House of Representatives Committees

| Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

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Chapter 2 Government to Government Links


2.1                   This Chapter discusses Australia's links with the countries of Africa at governmental level. It comprises a brief overview of Australia's diplomatic representation on the continent and other government to government links at both bilateral and multilateral levels.

Australia's diplomatic representation


2.2                   Australia has diplomatic relations with 51 of the 53 African countries—an increase of 10 since 2007.[1] Australia has eight High Commission/Embassy posts on the African continent. These posts are:

2.3                   Each of the posts (except Addis Ababa) has responsibility for a number of countries from 4 to 11, covering 48 countries. The other five African countries are served from posts in Portugal and France. There are also consulates in Libya and Mozambique. Details of Australia’s diplomatic representation in Africa is provided in Appendix E.

2.4                   During the course of the inquiry, DFAT advised the Committee that Australia had reopened its embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia which will become fully operational in 2012,[3] and had also established diplomatic relations with Somalia.[4]

2.5                   DFAT told the Committee that Australia’s representation had been 'stronger and better developed in certain parts of the continent', for example with those countries in southern and eastern Africa with Commonwealth connections. In other areas, such as parts of West Africa and especially the Francophone countries (countries where French is either the first or second language), Australia's representation and relationships had 'been a little thin.'[5] Indeed, Australia has over the years had posts in Algeria (1976–1991), Ethiopia (1985–1987), Tanzania (1962–1987), and Zambia (1980–1991). These posts were closed due to budgetary cuts.[6]

2.6                   Australian interests are also served in countries where Australia does not have a diplomatic post through:

2.7                   To place Australia's representation in Africa into context, the Committee notes the diplomatic representation of our major trading partners and other countries from South East Asia on the African continent:

Coverage of Australian representation—breadth or depth?

2.8                   The Committee has explored with witnesses whether Australian representation in Africa is adequate and, if not, how this might be addressed. The alternatives canvassed were whether there should be additional posts or whether the number of Australia-based staff at diplomatic posts should be increased.

2.9                   As noted earlier, several Australian posts in Africa were closed due to budgetary considerations— Ethiopia and Tanzania in 1987; and Algeria and Zambia in 1991.

Opening new posts

2.10                The value of Australia having a physical diplomatic presence in a country was supported by Coffey International, an Australian company involved in mining and foreign aid:

We certainly value having interaction with a high commission or an embassy in a country because it helps us get a voice at the table on big issues that can impede our business or strengthen our business. I refer to things like labour laws, visas, trade delegations or even getting involved in some policy dialogue with the host nation's government, which does come up a bit with foreign aid work. …

The Australian missions are a very good source of introduction and public intelligence. We value those resources highly.[9]

2.11               Similar sentiment was expressed by Professor Evans who told the Committee that there was 'something to be said for hanging up the flag in a particular capital’. Even if there were only a small number of Australian-based staff, the relationships and information flows that would arise would be valuable.[10]

2.12               The Committee sought opinions as to where additional posts should be opened. Two areas received strong support. Firstly, reopening the post in Addis Ababa and secondly, opening a post in Francophone Africa.

2.13               Dr David Dorwood, advocating Addis Ababa, told the Committee:

I think the thought of reopening in Addis is a good one. We had a very short tenure in Addis Ababa. All kinds of organisations are based there. There are more diplomatic embassies in Addis than in any other country—and probably even more than in South Africa.

2.14               Dr Dorward added that many African migrants to Australia came from the Horn of Africa. As well, he considered it almost impossible for a high commissioner in Nairobi keep Australia informed of the situation in the region which was increasing in its strategic importance. It was also important to monitor carefully the activities of the Ethiopian government in Eritrea and Somalia.[11] The Committee notes that the Horn of Africa and Southern Sudan is an area of instability.

2.15               An important consideration was the siting of the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa. The Hon. Kerry Sibraa, former President of the Senate, High Commissioner to Zimbabwe and six other southern African countries, and current Honorary Consul-General in Australia for Mozambique, told the Committee that a number of African countries sent senior diplomats to the African Union (AU) headquarters:

With representatives of every African country being situated in Addis, you get access to African countries that normally it would be impossible to go to, and you get access at a high level.[12]

2.16               Mr Sibraa added that Addis Ababa was a transport hub for Africa providing air transport access to numerous African countries.[13]

2.17               Support for reopening the post in Addis Ababa was also provided by Professor Helen Ware, former High Commissioner to Zambia, Malawi and Namibia, and former Ambassador to Angola, who told the Committee that a further advantage was that African Union peacekeeping was organised from Addis Ababa and so would be a good place to position an Australian military attaché.[14]

2.18               The lack of diplomatic representation in French speaking west Africa was raised by the Australia Africa Business Council, ACT Chapter as being a 'quite serious omission.' This was because of the 'tremendous mineral opportunities' which existed in the region.[15] Dr David Lucas, Member, Australia Africa Business Council, ACT Chapter, commented that DFAT was apparently 'awash with French speakers' so a post in Francophone Africa was possible.[16]

2.19               Support for a post in Francophone Africa was provided by Mr Joel Negin who co-authored the Lowy Institute report titled, Shared challenges and solution: Australia's unique contribution to the future of African development. Mr Negin told the Committee that the Australian post in Mauritius was not a viable diplomatic option to serve Francophone Africa. It was situated off the east coast of Africa and he did not consider the country as representative of the other French-speaking African countries. Mr Negin added:

The High Commissioners or ex-High Commissioners I have spoken to from Ghana or Nigeria do not manage to get to the French-speaking West African countries particularly often. That is certainly a blind spot and a weakness, especially as Australian mining and other business groups are involved in French West Africa. … Senegal is a country where a lot of high commissions and embassies are located. That would also provide an opportunity for representation in Sierra Leone and Liberia.[17]

2.20               When asked for its view, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation suggested there should be a cost benefit analysis of citing a post in Mozambique and Guinea because of the amount of Australian investment in those countries.[18]

2.21               The Committee sought from DFAT the approximate costs of opening and operating an embassy in an African country. DFAT advised that based on the most recent experience and assuming the post would comprise 'four Australian-based and nine locally engaged staff', and that the costs would include setting up an interim embassy and then a permanent embassy, the cost of a typical embassy:

… could be in the order of $36 million over four years ($12 million staff costs, $8 million operating costs, and $60 million capital costs).[19]

2.22               A less costly alternative to the opening of diplomatic posts was raised by Mr Sibraa who suggested that Australia should put in place honorary consuls wherever possible. He reported that when honorary consuls were created in Mozambique and Angola they were both 'particularly successful.'[20]

Boosting staff at Australian posts

2.23               Several witnesses suggested that the numbers of Australian-based staff in Australian posts should be increased with French speakers.

2.24               Mr Sibraa told the Committee that Australia could 'beef up existing posts in West Africa with French-speaking diplomats, as has happened in the past.'[21] Professor Ware was more specific—in addition to a new post in Addis Ababa, she suggested two more French speaking diplomats be posted to Ghana or Nigeria tasked with dealing with Francophone Africa.[22]

2.25               Professor Hawker agreed with strengthening existing posts, but did not support opening new embassies:

I actually think, on mature reflection, that before hastening into further, new locations we should really be augmenting and strengthening what we have got, because our coverage has been attenuated. There have been some recent improvements, I admit, but these are small posts in Africa. … They are covering enormous areas. Look at what Kenya is doing.[23] I think it is better to strengthen them than try to open in Ethiopia …[24]

Committee comment

2.26               Australia’s diplomatic representation on the African continent is significantly less than our major trading partners, United States, China, Japan, UK and the EU. Further Canada, the Republic of Korea and Malaysia all have substantially more, whilst Thailand and Vietnam have comparable representation.[25]

2.27               Whilst the importance of Africa and African issues internationally have increased over the past 25 years, Australia’s diplomatic presence has decreased from 12 posts to 8 in the same period. (See paragraph 2.5).

2.28               Currently each of our High Commissions/Embassies, except for the recently opened embassy in Addis Ababa, represent between 4 and 11 countries. This is substantially more than occurs in other regions of the world.

2.29               The Committee notes that our diplomatic presence is concentrated in southern and eastern Africa and the former British colonies. There is a considerable gap in Francophone and Lusophone Africa.[26]

2.30               Australia relies on Canada to represent our interests in 10 of the Francophone countries. The Committee believes that this may no longer be the best strategy especially given the increasing interest that Australia has in such countries (particularly mining) and the relatively high number of DFAT staff with French language skills.

2.31               The Committee agrees with comments that opening new diplomatic posts in Africa demonstrates a commitment to the continent and provides valuable assistance to Australian companies investing in and trading with African countries.

2.32               The Committee is pleased that the Government has re-opened the Australian embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Addis Ababa is the location of the headquarters of the AU and diplomatic representation from many other countries both from within Africa and the rest of the world. The Committee notes that there are 88 embassies in Addis Ababa, of which 54 are from countries outside of Africa.

2.33               Opening an additional post in a French speaking west African country would seem to the Committee to be the next step. In this regard, the Committee recognises the fiscal constraints faced by the Government so any new post should only be opened after serious consideration. In coming to this view, the Committee recognises that there are competing demands for increased diplomatic representation in other regions particularly eastern Europe and Latin America.

2.34               The Committee notes the recent review by its Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee of DFAT’s Annual Report 2009–10 and the proposal by the Sub-Committee for a broad–ranging inquiry into Australia’s diplomatic representation.

2.35               In the immediate term, the Government should increase the number of French-speaking Australian-based staff at its posts serving Francophone Africa. As well, the Committee believes the creation of honorary consuls to be a cost-effective way to boost Australia’s presence and considers the number should be increased from the current seven.

2.36               The Committee Delegation noted during its visit to Africa that embassy staff in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Ethiopia face serious constraints due to inadequate accommodation. Consideration should be given to improving the standard of accommodation at these posts, especially if Australian representation is to be increased.

Recommendation 1


The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should undertake a comprehensive review of Australia’s diplomatic representation in Africa with a view to opening an additional post in Francophone Africa.

Recommendation 2


The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should, pending the implementation of Recommendation 1, increase the number of Australia-based French speaking diplomatic staff in its West African High Commissions. They should have specific responsibility for covering Australia's interests in Francophone West African countries.

Recommendation 3


As a short to medium term measure, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should increase the number of honorary consuls appointed to represent Australia in African countries.

Parliamentary links

2.40               The Commonwealth Parliament facilitates inter-Parliamentary links through supporting delegation visits from overseas parliaments and Australian parliamentary delegations travelling abroad. It also supports the attendance of Australian parliamentarians at the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) conferences.

2.41               In the 42nd Parliament there were:

2.42               In the 43rd Parliament, to May 2011 there were:

2.43               The value of these visits was expressed by the Nigerian High Commissioner who advised the Committee that the visits afforded:

… Nigeria's Parliamentarians and top government policy makers the opportunity to learn or draw from Australia's best Parliamentary and law-making processes and practices with a view to improving and enriching Nigeria's democratic processes, governance, transparency and public accountability.[31]

2.44               It was suggested by the Kenyan High Commissioner, however, that the Australian Parliament could do more to establish direct links with African parliaments:

The Kenyan Parliament, for instance, is undergoing reforms and the current focus is to strengthen the capacity of its personnel and modernise its resource base; library, and live coverage of proceedings. In addition, the new draft constitution of Kenya proposes the establishment of a two-tier parliament. This provides an avenue for further cooperation and sharing of experiences with the Australian Parliament.[32]

2.45               A further suggestion from the South African High Commissioner was that Australia could assist the Pan African Parliament. The institution was 'in its infancy and could play an important role in good governance, peace and stability on the African continent in the future.'[33]

2.46               Australia also has multilateral links with African countries through the IPU and CPA, but evidence to the inquiry suggests this link is becoming less effective because of the tendency for the organisations to move towards non-consensus decision making, and block voting.[34]

2.47               The Australian Parliament has 89 parliamentary friendship groups with other countries, 8 of which are in Africa.[35]

2.48               During its visit to Ghana the Committee Delegation met with the Second Deputy Speaker of the Ghanaian Parliament, and members of the Ghanaian Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The Ghanaian Members of Parliament were keen to establish an Australia-Ghana Parliamentary Friendship Group.

Committee comment

2.49               It is clear to the Committee that while there is a reasonable number of incoming delegations from a broad range of African countries there is a dearth of Australian delegations visiting African countries. Apart from this Committee Delegation’s recent visit, since 2004 there have been just two outgoing bilateral delegations to sub-Saharan countries—to Kenya and Mozambique in 2004; and to Rwanda and Tanzania in 2009. Attendance at CPA and IPU meetings, while facilitating contact with African nations, does not permit the in-depth interaction at the various levels of government that a bilateral visit to a particular country allows.

2.50               Parliamentary friendship groups are an effective process for establishing personal links between parliamentarians. The Committee believes there should be a parliamentary friendship group with Ghana.

2.51               The Committee notes that processes are under way within the Parliament to establish an Australia-Africa Parliamentary Friendship Group. It is hoped this will be the conduit for increased interaction between Australian parliamentarians and African parliamentarians, diplomats and others with an interest in Africa from across the spectrum of business, academia, and civil society, including African migrant communities in Australia and NGOs that have significant operations in Africa.

Recommendation 4


The Government should increase the number of Australian parliamentary delegations to specific African countries particularly to those with increasing significance to Australia.

Government links

2.53               Government to government links can occur at different levels including:

Treaties and memoranda of understanding

2.54               The Australian Government has few treaty level agreements or MoUs with African countries. Those that exist include:

2.55               In addition, the South African High Commissioner advised the Committee that there was an MoU between the Queensland Government and the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.[39]

Engagement in multilateral forums

2.56               The Australian Government engages the countries of Africa through a number of multilateral forums, including the Commonwealth and its bodies such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). Australia also interacts with African countries through membership of the United Nations.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

2.57               CHOGM meets biennially and comprises a membership of 54 Commonwealth countries, 19 of which are African states. The next CHOGM is in Perth in October 2011.

2.58               The Commonwealth Round Table (CRT) was very supportive of CHOGM, commenting that it had 'almost made the Commonwealth a progenitor in terms of modern international summitry' because there was always an attempt to arrive at a consensus view. There were weaknesses of relying on consensus, but the CRT added there was 'no vote taken, there [were] no block movements'. Such a style of meeting was 'being picked up and followed by the G8 and G20, by APEC'—it was 'one of the preferred modes of modern multilateral summitry for leaders to sit around a table and arrive at a consensus positions and then carry them forward elsewhere.’[40]

2.59               Not only is CHOGM a meeting of governments, the CRT told the Committee, but it is also a catalyst for a host of side meetings:

In fact, one of the real problems for those associated with organising CHOGMs these days is handling all that happens on the periphery of CHOGMs in addition to the summits themselves.

As to the African content, … the numbers of African representations to all of those peripheral meetings, which are basically cultural, educational and advocacy around the Commonwealth for civil society groups, are increasing and therefore the issues are becoming more advanced.[41]

2.60               Also occurring at CHOGM will be three parallel forums—business, people, and youth. The business forum will provide the opportunity for meetings between business leaders and African ministers and officials.

Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group

2.61               The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was established at the 1995 CHOGM in New Zealand to deal with:

… 'serious or persistent violations' of the principles contained in the 1991 Harare Declaration. In this Declaration, Heads of Government reaffirmed their commitment to work 'with renewed vigour' to protect and promote 'the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth'.

2.62               CMAG assesses 'the nature of any infringement of the Commonwealth's political values and [can] recommend measures for collective action from member countries.'

2.63               CMAG is convened by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and comprises representatives of the Commonwealth's Chairperson-in-Office, and a rotating group of Foreign Ministers from eight countries.' CMAG  is reconstituted at every CHOGM and 'Ministers generally serve two terms.'

2.64               The group is unique among international organisations because it has the authority to suspend a member country.[42]

Representation at the United Nations

2.65               During the inquiry it was suggested to the Committee that Australia's refocusing on Africa was in part motivated by the seeking of African support for Australia's bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

2.66               The South African High Commission commented that, while Australia’s re-engagement with Africa was welcome, there was:

... a lingering sense among some that the re-engagement with Africa is fuelled primarily by a desire to secure the African vote for its 2013/14 candidature for the non-permanent seat on the Security Council ...[43]

2.67               Mr Negin told the Committee that:

There has been a lot of criticism in the media ... suggesting that the only or main reason for engagement with Africa is to win Security Council votes. Firstly, I think the tone of that question, to begin with, is not one I am particularly fond of: to suggest that throwing what is a tiny amount of money to a few African countries will automatically sway their votes, as if there are no critical analytic diplomatic communities in those countries.[44]

2.68               Furthermore, when it came to such an approach being effective, Mr Negin commented:

... if we think that providing additional aid to Africa is going to be the swaying factor, I think we are doing quite a bad job of it. Even if we just look at the basic figures, in OECD data on overseas development assistance, in 2008 Australia gave $80 million to Africa in ODA. Our competitors were the immense powers of Luxembourg and Finland. Luxembourg gave $137 million and Finland gave $262 million. So, if we are providing aid to Africa only to win Security Council seats, we have not done our homework and we are not even giving enough to beat Luxembourg.[45]

2.69               The Hon. Kerry Sibraa noted that previous bids for a Security Council seat were not helped by the lack of Australian interest in Africa. He added that Australia's motivation will be clarified after the decision on the bid is handed down in 2012:

After this current Security Council campaign is over, if we do not continue on, that is exactly how we will be seen. … our commitment has to stay or else we will be perceived as just running for a Security Council seat.[46]

Committee comment

2.70               The Committee is of the firm view that Australia’s increased interest in Africa is not motivated by its seeking a seat on the UN Security Council. Rather, it is motivated by a commitment to contribute to the development of the continent including through trade and investment, education and research links, and achieving progress towards the MDGs. As Mr Negin noted, if the aim was to buy a place through the aid dollar, that strategy would be ineffective. The Committee considers Australia has a long-term commitment to the continent.

Meetings involving heads of state and government ministers

2.71               DFAT advised that in 2009 the following meetings had occurred at head of state and government minister level:

2.72               In addition, in 2009 the Foreign Ministers for Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Tanzania visited Australia.[49]

2.73               In 2010 the meetings were:

2.74               In 2011 the meetings were:

Links at officials level

2.75               The Committee has received information from Australian Government agencies on the links they have at officials level with various African nations. These are either bilateral or multilateral due to common membership of multilateral organisations. The links described to the Committee were:

2.76               In addition, the submission from the Government of Western Australia detailed links between the West Australian Museum and the Natal Museum and South African Institute of Aquatic Biology.[58]

2.77               Finally, Australian officials regularly meet their African counterparts at the Africa Downunder Conference held annually in Perth, and the Mining Indaba conference held annually in South Africa.