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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23298

Mr BILLSON (2:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on recent political and economic developments in Zimbabwe? What steps has the government taken to encourage positive change there?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First of all, I thank the member for Dunkley for his question and his interest. I think the House would be aware that the government has been deeply concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe for quite some period of time, particularly bearing in mind the role that the Fraser government played at the Lusaka CHOGM back in 1979 to help Zimbabwe achieve independence and some dignity in self-government. But since then, particularly in recent times, the situation has deteriorated badly, and it has to be said that President Mugabe has done nothing to encourage the Commonwealth to lift its suspension of Zimbabwe, which was put in place in March 2002. I am very pleased to say that President Obasanjo of Nigeria has maintained his position that President Mugabe of Zimbabwe will not be invited to the CHOGM which takes place at the end of this week, and I think President Obasanjo has done that in order to maintain Commonwealth cohesion in the lead-up to that meeting.

Let me also say that it is our view that the situation in Zimbabwe is actually continuing to deteriorate: GDP will shrink by 13 per cent this year, inflation is at 526 per cent—and it is expected that it will rise to some 700 per cent—half of Zimbabwe's population needs food aid and there is insufficient foreign exchange to buy seed, fertiliser or spare parts. The government will maintain a forceful position, pushing for reform in Zimbabwe. We will maintain our support for the Zimbabwean people. Through our food aid assistance we are providing about $38½ million worth to southern Africa, much of which goes to Zimbabwe, during the course of this year. I hope that the international community will join with Australia and not be intimidated in any way by the taunts or the policies of President Mugabe.