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Foreign Minister Stephen Smith urges Zimbabwe -

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Foreign Minister Stephen Smith urges Zimbabwe's neighbours to exert pressure

Broadcast: 02/04/2008

Reporter: Tony Jones

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith speaks about the situation in Zimbabwe.

Transcript

TONY JONES: As we said, the Australian foreign minister, Stephen Smith, has tonight been on the
phone to his counterparts in three neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe, as well as the Australian
embassy in Harare.

He joins us now from our Parliament House studio.

Stephen Smith, thanks for being there.

And can you start by giving us the latest you're hearing from Australian diplomats in Harare.

STEPHEN SMITH, FOREIGN MINISTER: Well this evening, or late tonight, in the last hour, I've spoken
to our ambassador in Zimbabwe. I've spoken to our mission in South Africa, and earlier tonight I
spoke to my counterpart, the foreign minister in Tanzania.

And we've got calls out for South Africa and Zambia, but just some logistical arrangements have
made that a bit difficult.

Starting with the information we're getting in terms of what's occurring on the ground, it's mid
morning to late morning in Harare and Zimbabwe as we speak. I'm told that things are calm and
people are going about their usual business.

So it's a bit improved from earlier reports. But when people are asked about the outcome or what
might occur, there is some tension or nervousness.

There's not necessarily a great deal more to report than what I advised the media earlier today.

We're expecting that in the next hour or so, the Opposition party, the MDC will release their own
assessment of the booth by booth, or the polling station by polling station results. This is
obviously geared to put pressure on the Zimbabwe election commission to more quickly release it's
own results.

The most recent results published by the Zimbabwe electoral commission effectively had Mr
Changerai's Opposition party on about 90 seats, Zanu-PF slightly behind, and other parties, a half
a dozen or so.

So if you compare that with the most reliable and authoritative NGO, the Zimbabwe Democracy Now,
they've got in the parliamentary sense, 99 for Mr Changerai, 96 for Zanu-PF, and a dozen for other
parties. So there's a rough equivalence there.

What it does tell us is that Mr Changerai has done very, very well. But we're yet to see any
results so far as the presidential election is concerned. Which is why we continue to seek to put
the pressure that we can, from afar, on the electoral commission to release those results and make
sure that the results are an accurate reflection of the will of the Zimbabwe people.

TONY JONES: Are you disturbed at all to hear that the State run newspaper in Harare, the Herald, is
actually saying that it has the presidential results and that neither of the candidates has got
more than 50 per cent, therefore there will have to be a run-off election in three weeks time.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I suppose given the history of Zimbabwe under the brutal Mugabe regime, the
State run newspaper having access to that information wouldn't necessarily surprise.

But as I've said, we've got to take this step by step. It's quite clear the Opposition have done
well.

Now whether an accurate reflection of the poll, of the count, is an absolute majority for Mr
Changerai, or a run-off for a second round, and we'll have to leave that judgement for a bit
further down the track. That is a significant dent to Mr Mugabe's authority. There's no doubt about
that.

And David Coltart made that point, and I thought, made it well. That there has been seen now to be
a significant denting of that authority, and we just hope the response to that is a peaceful and
peaceable one. One which accepts the outcome, and where we don't see violence or the use of rigging
or more seriously, military or other force to try and steal the election or thwart the will of the
people.

TONY JONES: Okay. As we said earlier, you're attempting to speak to the three SADC foreign
ministers, you've spoken I think to the foreign minister of Tanzania, I think that's what you
said...

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes.

TONY JONES: What are you trying to achieve with those phone calls? Do you want some form of
intervention from those three countries to put pressure on Mugabe?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well what I wanted to do was to firstly, as I did with the United Kingdom foreign
secretary last night, just register Australia's significant interest and concern in Zimbabwe.

We have a long standing interest in Zimbabwe from unilateral declaration of independence, Rhodesia
days and from majority rule, post-Lancaster house. And there is a small but significant Rhodesian
and Zimbabwean expatriate community in Australia.

And it's in the Commonwealth, it's part of our patch. And we should...

TONY JONES: Well it was in the Commonwealth - it's not right now.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well it was in the Commonwealth, with Pakistan it's out. But part of our public
policy aspiration is to get it back in.

Which of course means a full and free election and respecting the result.

But what I wanted to do was to register our interest. But also to get a feel for what the South
African Development Community States and the African Union States were thinking.

Tanzania, who I spoke to, my colleague foreign minister Membe. Tanzania of course chairs the
African Union, but Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, generally regarded as the three significant
Southern African Development Community States, and African Union States, who are best placed to put
pressure on or influence events in Zimbabwe.

And we know that President Mbeki, for example, was very influential in an improved conduct of the
election.

TONY JONES: Alright, what did Mr Membe tell you tonight?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well of course it's for South Africa, and Zambia, and Tanzania to let their own
views be known. But without saying anything inappropriate, I think it's accurate to say that
firstly the concerns that are shared by the international community which we've seen expressed.

We've seen them expressed by Australia, the United Kingdom and others, that we want, that there is
a desire to see an accurate reflection of the will of the Zimbabwe people reflected by the election
results. That it's desirable for those results to be published sooner rather than later.

But most importantly, it's desirable for those results to accurately reflect the actual votes cast.

And I think it's also true to say there is considerable concern and worry that if we're not
careful, that if the outcome isn't effectively, properly counted and respected, that we could very
quickly see Zimbabwe descend into unrest, disorder and violence. Which of course the last thing we
want to see.

TONY JONES: Indeed, and on that score, Desmond Tutu tonight is actually calling for a Southern
African peace keeping force to be sent in to Zimbabwe now. To make sure there isn't any
post-election violence, or electoral violence as a result of the tensions that are developing
there.

Do you think that's a good idea?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well can I make this point. I think in the first instance, there is the immediate
responsibility of the African neighbours to be doing what they can to ensure that there's a quick
outcome and a respecting of the election result.

If, for example, there is on the basis of the objective evidence, a requirement or a need or an
electoral outcome which sees a second round, then that should certainly be the subject of very
intense international scrutiny in terms of election observers.

And yes, I think the African States should contemplate a show of support to ensure that that second
round is fully participated in, is free and is fair.

TONY JONES: Are you talking about peacekeeping? Do you think a peacekeeping force on the ground in
Zimbabwe would be a good idea during this election to make sure things stay under control?

STEPHEN SMITH: I'm not going to get too far ahead of myself, Tony. As I say, firstly we're seeing
at the moment on the basis of the latest reports, yes there is a military or a police presence in,
for example, Harare, but at this stage the disposition seems to be to stand off rather than to be
taking an active or partisan approach or role.

Now that could very quickly change. We certainly don't want it to change. The most desirable
outcome is a respecting of the election result in a peaceful and peaceable way.

And if that takes a second round, if the objective evidence requires a second round in accordance
with the electoral process, that should be full, free and fair participation.

That should certainly require international observers and in the first instance if there is a need
to contemplate, if you like, a greater show of strength, then I think the primary responsibility
for contemplating that rests with the African States. And I think that would be the most
appropriate starting point.

But we're a fair way from that I think Tony.

TONY JONES: Quick final question. You may have heard in the piece earlier Mugabe's deputy minister
for information, Brian Matonga, welcoming what he calls a change in attitude from the new
Australian Government?

Has someone told him there's been a change in the Australian Government's position on Zimbabwe?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, half tongue in cheek, Tony, people obviously haven't been showing him my
transcripts which have been pretty rugged on my view of a brutal regime.

TONY JONES: Does this make you wonder what our diplomats are actually telling him on the ground,
our Ambassador? Are we telling them the concern that there is in Australia and that, in fact, you
are deeply worried about the past rigging of elections?

STEPHEN SMITH: Tony, you can be in absolutely no doubt what our people in Zimbabwe and as well what
our people in South Africa are saying in terms of our attitude and our view.

We're dealing here with a brutal regime of long standing which hasn't respected democracy, which
hasn't respected human rights, which has essentially presided over a massive falling away of the
economy and living standards of the Zimbabwean people.

We stand ready, willing and able to work with any government which will reflect the will of the
people. But most importantly, work towards improving the livelihood of the Zimbabwean people. And I
regret to advise the information minister Tony, that is not the Mugabe regime.

TONY JONES: We'll see if he reports that tomorrow. Stephen Smith, we thank you very much for taking
the time to talk to us tonight.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much Tony, thank you.