Australian think tank seeks more strategic approach to engaging Africa's economy and mining sector

An Australian think tank has called for a more strategic approach to our engagement with countries and regional organisations in Africa including its mining sector.

The call was made in Perth today by the Canberra-based Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) in an address to the third and final day of the Paydirt 2016 Africa Down Under mining conference, drawing on findings from its second Aus-Africa Dialogue held in Zambia in 2015 with the South Africa-based Brenthurst Foundation.

ASPI Senior Analyst, Ms Lisa Sharland, told delegates today that there had emerged a clear need for the development of a whole-of-government strategy which identifies Australia’s priorities for African engagement (regional and geographic) and with its private sector.

“Such a strategy would ensure that the government and private sector are well positioned to identify opportunities for broader Australian-African engagement,” Ms Sharland said.

“This strategy is also essential to ensure that the Australian Government is able to mitigate potential risks to Australia’s national interests,” she said.

“The recent announcement regarding the development of a white paper on foreign affairs provides a valuable opportunity to explore some of the priorities for Australia’s engagement in Africa going forward and should be seized upon.”

Ms Sharland said mining was a pivot point in any more intensified Australia-African engagement.

“The remote location of African mines, many of them joint ventures with Australian partners and investors, means mine owners often perform a quasi-government role,” she said.

“Admittedly, some of the higher risk African mining ventures can present difficulties for investment and there are ongoing challenges with taxation and revenue arrangements.

“But investment in African mines also has a large multiplier effect in terms of jobs in regions, investment in local infrastructure and the prosperity of regional industries.”

The ASPI is a non-partisan, independent think tank that generates new ideas and provides a source of policy advice for government. Its international efforts include work as part of the Aus-Africa dialogue – a partnership set up with the Brenthurst Foundation, a South African think tank.

The next Aus-Africa Dialogue, due to take place early in 2017 in Australia, will have a focus on security, but will broadly examine areas of mutual interest within government and the private sector.

Ms Sharland said there were massive historical shifts underway on the African continent with an increasingly urbanised population predicted to double to 2.4 billion by 2050.

“Higher Australian-African engagement beyond mining can draw in other sectors for potential Australian investment, including infrastructure (air services), professional services and the energy sector,” Ms Sharland said.

“However, mining partners on both sides of the Indian Ocean should be encouraged to share lessons on governance and surveys in the mining sector,” she said.

“A workshop with African mining stakeholders as well as regional bodies and institutions such as the African Development Bank, the Common Market for Easter and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the African Union, would also be beneficial.”