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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 20136


Ms JULIE BISHOP (2:40 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. What is the Prime Minister's response to comments from the spokesman of the President of South Africa on the attendance by President Mugabe at the next meeting of Commonwealth heads of government?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The member for Curtin, as many members will know, was a member of the Commonwealth observer group in Zimbabwe and therefore has a greater first-hand knowledge than most of the totally fraudulent way in which President Mugabe purported to secure re-election as President of Zimbabwe. I say in reply to the member for Curtin that I am aware of the comments that were aired on the AM program this morning by a spokesman for the South African President, claiming that Australia was engaged in `megaphone diplomacy' on Zimbabwe. Everything that Australia has said about Zimbabwe in the time that I have been Prime Minister, and most particularly since the rorted election in Zimbabwe two years ago, far from being megaphone diplomacy, has been a plain statement of the truth.

It is the case that Australia, along with many other countries, takes the view that President Mugabe should not be invited to attend the Commonwealth meeting in Abuja, in Nigeria, in December this year. It is my understanding that that is also the view of the host of that conference, President Obasanjo of Nigeria. I welcome the decision that has been taken by Nigeria not to extend an invitation to President Mugabe. Zimbabwe was, rightly, suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth in March last year, for the plain reason that Mugabe had rorted and rigged his way back to power in the elections that were the subject of the Commonwealth observer group. That was the judgment not of Australia acting alone or Britain acting alone; it was the judgment of a Commonwealth observer group made up of representatives of Commonwealth nations from all around the world.

Following Zimbabwe's suspension, the government of Zimbabwe has, regrettably, done absolutely nothing to redress the concerns which led to its suspension. It has even refused to engage with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in a proper dialogue on the steps that Zimbabwe ought to take to have its suspension lifted. In these circumstances, it would be a travesty if Zimbabwe were to be represented at the Abuja meeting. I contrast the behaviour of Zimbabwe with the behaviour of Fiji, where after the two coups that occurred in that country there was a return to a democratic process. Fiji literally had the constitutional book thrown at it. Fiji did everything it was asked to do, and it has properly and honourably returned to the councils of the Commonwealth—the contrast with Mugabe, the contrast with Zimbabwe, could not be greater.

I say to the member for Curtin and to all members of the House that what is happening in Zimbabwe today is a veritable tragedy. Its people are starving; their choice of government has been denied to them; their economy is in ruins with inflation running at 425 per cent, 5.5 million people dependent on food aid and unemployment estimated at 60 per cent to 70 per cent. Most members of the Commonwealth, and certainly Australia, believe that the people of Zimbabwe deserve better. At the recent Pacific Islands Forum meeting, the 11 member countries of that body that are also members of the Commonwealth unanimously expressed the view that, until there was evident action on the part of Zimbabwe to address these issues, Zimbabwe should remain suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth and should certainly not attend the Abuja meeting in December.