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Thursday, 13 February 2003
Page: 11839


Ms JULIE BISHOP (2:46 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of Australia's position regarding Zimbabwe's status within the Commonwealth?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Curtin for her question. I know how interested she is in Zimbabwe, bearing in mind that she was a leading figure in the Commonwealth Observers Group for the so-called elections in Zimbabwe which, as we know, did not reflect accurately the will of the Zimbabwean people. Zimbabwe's suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth following the expiry of the 12-month period in March was a major point of discussion between the Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Donald McKinnon, in London yesterday. These discussions between the Prime Minister and Mr McKinnon were held against the background of presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki expressing a view that a troika meeting would not be necessary and that Zimbabwe's suspension should be lifted at the end of the 12-month period—the end of the 12-month period being on 19 March.

Australia's view is that it does not agree that the suspension would dissolve automatically on 19 March. Indeed, on the contrary, it is the view of the Australian government that, without the consensus of the troika, the suspension will automatically continue until the next full meeting of Commonwealth heads of government, which is to take place in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, in December. I note that the Commonwealth Secretary-General has discussed this with the Prime Minister. During their discussions, the Prime Minister once more emphasised that there would be no automatic lifting of the suspension in the absence of progress in Zimbabwe. That is a view with which I understand the Commonwealth Secretary-General has some sympathy.

Zimbabwe, let us remember, was suspended on the basis of that Commonwealth Observers Group report, with which the honourable member for Curtin is so familiar. The troika set itself a program of comprehensive engagement with Zimbabwe covering electoral reform, sustainable and transparent land reform and interparty dialogue, particularly dialogue between the governing party of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party. The simple fact is that Australia sees no evidence whatsoever of any improvement in Zimbabwe.


Mr Wilkie —What about the cricket team?


Mr DOWNER —That is a good question. The Mugabe government has rebuffed efforts by the Commonwealth Secretary-General to discuss free and fair elections. Farm invasions and evictions still continue without compensation. The majority of so-called redistributed commercial farms lie unoccupied, clearly very substantially exacerbating the country's tragic food crisis, and many of those commercial farms have been transferred to friends of the regime—to party apparatchiks, as they would say—and not to the rural poor, the people who we are told are to get the land. Laws that impede freedom of speech and association continue to be abused by the Mugabe government in order to stamp out dissent, and the Mugabe government has shown that it is not interested in any serious dialogue with the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. As honourable members will know, it is in fact quite the contrary: harassment of opposition supporters and MDC officials—arrests and the like of sitting MPs—continues apace.

As the Prime Minister said the other day, to readmit Zimbabwe to the councils now would reflect poorly on the Commonwealth. Remember that at the very heart of the Commonwealth is the Harare declaration—ironically. The Harare declaration outlines the core principles of the Commonwealth: the principles of democracy and human rights. The fact is that Zimbabwe does not uphold those principles of democracy and the rule of law. It does not apply those principles. They were not applied in Pakistan when the coup took place, and Pakistan was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth. The same thing happened when there was a coup in Fiji. There is no case whatsoever for bringing Zimbabwe back into the councils of the Commonwealth.

Finally, I note that the England cricket team has made a decision not to play in Zimbabwe. I think one of the honourable members interjected regarding the cricket team. We have expressed the view on many occasions that we would like the International Cricket Council to transfer all matches from Zimbabwe to other parts of Africa—presumably, to South Africa. I wrote to Malcolm Gray recently expressing that view, and Mr Speed has written back expressing the view that the International Cricket Council wishes to persist with the games in Zimbabwe. As many honourable members will know, there have been one or two games played there already. As we have said all along, at the end of the day this is a matter for the International Cricket Council and, in Australia's case, for the Australian Cricket Board, but we regard it as regrettable that cricket matches are proceeding in Zimbabwe as part of the World Cup campaign.