Reinvigorating Australia-Africa Ties - Africa Day

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good evening Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we gather this evening and pay my respects to elders past and present.

I also acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people here this evening, especially in the context of NAIDOC week when we celebrate the history, culture and achievements of our First Australians.

I express my deep appreciation to the Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in Canberra and the High Commissioner of South Africa, His Excellency Marthinus van Schalkwyk, for inviting me to join you this evening.

I also extend my sincere thanks to our host, the High Commissioner of the Republic of Botswana, Her Excellency Dorcas Makgato.

And I would like to thank all members of African diplomatic corps for bringing us together for a shared celebration of Africa Day.

It is an honour, and very fitting, that one of my first formal engagements as Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs is to celebrate with all of you, the diversity and unity of the African continent.

African unity

Tonight we commemorate the founding, 59 years ago, of the Organisation of African Unity, today known as the African Union.

This was an historic moment.

30 independent African states coming together and making a commitment to work for a brighter future for the continent.

Much has been achieved and tonight we celebrate that legacy.

Today the African Union plays a critical role in building cooperation, addressing challenges, and creating opportunities across the continent.

Many of the challenges we share: how we respond to climate change, resolve conflict, address growing food insecurity, and chart a course out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And so too the opportunities: such as those offered by the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area, and the full engagement of Africa’s vibrant, youthful population, as well as those in the diaspora. 

It is a vast agenda, but an important one, and Australia looks forward to working with the African Union, and the countries of Africa, as a friend and partner in the years ahead.

Australia’s Multiculturalism

Tonight, we also celebrate the broader relationships between Australia and Africa – between governments, and between people.

In 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and Ethiopia as a member of an Australian Parliamentary Delegation where I saw up close many wonderful examples of our cooperation.

But I also experience the vibrancy of our relationships as I interact with Australians of African heritage here at home.

And I’m pleased to see the terrific participation of community members here this evening.   

In the electorate I represent in Melbourne, two out of three people were either born overseas, or have a parent who was, with many members of the community of African heritage.

This is not just the case in the western suburbs of Melbourne but is a familiar story in many other parts of the country as well.

Almost half a million Australians are of African heritage and they make a remarkable contribution and enrich our communities and our society.

I think most people will remember the Socceroos’ dramatic qualification for the World Cup in a penalty shoot-out against Peru.

I know my kids and I were absolutely thrilled as we watched it at home.

But many people watching the match may not have realised that the player who took the final penalty for the Socceroos began his journey to Australia from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

The player I am speaking of is Awer Mabil.

Having faced various challenges as a boy and a young man, it is little wonder he remained completely cool under pressure as he struck the ball into the back of the net.

It is astonishing to reflect on all he had to overcome to be standing there at that moment in Qatar.

For me, this had an extra resonance, as I visited Kakuma in northern Kenya in 2018.

Seeing that camp first-hand put into perspective the magnitude of Awer’s achievements.

I am sure many of you have also heard of the highly successful Australian lawyer and human rights advocate Nyadol Nyuon. I am very fortunate that Nyadol lives in my community.

She spends each and every day standing up for the rights of members of her community.

She works tirelessly to protect marginalised communities, combat racism, promote human rights and empower migrant and refugee women.

Her character and her activities are a shining example of the Australian values of equality and a fair go for all, values which create a better Australia.   

And just last Friday, I was there in person to feel the home crowd roar with approval at the John Cain Arena as Thon Maker executed back-to-back rejections in the first quarter for the Boomers against Japan.

Of course, the list of highly successful Australians from Africa is long.

From sports stars like Aliir Aliir in the AFL and Marnus Labuschagne in cricket, to international fashion model Adut Akech, and Reserve Naval Officer – and CEO – Mona Shindy.

A number of my parliamentary colleagues, including the Hon Dr Anne Aly, Minister for Early Childhood Education, and Senator David Pocock also have their origins in opposite ends of the African continent.   

There are also academics, actors, artists, musicians and countless community figures – all highly successful in their fields, making a major contribution to Australian life, and a reminder of the many ties that bind Australia with the countries of Africa.

Stronger Engagement

These are ties we must strengthen.

The Australian Government is looking forward to building on the warm people-to-people and community connections and will reinvigorate our engagement with the countries of Africa.

Rwanda’s hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting just last month provided an early opportunity for engagement, including with African leaders.

The participation by Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific Pat Conroy, in Kigali, reflects our commitment to deepen the bonds we have, and the interests we share.

I am looking forward to advancing our shared interests as Australia’s Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs.

There has never been a more important time for this.

Countries across the world need to unite to protect the international rules-based order, our freedoms, and the values we all share, just as African countries recognised the importance of unity with the establishment of the African Union.

In an article in The Economist in June, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo highlighted how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated existing challenges for the people of Africa, particularly by disrupting food exports, leading to rising prices and rising food insecurity.

Australia condemns Russia’s unilateral, illegal and immoral aggression which is not just impacting the people of Ukraine, but impacting on innocent citizens in Africa and across the world.

This is why we are standing up for a world that respects peace and a rules-based order.

In the words of the former Presidents in their article: ‘The time for peace is always now’.

The challenges facing the world are also clear in other ways.

As you know, the Australian Government has made clear and firm commitments to address the challenges of climate change.

We know what devastation can be caused by a changing climate.

The people of Africa know it all too well.

We will do more; we are doing more.

And we look forward to Egypt’s hosting of the Climate Change Conference, COP27, in November. 

You can count on Australia to be the leader we need to be in this area.

I am pleased the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research is undertaking projects in Africa focusing on climate change adaptation in agriculture.

After all, we share the challenges of a harsh climate and the need for new approaches, including drought-resilient crops.

During my visit to Kenya, I was lucky to visit a farm on the outskirts of Nairobi.

This is a major success story – turning black cotton soil in a low rainfall area in Kenya into productive agricultural land for legumes.

Some people said it couldn’t be done.

An Australian farmer, using innovative agricultural methods including no‑till technology, however, has shown that it can be.

Australia is also supporting an earth observation platform – Digital Earth Africa – delivered by Geoscience Australia.

This platform makes satellite imagery and data, as well as analytical tools and support services freely available to decision makers – from farmers to government officials.

This has practical applications, including to monitor the impacts of climate change, for crop-mapping, urban planning, water conservation and disaster management.

This technology takes on greater importance in the context of serious food insecurity and malnutrition in parts of Africa.

In eastern Africa and the Sahel tens of millions of people face potential famine and the risks are growing by the day.

Families and communities are finding themselves vulnerable due to a combination of extreme weather events and conflict.  

It is commendable that this year’s Africa Day has brought a focus on strengthening resilience, nutrition and food security across the continent.

Australia is doing more to help address immediate risks.

We have just committed nearly $5 million for the most impacted areas of Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Namibia.  

This builds on our $38 million annual contribution to the World Food Programme, of which more than half has been allocated to Africa.

Trade and Investment

I am pleased Australia’s trade and investment engagement with Africa is already significant, but there are many more opportunities.

We estimate Australian companies have $40 billion in investments across the length and breadth of Africa – delivering mutual benefits, including by employing thousands of people and contributing revenue to host countries.

There is potential for this to grow significantly as companies pursue new mining and energy projects, including in green hydrogen.

The Africa Down Under conference in Perth in late August will provide a focal point for Australian interest in the resources sector, with several other events also planned as part of the broader Australia-Africa Week.   

We hear the demand from Africa for education linkages too. 

I will be encouraging Australian universities to be proactive in their outreach to African students.


There is much we are already doing.

But we know there is more we can do to forge a stronger partnership with the countries of Africa. 

I’m looking forward to travelling to engage with counterparts from across the African Union membership to help drive this work forward.

I see immense potential for us to build on the foundations we have, and to chart a pathway to strengthen our relationships with the countries of Africa.   

Taking our inspiration from people such as Awer Mabil and Nyadol Nyuon we should not be daunted by the challenges ahead of us.

We should redouble our efforts to build the future we all wish to see.  

I thank you again for the opportunity to speak and wish you all a happy Africa Day celebration.

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