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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 7941

Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (18:00): I rise tonight to speak following the tabling of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade report into Australia's relationships with the countries of Africa. At this stage I would like to pay tribute to the chair of that committee, Senator Forshaw, and the deputy chair, the member for Gilmore, as well as the secretariat for their hard work in making this report possible.

Africa may not be in our diplomatic backyard like Asia or indeed the South Pacific, but it is an important part of Australia's foreign policy outlook. We have significant aid, strong people-to-people links and strategic interests and we engage in a multitude of global organisations with our African partners.

Africa is a continent of up to a billion people. It is made up of 53 countries, each with their different traditions, their different languages—some 3,000 different languages are spoken in Africa—and different religions, and this provides many challenges and opportunities. In terms of challenges, 33 of the 49 poorest countries in the world are in Africa. There are real issues around governance, but there is also great opportunity. People are innovative, there is extensive resource wealth, and there is a movement of many millions of people out of poverty into the middle classes. Australia has an opportunity to work with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and the Southern African Development Community to try to reach common answers to common problems.

In this report there are a number of significant recommendations, some of which I hope the government does take up. One is to call for greater cooperation between the private sector, government agencies and NGOs in developing and delivering aid to Africa. A second talks about a regulatory framework for the resources sector—Australia, using our own experience with our strong resources sector, could help develop such a regulatory framework that could assist countries in Africa to develop their resources.

Significantly, the report recommends that we review our diplomatic representation in Africa, particularly in the francophone countries. Our presence in Africa has decreased from 12 diplomatic missions to eight in the past 25 years. We have significantly less diplomatic representation than a number of our trading partners such as Canada, Korea and Malaysia—not to say that we have significantly less diplomatic representation in Africa than the United States, Japan and the United Kingdom. I welcome the opening of a mission in Addis Ababa, which is the headquarters of the African Union, and recognise that the committee has suggested we increase the number of honorary consuls in Africa as well as the A-based French-speaking diplomatic staff.

There are also opportunities for Australia to develop valuable ties in research, in higher education. This includes offering more scholarships for African students to study here and the interesting idea of a centre for African studies to be located at an Australian university. There is also scope for an Australia-Africa council which could be used to expand trade and cultural links. I remember when Alexander Downer was the foreign minister back in 2000 and the Council on Australia Latin America Relations was set up, and that helped deepen and strengthen the ties between Australia and Latin American countries. There are great trading opportunities in agriculture, resources and tourism. But if you look at the statistics today, less than one per cent of our imports come from Africa and just over 1.5 per cent of our exports go to Africa. So clearly there are great opportunities for Australian businesses to partner with African countries to our mutual benefit.

In conclusion, I just want to talk about one issue that I think is very important to Australia's policy on the African continent. That is about how we can improve the democratic rights of the Zimbabwean people. Back in 2005 I wrote an article that was published in the Courier Mail about the UN's failure to pressure Mugabe and how back then it was an indictment on the UN membership and the values that it professed to hold. The food basket of Africa was Zimbabwe and it has quickly turned into the basket case of Africa. President Mbeki was supposed to be the honest broker in trying to bring Zimbabwe to the table. That did not succeed. President Mugabe bulldozed hundreds of thousands of poor people's dwellings and temporary dwellings in Harare, leaving hundreds of thousands—it was estimated to be 700,000 people—homeless. Inflation and unemployment skyrocketed, the currency was worthless and still the international community, particularly Zimbabwe's African neighbours, stood still and stayed quiet. Would you believe that Zimbabwe was elected to a three-year term to the UN's Human Rights Council? I am all for international bodies, but when they kick dirt in our faces by electing the likes of Zimbabwe to a UN human rights body you have to ask, 'What is it all about?' Clearly, quiet diplomacy does not work with Zimbabwe and something more dramatic needs to be done.

People may be aware that after the failed elections in 2008 there was a so-called power-sharing agreement between President Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai from the Movement For Democratic Change. Lo and behold, nothing has happened. We have not had fresh elections, we have not had a new constitution and we are now a couple of years on. Why aren't Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard speaking about this more often? Why aren't they speaking to the Australian public and to their partners in Africa and elsewhere about the disgrace that is Zimbabwe? I notice that the South African development community has recently said that Zimbabwe and leaders need to be urged to 'create a conducive environment to the holding of elections that will be free and fair, under conditions of a level playing field.'

But I also note that the so-called electoral commission in Zimbabwe is telling us that a third of the people whose names are on the electors roll are dead and that the government has no money to conduct a new election. That is no excuse to abuse human rights and suspend democracy. Mugabe is a dictator of the worst kind. It is an indictment on many of our international partners that something more has not been done. The ZANU-PF, Mugabe's military and political arm, are thugs. They try to intimidate their political opponents. The rapes, the bashings, the poverty, the lack of education and health systems to speak of—thousands of people have died of cholera—are completely intolerable. I know that Kevin Rudd thinks that he is going to bring peace to mankind, and particularly to Libya, but why does he not pay more attention to Zimbabwe? Isn't it time that Australia, as a Commonwealth nation, made Zimbabwe an absolute priority for our foreign policy? There might be a power-sharing agreement between Morgan Tsvangirai and President Mugabe, but it is a power-sharing agreement in name only. There is no real democracy, there are no human rights and millions and millions of people lie scared in their beds.

This report from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee is a valuable contribution. It points to how we can strengthen our relationships with the countries of Africa. As I said at the start, Africa may not be in our diplomatic backyard, like Asia and the South Pacific, but it is a very valuable country in terms of Australia's global interests, and we have a moral obligation to help the millions of people in Africa who are dealing with extreme poverty and a lack of governance. I pay tribute to the chair of the committee, Senator Forshaw, his deputy chair, the member for Gilmore, and the secretariat for their important work. But I say to our Minister for Foreign Affairs and to our Prime Minister: Zimbabwe under Mugabe is a blight on the world and it is a blight on your foreign policy record. With CHOGM to take place in Australia, there is no better time for you as the Australian government to use your voice in international forums and here at home to make the case for change in Zimbabwe and the end of the disastrous dictatorship that is the Mugabe regime.