australia in a ministerial capacity in my visits to Morocco, Ghana and South Africa last year.
In each of these countries, I spoke to my ministerial counterparts about how we could work together more closely on the issues that matter to us.
In Morocco, I had the privilege of opening our new embassy in Rabat – a symbol of Australia’s desire to build a deeper relationship with Morocco, as well as with other countries in Africa.
In Ghana, I visited the communities of the Akode Epicentre.
There, I saw firsthand how the support of Australian organisation The Hunger Project has helped community members have created a self-reliant, thriving community.
I also visited an Australian-owned clothing brand, YEVU – a terrific example of socially responsible entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment.
And in South Africa, I heard the Australian business community reflect on how we can drive our economic links forward.
Australian companies have an estimated $40 billion in investments across Africa, focused mostly on the mining and energy sectors.
There’s also tremendous potential for new investments in other sectors – which the Australia Africa Chamber of Commerce, headquartered here in Melbourne, wants to promote through a major Business Summit later this year.
During my visit, I also spoke with Ghanaians who had studied in Australia, to learn about how they were applying their Australian study experiences back home.
That youth perspective was particularly important to me – after all, Africa is a youthful continent.
70 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 30.
What kind of influence might young Africans have on their countries’ democracies?
What economic dividends and technological advances might young Africans unlock?
What kind of cultural and political shifts might young Africans lead?
And how can Australia tap into all of this?
One clear priority is climate change.
Young Africans – like young Australians – are deeply concerned about climate change, more so than any other generation.
They’ve grown up with the devastating impacts of climate change: fires, floods, extreme temperatures.
A strong national record on taking climate change seriously is the price of admission for being taken seriously by this generation in Africa, and around the world.
We also take climate change seriously. We are seeing how climate change is exacerbating global food insecurity and humanitarian crises.
It’s for that reason that today I’m announcing that the Albanese Labor Government will provide an additional $15 million for the Horn of Africa in emergency assistance to respond to the food insecurity crises…
...alongside an additional $5 million for Yemen and $5 million for Pakistan.
This extra $25 million will go towards providing food, water, and other essential support - delivered through Australian and local NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross and UN partners.
This builds on $232 million already provided to the World Food Programme since 2021, and financial and technical assistance to countries in our region to help make their food and agricultural systems more resilient.
We have also developed an earth observation platform, Digital Earth Africa, which is coordinated in South Africa.
Decision makers in Africa – from farmers to government officials – can use Digital Earth Africa to monitor the impacts of climate change for crop mapping, urban planning, water conservation and disaster management.
Beyond our commitment to climate action, we’re a country with a thriving, diverse and young African diaspora.
So, there are opportunities in encouraging the youth entrepreneurship already abounding in Africa, and nurturing the existing business links between our countries.
In my capacity as an MP, I’m proud to represent one of Australia’s most diverse electorates.
Two thirds of the community I live in were born overseas, or have at least one parent born overseas.
As our Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has said,
“When Australians look out to the world, we can see ourselves reflected in it. Equally, the world can see itself reflected in Australia. This is an asset – an element of our national power – that few countries can match,” (Whitlam Oration).
African peoples have been a part of the story of Australia for centuries.
I think of Fanny Finch, a London-born businesswoman of African heritage, and 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 an act of courage.
Today, there are almost half a million Australians of African heritage.
My community is home to one of Australia’s largest African-Australian diasporas.
And – not to be biased – I think it’s one of the nation’s best.
I think of Mohamed Semra and WintaEyob, two young Aussies from Melbourne’s west who joined me on the crew of the Young Endeavour in 2019 as part of a community leadership challenge I held in 2019.
I invited them to Parliament House in Canberra, where they spoke honestly and eloquently about their Australian journeys, and the challenges facing their communities.
Mohamed was this year nominated for nominated for Young Australian of the Year.
Or I think of lawyer and human rights advocate Nyadol Nyuon, who works tirelessly to protect the rights of marginalised communities, and empower migrant and refugee women.
Another African-Australian whose journey I’ve followed closely is Awer Mabil, this year’s Young Australian of the Year.
My kids and I were glued to the screen when Awer took the final penalty for the Socceroos last year, qualifying us for the World Cup.
Awer also co-founded Barefoot to Boots, which supports refugees living in camps, and their neighbouring host communities.
People like Mohamad, Winta, Nyadol and Awer help make Australia what it is, and remind us of the many ties that bind Australia and the countries of Africa.
We have a clear opportunity – if we continue Dr Apollo’s work, and take the initiative to invest in our own communities, and in our relationships with African countries.
One obvious asset Australia can provide to a youthful population is education.
That might look like the traditional model of tertiary study – like the path that Dr Apollo took back in 1984, when he first came to Australia from Uganda to complete his diploma.
Given the scale of demand, this will also require our higher education institutions to find innovative and creative ways to expand their education offerings.
Hopefully there are some La Trobe administrators in the audience today taking notes!
Of course, African diaspora communities in Australia have been involved in the work of building relationships for a long time.
You’ve helped new migrants feel at home.
You’ve been a friendly face and a source of knowledge for students who have travelled far from home to take up exciting education opportunities here.
You’ve helped Australian businesses navigate their way to new markets with Africa.
And I know you’ll continue to uphold Dr Apollo’s legacy – using your skills, your connections and your knowledge to bring us closer to African countries and communities.
A word that I’ve heard a lot in relation to Dr Apollo was the word ‘ubuntu’ – humanity.
Or: “I am, because we are.”
Dr Apollo’s life’s work embodied this philosophy – supporting and uplifting his community in Shepparton, across Victoria, Australia, and internationally.
I know that his work and life touched many lives, including in this room today.
I’d like to assure you that Dr Apollo’s work advocating for stronger relationships with African countries has been heard by the Australian Government.
We are working to reinvigorate our relationships with countries in Africa.
And we will keep on listening – to you, the African diaspora, and to our African counterparts internationally…
To build a fairer and better world – one Dr Apollo would be proud of.
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555