Monday, 18 February 2019
Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Kenya and Ethiopia, 3 to 9 June 2018
I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Kenya and Ethiopia, 3 to 9 June 2018. I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.
I was very pleased to present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Kenya and Ethiopia, 3 to 9 June 2018. My fellow delegates and I welcomed the opportunity to visit Kenya and Ethiopia. As one of the few delegation visits to Africa in recent years, it provided an opportunity to reflect on the existing relationship with each country and to discuss opportunities to strengthen these relationships into the future. The delegation sought to explore issues of common interest in relation to humanitarian aid, mining, agricultural production, governance, education, trade and investment.
A significant part of the delegation visit was to Kakuma refugee camp in north-west Kenya. Located in northern Kenya, it's one of the country's most impoverished and marginalised areas. At the time of the delegation's visit, Kakuma was home to 186,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, who had arrived from a range of countries. More than 100,000 of those people were from South Sudan. Kakuma was divided into two camps. The delegation had the opportunity to visit both camps. I wish to extend the delegation's appreciation to representatives of the UNHCR and World Food Programme for their hospitality and facilitation of our visit.
I point out that most of those in those camps would return to their country of origin after about seven years in the camps, and we saw evidence of Australia's involvement in the World Food Programme, which was bringing people back from the brink of starvation to being healthy and then able to ultimately return to their country. It made me proud as an Australian to think that we contribute to these programs. We should sing from the hilltops more about the good work that we do with Australian taxpayers' money in things like the World Food Programme, and we should, frankly, commit a bit more funds to that.
In addition to humanitarian issues, the delegate was focused in Kenya on areas of common interests, including agricultural production. Kenya exports huge amounts of cut flowers into Australia. Our visit went to a farm that was being leased by an Australian Nuffield scholar, Stuart Barden, and his wife, Annie. They offered the opportunity to discuss innovative agriculture techniques that are common practice in Australian agriculture that are now able to be rolled out in Kenya and are increasing their food reliability as a result.
Discussions with parliamentary counterparts, including the speaker of the National Assembly, the majority leader, the vice chairperson and many of the Defence and Foreign Relations Committee, ranged across many topics, including governance and efforts to address corruption. We also had the opportunity to meet with a diverse group of Australians working in Kenya and to gain the perspectives of Kenya's Australia Awards alumni. There is a lot of value in giving people from Kenya and other parts of the world the opportunity to do short courses in Australia. It builds those people-to-people relationships, and it also builds capacity in those countries.
In Ethiopia, the delegation undertook a range of meetings with state ministers, the foreign affairs committee and the Ethiopian Investment Commission. Some of the themes arising from these meetings were agriculture, resources, mining and security, as well as investment and other opportunities. I encourage Ethiopian Airlines, which run a very modern fleet, to look at direct air links between Ethiopia and Perth, which would, of course, give the opportunity for more chilled meat cuts to go there and to allow more domestic abattoir works in Australia to take those products there, as well as open up the opportunity for adventure tourism into Africa and into Ethiopia.
The delegation was particularly privileged to visit Dr Catherine Hamlin, an Australian. Perhaps you could describe her as the Mother Teresa of Ethiopia, and she comes from Australia. Together with her late husband, Reginald, she established the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa in 1974. A range of important issues affecting Ethiopian women were also canvassed during a productive lunch meeting with a group of prominent Ethiopian women. It was inspiring, I have to say. If I could say this on behalf of every member of the delegation, it was terribly inspiring to see the work that Catherine Hamlin has done and to be so proud that this is an Australian changing lives in other parts of the world.
The final aspect of our program was the Lalibela World Heritage site, a 13th century complex of 11 medieval cave churches that remain a place of pilgrimage and devotion today.
On behalf of the delegation, I wish to extend the delegates' appreciation and thanks to all of those who contributed to the visit's program. The delegation greatly appreciated the efforts that went into producing such a productive visit and the hospitality that was extended to the delegation in each country. I thank Australia's diplomatic staff in each country, including High Commissioner Alison Chartres in Kenya and Ambassador Mark Sawers in Ethiopia. I just want to thank the UNHCR and the World Food Program.
Finally, I thank my fellow delegates, the members for Cowper, Gellibrand and Moreton. When we were held up because of weather and we had to wait for the river to go rushing past, myself and the member for Moreton wandered across to some tribespeople. He handed them his business card, which they looked at with some amusement because they didn't have a mobile phone and they had been herding their goats and their sheep up and down these lands for thousands and thousands of years. We attempted to make communication. When we left, they handed him back the business card. The member for Moreton concluded that they must be National voters!
It is clear that Australia, Kenya and Ethiopia share many common values and interests and that opportunities exist to build and strengthen our relationship with these countries.
I commend the report to the House.
by leave—I will join with the member for Mallee in thanking those who made this delegation possible, particularly the committee secretariat, who travelled with us on this delegation, and also particularly the High Commission staff in Kenya, led by Alison Chartres. We know they have endured a difficult time recently with the recent terrorist attacks in Kenya that occurred very near to the Australian High Commission in Nairobi. We want to express our thoughts and goodwill, on behalf of all delegation members, to these outstanding Australian foreign service professionals.
With regard to the committee report, it's fair to say that Africa doesn't get the attention it deserves in the Australian foreign policy debate. The delegation was a rare opportunity to reflect on Australia's existing relationships with the countries visited and to discuss opportunities to strengthen these relationships in the future. As part of this delegation we met people from all walks of life: fellow parliamentarians and government ministers, women's group leaders in Ethiopia, Australians working on the land in Kenya, and NGO representatives. For me, the most significant part of the trip was the visit to the UNHCR's Kakuma Refugee Camp in the north of Kenya next to the border with South Sudan. Kakuma is nearly 30 years old, and at the time of our visit around 180,000 refugees were seeking temporary refuge at the camp. Many residents of Melbourne's west, in my electorate of Gellibrand, have called it home on their journey towards humanitarian resettlement in Australia. Most spend around a decade at this camp before starting their life anew in Australia.
I've spoken many times in the chamber on the need to increase the Australian government's commitment to aid in this region. I note in this regard that the current Prime Minister also spent a significant proportion of his first speech in this place outlining the case for increased Australian aid to Africa. At Kakuma I saw firsthand how Australian aid plays a crucial role in helping both the UNHCR and the World Food Program to support refugees living in this camp while they wait for a durable solution that lets them restart their lives. It's literally a life-saving investment. Along with other MPs in the delegation, I was privileged to participate in the WFP food delivery program onsite. UNHCR does amazing work at Kakuma and is perpetually underresourced, so I'm proud that a Shorten Labor government will commit an extra $500 million to UNHCR to provide support to more refugees, to improve regional processing and resettlement and to speed up legitimate settlement pathways.
This delegation also highlighted the need to increase the number of refugee resettlement places offered by Australia. It was affecting to consider the many years that refugees in camps are forced to wait before being given the opportunity to start their lives again in a third country. I'm pleased that a Shorten Labor government will resettle an extra 5,000 refugees a year via community sponsorship, on top of our existing commitment to increasing our humanitarian intake to 27,000 a year. Community sponsorship allows non-government actors—businesses, religious organisations, community groups and individuals—to directly meet the costs of resettling refugees in Australia via either direct financial contributions or the provision of in kind goods and services.
The extent of untapped community desire to directly assist refugees living in these camps was highlighted by the work in the Kakuma camp of Aussie NGO Barefoot to Boots. Barefoot to Boots was founded by an Australian professional footballer, Awer Mabil, and his brother, Awer Bul, former residents of Kakuma, in 2014 as a way of giving back and helping other refugees on the same journey they had travelled. Alongside Australian businessman Ian Smith, Barefoot to Boots has donated over 2,000 kilograms of football boots and uniforms to refugees living in these camps, as well as other vital supplies such as hospital beds, mattresses and monitors, an operating table and an ultrasound machine. I had the privilege of meeting Awer Mabil at Kakuma and I can report that he's not just a gun footballer, not just an outstanding humanitarian, but a really good bloke as well, an Australian that we can all be proud of.
I took the opportunity during the visit to make a delivery of football kit (boots, keeping gloves, balls and jerseys) donated by groups in my electorate—the Altona Soccer Club, the Sunshine Heights Soccer Club and Their Beautiful Game—to Barefoot to Boots in Kakuma. I thank them for their kind donations. Unfortunately, as the member for Mallee mentioned, torrential rain trapped the delegation in a flood that blocked the main road into the camp for three hours. That prevented me from getting on the pitch to test out the kit that had been donated by the football clubs in my electorate in Melbourne's west—but that is life in a refugee camp.
The visit to Kenya also showed the untapped investment and trade opportunities in the East Africa Community: Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. The EAC is home to 150 million people and has been growing at an average of 11 per cent per annum since 2003. The EAC is ambitious. It established a free trade zone in 2005 and a common market in 2010 and aims to become a monetary union by 2023. Kenya, as the region's largest economy, will play a leading role in the EAC's future. Australia is home to over 35,000 people born in the EAC, providing us an opportunity to utilise the skills and knowledge of these diaspora communities to increase our economic engagement with the region. Despite this, my impression on this trip was that we are underweight in our trade representation in this growing region with enormous potential. There's room for improvement on this front.
It was a privilege to be part of this parliamentary delegation to Kenya and Ethiopia. It brought into focus the opportunities in this region and the potential for future engagement with Australia.