Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Questions without Notice
One of my advisers has an old Zimbabwean banknote above her desk from a visit there in 2008. Its denomination is $100 trillion. That is 14 zeros. Zimbabwe's hyperinflation reached such peaks that it was forced to abandon its currency in 2009.
The political and economic crisis in 2008 saw widespread violence, with five million people in need of humanitarian support. Progress since then has been excruciatingly slow, but there has been some positive change. This is due in large part to the efforts of brave reformists who persisted and to the help of South Africa and the Southern African Development Community. In January, after a constitutional review process that took three years, political parties agreed to the text of a new constitution. Last month they announced that a constitutional referendum will be held on 16 March. These are positive steps that Australians can welcome, and we undertook to reward them.
Our sanctions on Zimbabwe up until now have been financial and travel restrictions against 153 designated individuals and four entities, an arms embargo and a prohibition on defence links. We have now decided to remove 55 individuals from our sanctions list. These individuals are not considered to be hindering democratic reforms or undermining the goal of free and fair elections. In accordance with the road map I announced on 7 February, the government will lift further sanctions when (1) a peaceful and credible constitutional referendum is held and (2) free and fair elections take place and a democratically elected government takes office.
Our goal, by adjusting sanctions, is to reward reforms and encourage further progress. Should the political process derail, then we will reinstate sanctions. The political situation remains fragile. Violence could return. There have been reports of political harassment and intimidation, including against civil society organisations. These include searches, arrests and detention on dubious charges. The Office of the UN Commissioner for Human Rights said on 18 January:
We are concerned about the crackdown on non-governmental organisations and dissenting voices seen as critical of President Robert Mugabe’s rule and apparently politically motivated prosecutions …
Nothing would give me and, I believe, all Australians greater pleasure than to see Zimbabwe return to the community of democracies—back to the Commonwealth, for example. That will be achieved by the delivery— (Time expired)
One of Zimbabwe's tragedies is that it has the potential to be a strong nation, a rich nation, but this remains unrealised. Zimbabwe has enough resources to be a major agricultural economy, but today around 70 per cent of its population, or nine million people, live in poverty. Life expectancy is only 54 years of age.
Australia provided around $50 million in assistance last year, making us the third largest country donor in Zimbabwe. Our sanctions were targeted not to hurt the poor people of that country but to hit the leadership. We have helped more than 650,000 Zimbabweans get access to safe water and improved water supply in six small towns to benefit a further 1.65 million. We are helping 60,000 poor farmers to purchase agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and livestock. This year we are supporting 28 Zimbabweans to study in Australia through Australia Award Scholarships.