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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10368

Ms PARKE (9:20 PM) —I commend and support the statements made by the speakers to this motion—in particular, by the mover of the motion, the member for Melbourne Ports. The motion rightly deplores the situation in Zimbabwe, condemns the corrupt and violent Mugabe regime, and calls for both assistance and strong diplomatic pressure from the international community, particularly Zimbabwe’s southern African neighbours, and from the Australian government. It is disturbing in this context that on 11 July 2008, when the United Nations Security Council voted on a draft resolution which would have imposed further sanctions on Zimbabwe, including an arms embargo, the resolution was vetoed by China and Russia.

In June, I joined a number of members in discussing a motion in this place on the subject of Zimbabwe. At that stage we contemplated the impending run-off election of 27 June, an electoral process that was a farce. Since that time we have seen the bright prospect of improvement in Zimbabwe, through the MDC commanding the majority of seats in the Zimbabwean parliament, through the appointment of Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister and through discussions concerning power-sharing arrangements between the MDC and the ZANU-PF. However, for the time being an improvement is illusory. The real power—and the blatant misuse of that power—continues to rest with the Mugabe regime. Human Rights Watch reported last week that ‘Zanu-PF’s institutions of repression remain intact, and there has been no change in their abusive conduct and attitude’.

Overnight, the leaders of the Southern African Development Community were meeting in Johannesburg to try and end the deadlock over the power-sharing issue. They recommended that Mugabe and Tsvangirai share control of the important home affairs ministry. This proposal was rejected by Tsvangirai, who noted that his dispute with Mugabe is not only about the ministry of home affairs but about striking a fair balance of power in the unity government. In a recent New Yorker article Tsvangirai was quoted as saying:

In an ideal world, in such negotiations, you have an honest partner, not a dishonest one. Mugabe has been dishonest … What I am trying to get is a good deal with a bad man.

Indeed, one could hardly blame Tsvangirai for not wishing Mugabe to share power over Zimbabwe’s police and security forces, given the role of these forces in the state sponsored violence and intimidation during the election campaign.

As this year draws to a close, it is part of human nature to reflect on the kind of year it has been, to consider on different levels how the year might be characterised. It began with the opening of the 42nd Australian parliament and, among other things, a bipartisan commitment to begin each new parliament with a welcome to country ceremony. It also began with an apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples by the national parliament and for me these powerful and significant gestures of recognition, healing and national maturity will always mark 2008 as a special year. I have no doubt that the year will also be remembered for the global financial crisis which has dominated our national and international focus in the second half of the year, and it will be remembered for the arrival of a new and transformational president in the United States of America.

But I will also think of 2008 as a year in which African conflict in countries like Zimbabwe, Sudan and the Congo continued, intensified and came to seem intractable. The death toll and the abject misery in those countries are sometimes hard to contemplate. But let us confront some sharp facts in the context of this motion about Zimbabwe. I take the following numbers from the 27 October article in the New Yorker: inflation in Zimbabwe is officially at 11 million per cent, although some analysts put it as high as 230 million per cent; unemployment is at 80 per cent; approximately two million Zimbabweans rely on international aid agencies for food in the face of chronic malnutrition and spreading starvation; and 20 per cent of the population is estimated to be infected with HIV-AIDS. Tragically, as the member for Melbourne Ports mentioned in this place in June, the life expectancy for people in Zimbabwe has nearly halved in the last decade.

Of course, to the numbers we add the stories—and they are terrible stories. I note that Human Rights Watch has reported on the violent suppression of a peaceful demonstration by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe National Students Union on 27 October. Demonstrators were beaten and tear-gassed. Authorities arrested 42 women, and at least 35 demonstrators were treated for injuries. The demonstration was calling on the country’s leaders to address the severe food shortages in the country. The National Coordinator of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe was quoted as saying, ‘We are dying of hunger—people have no food.’ This is in a country that was once the breadbasket of Africa. There appears to be no limit to the degree of suffering the Mugabe regime will inflict on the people of Zimbabwe in order to retain its power and privilege. I join my parliamentary colleagues in supporting this motion and in calling for renewed international focus and action in Africa in the strongest terms. (Time expired)