Australia and a Changing Africa

Keynote address to the African DownUnder Conference, Perth, by Dennis Richardson, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, on 1 September 2010

Excellencies, senior mining officials from Africa, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I extend to all of you a warm welcome to this Conference, particularly our Ministerial guests from Africa:

Africa DownUnder

Thank you, Bill, for your invitation to address Africa DownUnder 2010.

This conference has become an event which Australians involved in Africa's minerals resources simply can't afford to miss.

That so many industry participants are here today is a testament to the confidence Australians have in Africa's future.

I don't need to remind this audience that in June of this year the Australian mining community suffered a terrible loss.

A plane crash in the Republic of Congo claimed 11 lives, including all six members of the board of Sundance Resources.

This loss has clearly had a big impact on the family and friends of those who died, but also on Perth's mining community.

Australia greatly appreciated the support and assistance of our friends in the mining sector in Africa following the crash.

So I thank the Republic of Congo for its assistance with the search for the plane and the repatriation of the bodies.

I also thank the South African Government, which sent two pathologists to assist with identification.

Australia-Africa Relationship

Today I want to speak about the Australia-Africa relationship - both its past and its future.

As a departmental secretary, you will appreciate that I have certain obligations under the caretaker conventions.

So I will concentrate on Australia's interests in Africa, rather than government policies.

Those interests have a long history.

When Australia first set out to advance our interests in Africa, we focused our diplomacy on African Commonwealth countries.

Naturally, we have broadened our approach significantly since then.

Today Australia has diplomatic ties with 51 of the 53 countries in Africa.

We have expanded our diplomatic and trade presence on the ground in Africa, to better support Australian interests there.

Australia has also increased our ODA to Africa, including a major scholarship program aimed at building human resource capacity.

People-to-people links are also growing in importance.

A quarter of a million African-born people have migrated to Australia.

They have brought with them skills and talents, and they make vital contributions to Australian society across all walks of life.

Education plays a vital role in our people-to-people links.

Last year Australia welcomed just under 13,000 African students.

Trade and Investment Links

As this audience knows well, trade and investment have been the key drivers of Australia's engagement with Africa.

Australia's merchandise trade with Africa has grown at more than 6 per cent annually over the past decade.

Our merchandise trade with Africa totalled just under $5.8 billion last financial year.

The value of investment by Australian companies in Africa's resources sector has been estimated at $20 billion.

The growth of this investment has been impressive - both in absolute numbers and in geographical spread.

Australian mining projects in Africa are now evident in nearly 40 African countries.

More than 170 Australian companies have assets on the ground in Africa.

There are nearly 500 individual mines and exploration projects in Africa in which Australian companies have a significant interest.

New mines have recently commenced operation or construction in Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Senegal.

There are also significant prospective developments in Algeria, Cameroon, Eritrea, Guinea, Liberia and Mauritania.

Australian companies are also active in delivering a range of mining services, including engineering, consulting and analysis.

Australian companies bring world-class technology and expertise to their Africa operations.

They enjoy a well-deserved reputation for integrity, safety, good mining practices and high environmental standards.

Africa Today and Tomorrow

This upswing in Australian interest in Africa comes at a time when Africa is on the move.

Despite many challenges and with some exceptions, it is more politically stable and prosperous than in the past.

We've seen the end of civil wars in Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Burundi and Rwanda.

Governance has also moved in the right direction.

Of the 26 presidential elections held in Africa in the 1960s, the incumbent faced an opponent in just two of them.

But in the five years from 2000, 98 percent of elections held in Africa were contested.

And the African Union and other sub-regional bodies have played a leading role in resolving disputed election outcomes.

Challenges and Setbacks

Of course, challenges persist as we see in Somalia, DR Congo and Sudan's Darfur region.

Also, 33 out of 49 of the world's least developed countries are in Africa.

Economic growth - which slowed during the GFC - will remain uneven and vulnerable to shocks in the global economy.

Tackling corruption and increasing transparency and accountability are priorities.

Opportunities

Those countries that have achieved the strongest growth in recent years are those that have undertaken significant reforms.

They have improved macroeconomic stability, promoted exports, enhanced competitiveness and encouraged inter-regional trade.

They have promoted the private sector, strengthened financial markets and improved their regulatory frameworks.

They have also introduced reforms in areas such as commercial law, property rights and investor protection.

The result has been stronger growth and increased flows of inwards investment.

FDI into Africa has increased from $9 billion in 2000 to $62 billion in 2008.

A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute highlighted Africa's promising long-term growth and investment prospects.

It predicts Africa's consumer spending will total $US1.4 trillion by 2020, with around 128 million households having discretionary income and more than half living in cities.

In short, Africa is on a new growth trajectory.

It will therefore be in Australia's interests to continue to deepen engagement with Africa.

There is potential for much more Australian investment in Africa.

But to realise that potential, barriers to economic growth will need to be addressed.

Specifically, in order to raise capital and bring on projects, legal and regulatory clarity and transparency will be essential, especially when it comes to mining titles, leases and licences.

We are keen to work with African governments, industry and international donors to strengthen effective standards of transparency and accountability.

We in Government need to be ready to work closely with business to take advantage of the opportunities.

For DFAT, that underscores the value of fostering even closer consultation with business, including in forums like this.

And that is why four of our Ambassadors and High Commissioners to African countries - to Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe - are here today to further Government's collaboration with business.

We believe Australia is in a unique position to help build Africa's mineral resource sector and harness its economic potential.

And we have a good story to share about our own successful resources sector.

Conclusion

This year all eyes turned to Africa as South Africa successfully hosted the 2010 Football World Cup.

The event marked the beginning of another chapter of Africa's story.

Australia is proud to be a part of that story, and to playing a part in Africa's future. Thank you.