Shared values and aligned interests – how Australia is supporting global action on COVID 19

Claire Ireland. DFAT Official Portrait. Parliament House Canberra 5th July 2019. File No 20190238 46th Parliament Image Penny Bradfield -AUSPIC/DPS

Despite the physical distance between our two nations, we have much in common. Our lands are richly endowed with natural resources but we also see nature at its most cruel. From the drought stricken Lake Chad region, to devastating bushfires in Australia, we both understand the havoc of such catastrophic events on our citizens. Now faced with a global pandemic that respects no borders and affects all our citizens it’s clear our interests are more aligned than ever. 

Ours is not an aid relationship but one based on equality, a mutual commitment to multilateralism and recognition of the importance of global trade for the prosperity of our citizens. We are both modern democratic nations with a bright future. There is an energy that reflects our countries’ optimism and determination to be good global citizens. We are both committed to harnessing wisely our natural wealth and talents for the prosperity of our people. And we are both proud multicultural societies. Ensuring global security, peace and prosperity for all our citizens underpins both our foreign policy agendas.

Australia, a founding member of the UN and Commonwealth, has and will continue to provide core funds to international organisations, including WHO.Ensuring multilaterals have the core financing that enable them to sustainably operate in Africa is critical to ensuring global security and prosperity. It is through these institutions that we believe global challenges that affect us all are best addressed.  This is why we focus our aid investments to Africa through our multilateral partners.

And it’s through financial contributions to these international organisations that we are working with global partners to support efforts to tackle COVID-19.  We have contributed AUD 170 million to global partners working on the development and deployment of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics. We are long-term funders of global health emergency, preparedness and response programs including AUD 35 million to WHO and the United Nations’ Emergency Response Fund. But it doesn’t stop there. We provide core funding to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Centre for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations among many others. It’s through these core funds that the sustainability of international institutions to work in Africa is secured. 

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Through our active board membership in these international organisations we ensure Africa benefits. Through our steering group membership of the World Bank Pandemic Emergency Finance Facility we enabled USD 15 million to be allocated to Nigeria’s COVID-19 response activities. Through our seat on the Executive Board of WFP, we ensured Africa received timely allocation of resources to deal with COVID-19. Ensuring resources are delivered where they are most needed, whilst improving accountability to affected populations, is a key objective of our membership to these multilateral boards.

So it should be no surprise that when the time is right, Australia supports an independent review of the COVID-19 outbreak to clarify the facts around its genesis, global spread and the WHO’s response. An honest and independent assessment of events will be critical as we emerge from the pandemic and seek to improve our response to future crises. The World Health Assembly resolution on the ‘COVID-19 Response’ is an important step in that process. Both Australia and Nigeria’s leadership in co-sponsoring this EU led resolution, is testament to our shared values.

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A key priority for both our countries is the development of an effective vaccine that is affordable and easily accessible to all.On May 4 our Prime Minister pledged over AUD 350 million to COVID-19 research and development with the aim to accelerate development and deployment of universally available vaccines, therapeutic drugs and diagnostic tests. At the same time, Australia’s top scientists are working with international partners to research, develop and test vaccines and treatments. Our scientists, universities and research organisations are some of the best in the world, which is why Australia is the world’s third most popular destination for international students.

Our focus on trade not aid will help contribute to Nigeria’s sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Australia’s two way trade with Africa is over AUD 11 billion and has the potential to be significantly more. We have an open and globally integrated economy, making us a trusted partner for trade and investment. Our geographic location provides a gateway to do business in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region. An increasing number of Nigerian students recognise the quality of Australian universities, and the networks throughout Asia that an Australian degree provides.

Our economies have complementarities that make us natural partners. Extractives and agriculture are major industries in both our countries. In Nigeria there are already Australian companies supporting the development of the mining sector – a sector key to the Government’s priority of diversification of the economy and one in which there is significant potential for job creation over many years. Our similar climates mean we understand the practicalities of farming in harsh conditions and have the technology to maximise productivity. Through our scholarship program we have helped build technical capacity in the mining and agricultural sectors, ensuring our engagement is one on a level playing field. 

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As global power is shifting, Australia and Nigeria have much to offer each other. Be it through increasing our two way trade potential, our continental positions and influence, or through our aligned priorities in the international system – to shape and protect rules and norms, to guard against threats to international peace and security, to protect the international environment for the prosperity of our nations, to reduce global poverty and respond to humanitarian crises, or now more than ever to reduce the potential for pandemics and other international health risks to our citizens. 

Claire Ireland is the Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria 

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