Resources Industry – 28 March 2017

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (20:11): Last month I had the great privilege of attending Investing in African Mining Indaba 2017, or Indaba 2017, representing the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Senator Canavan and also representing the Australian government. The conference was held in Cape Town in South Africa.

With everything going on in the world, it is very easy for Australia to overlook the significance of the scale and scope of our resources sector right across the African continent and the amazing work it is doing for both the Australian economy and for more than 40 African countries. There are enormous opportunities for further economic growth and jobs, particularly for my home state of Western Australia, while at the same time assisting responsible development, community development and economic development right across the African continent.

Now in its 23rd year, Mining Indaba is the world’s largest mining investment conference. This year it was attended by more than 7,000 delegates—many hundreds from Australia. This was a nearly 50 per cent increase on last year, which has been largely attributed to the resurgence of commodity prices and increasing confidence in the sector, particularly in Western Australia. At Indaba there were several hundred representatives from Australian based extractive companies and also from mining equipment, technology and service—METS—companies. Again, they were predominantly from my home state of Western Australia. I found it somewhat ironic having to go all the way to Cape Town to meet so much of west Perth, but they were a great group of people and I particularly enjoyed my engagement with them all.

As I said, at Indaba there were several hundred Australian representatives. One of the biggest stories—one that is largely untold here in Australia, but which I think is a great one—is that today there are more than 200 ASX listed extractive companies operating in more than 600 locations in 40 African countries, and some have been there for several decades. These companies have already invested more than $45 billion right across the African continent. In addition to the ASX listed companies, there are many more Australian based extractive and METS companies with operations in Africa who are listed on overseas exchanges. One of the great stories from Indaba was to hear how many of these companies are implementing wide-ranging sustainability and community development projects, not only in consultations with the local communities but also with a wide range of NGOs, including Transparency International Australia. To date, most of these activities remain largely uncaptured by the companies outside of their companies, because they are just simply the way of doing business now. Consequently, these are stories that are untold in Australia. But it is a wonderful story of community engagement development that can coexist with responsible mining practices.

Austrade were also very predominant there. With the sponsorship of major Australian mining and METS companies, they once again mounted the largest exposition at Indaba. It was certainly the most popular lounge of any country there. Australia at its best was truly on display. The Australia lounge was the go-to venue in the conference hall. It was a lively hub for Australian sponsors for all of Australia’s heads of mission, Australian officials, many African ministers and their officials and a wide range of conference delegates. The fact that the Australian government had sent an official representative was extremely well received by all of those involved. I think that is indicative of the opportunities they provide Australia—particularly my home state of Western Australia, which has such close connections with many African countries.

The Australian government’s policy of economic diplomacy was also on full display. It was particularly pleasing to see the extent of local engagement and cooperation between our companies, between our diplomats, between our universities on the ground—technical colleges, state mining departments and many Australian NGOs. It was clear to me, however, that this largely organic collaboration would benefit from further and more formalised liaison and integrated planning. This is an issue that I addressed in detail in my report to the government on my return.

While the downturn in commodity prices has produced its challenges, millions of people globally, particularly on the African continent, can continue to be lifted out of poverty by the sustainable and responsible development of extractive resources. The recent uplift in commodity prices provides a great opportunity for further economic development. Mining development also presents challenges for responsible governments across Africa, who are in the process of developing internal democratic institutions, wide-ranging social reforms and regulatory systems, as well as the supporting legislation and bureaucracies to sustain those institutions. But specifically in this case, their challenge is to more effectively regulate the operation of extractive companies to ensure that their national resources and their people are not exploited and that their nations gain the social and economic benefits that these industries can provide. It is clear that many countries across Africa are now doing just that. Australia is a resource rich country with a globally established reputation for excellence in mining, and companies willing to invest in Africa are ideally placed to further share our experiences and expertise in a wide range of mining extractive METS and mining service support industries.

It was very pleasing to see the Australian government is working in close partnership, not only with the companies involved and with the NGOs but also with state departments and TAFEs who—again from my home state of Western Australia—in particular have expanded their support for these industries and African nations. But it is clear that there is so much more that Australia can do in these areas with relatively modest but well targeted development investments that I think would seamlessly integrate with the work being done by companies and NGOs in local communities and at mine sites. Extensive experience of the Australian resources sector on the African continent provides a valuable source of information and a template for other Australian industries on how to expand in this rapidly developing market.

Australia’s relationship with Africa, however, goes well beyond mining. We share significant economic and security interests with many African nations. I think it is important to Australia that our engagement strengthens the capacity of African nations to capitalise on the benefits of population growth and socioeconomic development. Australia’s flagship aid investment in Africa is the substantial but very well targeted Australia Award scholarship program. Last year alone, 268 Australia Awards scholarships were provided to African students, with—pleasingly—almost 50 per cent of those now going to women.

Today, there are over 6,000 Australia Awards alumni in Africa. In addition to building their critical skills and knowledge, this program has now fostered—and I met many of them while I was there—an influential network of leaders, particularly in the local communities and in business, who are promoting a new generation of links between Australia and many African nations. In fact, 98 per cent of the alumni surveyed reported that they were applying their award-acquired learning in their jobs today right across Africa.

Australians understand the sustainable economic benefits of a well governed mining industry; that it can bring growth, jobs and investment which flow through to higher living standards for all in Australia. This is true not just as I said in Australia but also in Africa. It was clear at Indaba that Australia, across many, if not all, of the countries we now operate in, had established a strong reputation as a trusted and knowledgeable resources partner, both in mining technologies and also, critically, in community based sustainable programs. I have listed many of those in my report, and they deserve much more attention and recognition here in Australia.

There is no shadow of doubt in my mind that Africa matters to Australia and that it will matter even more in the near future. I believe now is the time to deepen and broaden our ties across this wonderfully vibrant and diverse continent—with almost a billion people, millions of whom are now moving into the middle class and looking for many of the goods and services that we can provide them.

It is clear that Australia has much to offer, and I think that is particularly the case in Western Australia, particularly in the area of economic diplomacy but also in the area of sustainable development. I think the upcoming foreign affairs white paper is the perfect place to start addressing a renewed relationship with countries on the African continent.

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