Australia has announced a multi-million dollar educational partnership with Africa. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says it is part of a new push to engage with the continent, which presents billions of dollars worth of trade opportunities.
Australia says it makes sound economic and strategic sense to engage more with Africa, where the continent's rich diversity presents a wealth of opportunities.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith outlined his vision at a special Africa conference at Sydney University. The premise is that greater prosperity in Africa can be achieved through increased international investment and trade.
The minister has detailed a new $7 million research partnership program and announced that Canberra's development budget to Africa will increase by 40 percent this year. It includes $12 million for food, water and sanitation in Zimbabwe.
Smith told the meeting that although Canberra had ignored Africa in the past, it was time to take relations to a new level.
"Australia needs to look west to Africa," he said. "For too long Australia had not given Africa the priority that it deserved. Australia's minerals and resources companies have more projects in Africa than any other region of the world."
Smith also held talks with Zimbabwe's finance minister, Tendai Biti, the first meeting since a new coalition was formed in Harare.
Biti told the conference that his country needed to be reconnected with the international community and said that more foreign investment would be beneficial as Zimbabwe struggles after years of economic mismanagement and rampant corruption.
Australia's trade with Africa has grown steadily over the past decade and in 2008 was worth about six billion dollars.
More than 300 Australian minerals and petroleum companies are working in Africa, while about 9000 African students are currently at Australian colleges and universities.
Australian troops are currently serving as peacekeepers in Sudan. Australia is also contributing financially to international missions in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad.