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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 128

Senator MOORE (9:08 PM) —First, I would like to acknowledge Senator John Tierney and support the comments that were made by many people in this Senate to thank him and to wish him and his family well in the next part of his career. However, tonight I would again like to talk a little about Zimbabwe, now that we are in the last couple of weeks leading up to Zimbabwe’s 31 March election. It is not an election as we know it in this country but one that creates special challenges and real danger for those people from all sides—but, in particular, from the opposition—who are brave enough to be candidates. One of those candidates in the election, who is running for the second time, is a friend of mine. Her name is Sekai Holland.

Sekai is a truly amazing woman with whom I have had the privilege to share many hours of conversation. Every time you talk with Sekai, I believe you go away a better person. She is again running for a remote regional seat in Zimbabwe called—and I will get this pronunciation wrong, but I will give it a go—Mberengwa East, which is a country seat several hours outside Harare. People face particular challenges in that electorate, not only because many people are fearful about taking up their right to vote but also because they have been suffering great shortages of food over the last few years and many people are at subsistence level. This used to be one of the richest countries in the African basin, and now many of the citizens are starving because there is not adequate food. This particular issue has been used by the government of the day to try and buy votes. It is a particularly strong form of advertising if you can actually guarantee food to voters.

Sekai has made the decision to run again because she is committed to the true principles of democracy. She has always been a political activist. She studied in Australia and also in the United States and Colombia. She has a range of academic qualifications. But underlying all that effort is a true commitment to making people strong—in particular women and families. She is committed to ensuring that the future of Zimbabwe is protected so families in that country can look ahead with some real confidence and see that there will be a strong democratic government and that all people, black and white, will live together effectively and be able to engage in democratic discussions—not always agreeing but at least having a parliament that truly reflects the community and can make effective decisions about key issues such as education, jobs and landownership.

Those are issues that her party, the MDC, have had as their platform since they formed, and Sekai was one of the founding members of that opposition. I hope they will be the government, but we are not particularly hopeful. In the last round of major elections in the early 2000s there was great hope. There was great international coverage of what was going on. There was a sense that people would be able to have a fair vote and that their vote would reflect the decision of the electorate. However, that did not happen, and the world knows that. We know that there were international observers in Zimbabwe at the time, and their reports indicated that it was not a fair and open election. There were platitudinous statements made by the government of the day which covered up the overt violence and intimidation, which was the underlying factor in the way the election was conducted.

Leading into 2004, there is in the population almost a resignation that it is going to happen again. It is not that the violence will not be there. It is actually a little bit of a concern when it is not, because it is so entrenched in the culture that the expectation is that there will be violence. I talked to someone who was there last week, and there was almost a sense of relief that, while there are bashings, while people have been intimidated and while people who are not supporting the reigning party of the day, the ZANU-PF, are finding it very difficult to get their names on the roll, at this stage there have not been any mass murders. That was actually seen as an advance compared to what happened last time. It is almost impossible for anyone sitting in parliament here to understand the form that the parliamentary process takes in that country. It is very frustrating because there was such hope.

Sekai is continuing to campaign. One of the biggest issues for her is just getting around her electorate. She sent us an email recently describing a trip that she made to visit the people across her regional electorate. Three vehicles broke down before she even left the major city. The people are poor. She said that she cannot get support and physical help from other people in the community because the poverty is so entrenched. One of the key issues is the availability of petrol. We take it for granted here that when you are running a campaign you can have access to vehicles and can get around. In their area that is an impossibility. The difference between those in power—the haves—and those who are in opposition is very great, because the real challenge in encouraging the people to take part and ensuring that they have the chance to be part of the system is overcoming the apathy and fear which is entrenched due to years of living in an autocratic society.

When Sekai is involved in her campaign, it is not just an individual process. Her campaign includes her whole family and her supporters. The overwhelming sense for me is their joy. You cannot speak with these people or talk with them about what is going on without being affected by the sheer enthusiasm and joy they have for being part of any kind of democratic process, even one so flawed. They believe that the danger is worth the risk. They want to be part of the democratic process. They are already queuing in an attempt to get on the electoral roll, even knowing that the roll will be flawed, because they want to be part of the process.

Senator McGauran —Where are you talking about? Iraq?

Senator MOORE —I am talking about Zimbabwe, Senator McGauran. I know this is an area you have heard about and previously shown an interest in. It is important that people in this place can share in these experiences. They are not frustrated by the problems of the electoral process; they want to get involved and be there.

A few weeks ago, I spoke about the international campaign that is being run to free Roy Bennett. He was an elected representative in the Zimbabwean parliament and has now been sentenced to prison for over 12 months over something that is wrong. At that time we had great hopes that Roy, despite being in prison, would still be able to run for his seat in parliament. Finally, after several attempts through the court, it was decided that Roy was not eligible to run again for parliament. So his partner, Heather, who has always been part of the team, has put herself forward—I think reluctantly—to be a candidate for the seat Roy held. She says that she is putting herself forward as a candidate only to ensure that these successes can occur and because, if you do not put yourself forward, you are forgetting the years of suffering that people in the area have endured.

One of the really terrifying aspects of this whole discussion is that we do not know what is going on in Zimbabwe. It is almost impossible to get information. There is very little media coverage. Looking through the major papers in Australia, you will not find information about the Zimbabwean election—even though we all know, as members of this place, many people of Zimbabwean background and descent live in Australia and want to know what is going on there. But you have to find snippets of information in the international press.

The press in Zimbabwe is severely limited. The MDC, the major opposition party, cannot get media activity or coverage of its processes. It is unable to run campaign advertisements. Not only is there overt violence, thuggery and threats; there is also the inability to have a campaign. The MDC cannot get radio time—the most effective campaign tool in a country like Zimbabwe—nor can it get into the newspapers. Independent media has been closed down. All this is on record. Both the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, and the shadow foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, have made public statements about the lack of openness connected with this election and said that the election is based on a false premise. Zimbabwe is going through an electoral process, but it is neither fair nor open.

I hope that people will try and find out what is going on in Zimbabwe, because its people deserve better; they are working to achieve greatness. I am humbled by the efforts of people like Sekai Holland. If we could have only some semblance of her passion and her commitment, our parliament would be enhanced. I am hoping, almost against hope, that the parliament of Zimbabwe will be enhanced by her election at the end of this month.