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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15588

Ms JULIE BISHOP (2:40 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the crisis in Zimbabwe? What steps is the government taking to increase pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to rectify this situation?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, I thank the member for Curtin for her question. I appreciate that she has an ongoing interest in Zimbabwe after she was there for the Zimbabwe elections as an observer. Beginning today the opposition in Zimbabwe is going to conduct a series of what they call `democracy marches'. It is worth noting that, typically, as a government we would not become involved in the political affairs of other countries. But it is entirely understandable that the opposition in Zimbabwe would want to mount protest action against the oppression of the government. There are reports that the Zimbabwe government is determined to `crush these protests', to use their words. There have been reports of armoured vehicles and soldiers moving into the centre of Harare in preparation to do just that. This government would urge the government of Zimbabwe to exercise restraint and allow people to protest peacefully in a democratic society. After all, the government of Zimbabwe says that it is democratic, in which case it should allow the right of peaceful protest.

The situation in Zimbabwe nevertheless continues to deteriorate at every level. In addition, state-sponsored violence, human rights violations, erosions of the rule of law and a general climate of impunity for the regime are features of this crisis. There does not seem to be any short-term prospect of change. It is worth noting that the economy in Zimbabwe is in such a disastrous state that, with an inflation rate of 269 per cent, the Zimbabwe central bank can no longer afford to purchase ink and paper in order to print banknotes. That really is the ultimate definition of the failure of an economy: that they cannot even afford to print banknotes. Zimbabwe was once the bread basket of Africa—or, at least, of southern Africa. Now it can no longer feed its people. The World Food Program estimates that about 7.2 million people in Zimbabwe, which is over half the population, need food aid.

The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith!

The SPEAKER —The member for Griffith is defying the chair.

Mr DOWNER —On 20 May I was in London to participate in a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a group of eight foreign ministers from a selection of Commonwealth countries. It has the job of upholding the Harare Declaration and the Millbrook Plan of Action, and ensuring that the Commonwealth members adhere to the standards set by those documents. While the troika that the Prime Minister presides over is currently responsible for the Commonwealth's response to the issue of Zimbabwe and has suspended Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth, I did use the opportunity of the CMAG meeting in London to press the other countries participating in that meeting to ensure that the CMAG kept as much pressure on the government of President Robert Mugabe as was possible.

The truth, though, is that for one reason or another there is no consensus in CMAG to maintain pressure on the government of President Mugabe. Consequently, I tabled a paper in the CMAG meeting highlighting the problems of Zimbabwe so that the governments and, of course, the ministers would be a little more aware of the seriousness of the situation in Zimbabwe than they might otherwise have been. I table that paper in the House today because I know that it will be of interest to a number of members of the House who are interested in the issue of Zimbabwe.

Let me just say in conclusion that the Prime Minister, through the troika, has been responsible for the suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth. We will continue as best we can to place pressure on the government of Zimbabwe to engage in dialogue with the Movement for Democratic Change, to uphold international norms of human rights and to start to make some progress in restoring the Zimbabwean economy. But the responsibility does not just rest on us; it rests in particular on other countries in southern Africa. We urge Zimbabwe's neighbours to continue to do everything they possibly can to persuade the Zimbabwe administration to undertake a substantial program of reform.