DFAT and African leaders discuss Australia’s role in Africa

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On Thursday 29 May, Diaspora Action Australia had the great pleasure of hosting a roundtable discussion between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and African diaspora leaders in Melbourne. Adam McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of DFAT’s Africa Branch, met with 18 representatives of 11 diaspora organisations that work on development, peacebuilding and human rights in Africa. The success of the meeting was evident not only in the quality of the discussion but also in the willingness of everyone present to repeat it in the not-too-distant future and explore the establishment of an ongoing consultative process.

Adam opened the meeting with a presentation that centered on the Australian government’s new policy directions, especially in the wake of dramatic cuts to development assistance. Programs in Africa have borne the brunt, with a reduction in both the level of funding and the number of countries that these funds are directed to. Adam also highlighted Australia’s current membership of the UN Security Council, and its role in pushing to keep peacebuilding and development in Africa on the agenda – an issue that was repeatedly raised during the discussion that followed.

He stressed the importance of people-to-people links – with over 300,000 Australians of African origin – and the significant role played by the diaspora in keeping Africa on the Australian Government agenda. He particularly noted the effective advocacy of the South Sudanese diaspora.

After Adam’s presentation, the diaspora organisations took the floor with succinct interventions from Darfuri, South Sudanese, DR Congo, Oromo and Pan African diaspora organisations. They presented key issues ranging from peacebuilding and reconciliation, humanitarian aid, education, maternal and child health, human rights and knowledge exchange to infrastructure development, business linkages and private sector investment. A set of key recommendations to the Australian Government was presented to Adam and his three colleagues who were also in attendance.
The depth of experience and knowledge on the room was abundantly clear, not only because the overwhelming majority of organisations were implementing projects in Africa, but also because of their networks across all sectors of Australian society and their resulting capacity to build strong links between the two continents.

A recurring theme was the strong desire for more regular discussions and consultations that would enable the diaspora to have meaningful input into Australia’s policy and programming in Africa. It was a call that was heard by the DFAT representatives and the session concluded with Adam’s willingness to return to Melbourne for another roundtable discussion in the future.

Participating organisations included African Humanitarian Aid and Refugees, African Think Tank, Care4Congo, Darfur Australia Network, Guiir Baai, MamaLand Hope For the Future Foundation, Oromia Support Group Australia, Peace Palette, South Sudanese Community Association of Victoria, The South Sudan Australia Peace Initiative and Wealth Magazine. Also in attendance were representatives from Oxfam Australia (who kindly facilitated the DFAT-diaspora link) and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The event was hosted and facilitated by Diaspora Action Australia.

Denise Cauchi