Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Statement to the House of Representatives


15 September 2009

Mr Speaker, I wish to update the House on the situation in Zimbabwe.

Today is the anniversary of the signing on 15 September 2008 of the agreement which created the Inclusive Zimbabwe Government under the joint leadership of Robert Mugabe as President and Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.

That agreement has become known as the Global Political Agreement.

It was not until February this year that Mr Morgan Tsvangirai assumed the position of Prime Minister of Zimbabwe pursuant to that agreement.

On 13 February, I spoke to Mr Tsvangirai to congratulate him and to tell him that the Government and the people of Australia stood with him as he confronted the enormous economic, social, political and security challenges faced by the people of Zimbabwe.

At that time, the challenges faced by Prime Minister Tsvangirai and the Zimbabwe Government seemed overwhelming.

Zimbabwe’s economy had collapsed, around three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s estimated remaining population required food aid, a cholera epidemic had already claimed thousands of lives, and the political agreement appeared a last resort and a fragile experiment.

Mr Speaker, I can report to the House that while the challenges faced by Zimbabwe remain enormous, some progress has been made.

The Global Political Agreement between Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF remains in place.

Improvements in the economy are in no small part due to the strong and sensible reforms implemented by Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s colleague, Finance Minister, Mr Tendai Biti.

The end of price controls and adoption of hard currency, necessary steps after the total collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar, have put an end to hyperinflation.

Goods are returning to shelves as the business environment slowly improves.

For the moment, the cholera epidemic has been contained.

Schools and health care facilities are reopening. Salaries of teachers and health professionals are being gradually increased.

Levels of political violence have reduced significantly.

An agreement, yet to be implemented, has been reached for the appointment of new provincial governors.

We are seeing growing signs of a sense of hope and optimism among the people of Zimbabwe.

These hard fought gains have taken a long time to achieve and
Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his MDC Ministers are to be congratulated for the strength of their resolve and commitment.

Mr Speaker.

Australia has been proud to play a role in Zimbabwe’s recent progress.

Australia has been at the forefront of international efforts - both political and humanitarian - to assist Zimbabwe.

In recent years, Australia’s assistance to Zimbabwe has been humanitarian. Most of that has necessarily been emergency food aid to assist the people of Zimbabwe during a severe humanitarian crisis.

After the new Government was sworn in on 13 February this year, Australia was one of the first countries to deliver assistance in a manner that has become known as ‘humanitarian plus’ assistance.

This goes beyond purely emergency humanitarian relief, to include longer term measures to help restore essential services such as water, education and healthcare.

Since the establishment of the Inclusive Government, Australia has provided more than $20 million in assistance to Zimbabwe.

In February, I announced $5 million in assistance, through UNICEF for essential water and sanitation works and essential medicines to deal with Zimbabwe’s cholera epidemic.

In May, I announced a further $5 million comprising $2million for seeds and fertiliser to begin revitalising Zimbabwe’s devastated agricultural sector and a further $3 million for water and sanitation mostly through our highly regarded Australian NGOs - World Vision, Caritas and Oxfam.

Between these two announcements, on 11 March, I announced a $10 million package of measures which went beyond our previous humanitarian-only contributions.

$5 million was for water and sanitation services - particularly to address the cholera epidemic.

This funding was provided through UNICEF to local authorities for water and sanitation safety assessments and urgently needed water treatment chemicals.

As Zimbabwe’s local authorities had taken back responsibility for water infrastructure, and UNICEF was dealing directly with these local authorities, the prospects of this funding being diverted by Mr Mugabe or his associates was greatly reduced and the more direct work with these authorities increased the likely benefits to the people of Zimbabwe.

The other element of this package was $5 million in short term incentive payments for health workers delivered through the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

This assistance was necessary to restore some level of stability to health services which had been severely damaged by the exodus of trained staff due to the unreliability of salary payments from the Mugabe regime.

In moving beyond strict humanitarian-only assistance and in dealing more closely with Zimbabwe Government authorities on these two measures, the risks were increased but sensible risk management strategies were put in place and this more direct assistance provided greater benefit to the people of Zimbabwe.

These measures have underlined Australia’s commitment to assisting Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his Ministers in the rebuilding of Zimbabwe.

Mr Speaker.

The Government supports Prime Minister Tsvangirai in his view that the Global Political Agreement currently presents the best prospect of a better future for Zimbabwe.

Australia supports the role of Zimbabwe’s neighbours, through the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), in overseeing the Global Political Agreement.

It is vital that the parties to the Global Political Agreement fully implement and respect all its provisions.

In a sign of growing frustration at the slow pace of reform, Prime Minister Tsvangirai over the weekend said that President Mugabe and ZANU-PF were violating the rule of law and pointed to evidence that they were not committed to reconciliation or genuine power-sharing under the Agreement.

One of Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s key concerns is that ZANU-PF is trying to erode the Parliamentary majority secured by Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change in last year’s election.

Several MDC MPs have been arrested and are at risk of losing their seats, on what the MDC believes are trumped-up charges.

Mr Mugabe has refused to reverse his earlier appointments of the Reserve Bank Governor and the Attorney-General - further hampering MDC efforts to implement economic reform and ensure an independent judiciary.

Zimbabwe’s repressive media legislation remains in place. State media continues to be controlled by ZANU-PF as a propaganda tool.

Reports of human rights violations continue, as do farm invasions.

Prominent human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, after being grossly mistreated in detention, still faces charges of conspiring to overthrow Mr Mugabe.

While the Global Political Agreement stipulates a clear timetable for constitutional reform, progress has slowed to a crawl.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai has said he is not able to stand by and allow ongoing violations of the power-sharing agreement to continue and has called on Zimbabwe’s neighbours, in particular SADC countries, for assistance.

Mr Speaker.

Australia recognises the important role the African Union and SADC have played to date in supporting Zimbabwe to address its grave economic, political and social challenges.

South Africa itself facilitated the inter-party negotiations that led to the current agreement.

Regional leaders, including from Botswana and Zambia, have played a prominent role in calling for a just and timely resolution to Zimbabwe’s protracted disputes.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), as facilitator and guarantor of the Global Political Agreement, has a critical role to play in ensuring its terms are adhered to.

SADC discussed Zimbabwe at its annual summit, held in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from 7 to 8 September.

It referred the situation in Zimbabwe to the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.

Last week in Perth and again yesterday in Canberra, I met with Mr Oldemiro Baloi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation from Mozambique.

As a leading member of SADC and as current Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, Mozambique will play an all important role in overseeing implementation of the Global Political Agreement in the coming months.

I offered to Minister Baloi and to SADC Australia’s support for this objective.

I will continue to discuss Zimbabwe with African counterparts, as I have with the Foreign Ministers of Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and Rwanda during their visits to Australia over recent months.

Mr Speaker.

Zimbabwe’s needs are enormous.

After decades of neglect, infrastructure has deteriorated significantly. There are not enough schools, hospitals or functioning water and sanitation systems.

Zimbabwe’s government and private sectors are run down and are unable to adequately provide essential services.

The unemployment rate in the formal economy is estimated to be over 90 per cent.

The economy is less than half its pre-2000 level, and will take years, if not decades, to regain its strength.

Three million people have fled Zimbabwe searching for a better life, taking with them essential skills needed for Zimbabwe’s rebuilding.

Australia will work with the international community to address these challenges.

How the international community can further assist Zimbabwe will be addressed by a senior officials’ meeting of donor countries scheduled to take place in Berlin in late October.

This will provide an important opportunity for the international community to both assess and assist Zimbabwe’s rebuilding, to both contemplate and support prospects for longer term reform.

Australia urges the international community to make this step a significant one.

Australia strongly believes the international community needs to take a flexible, pragmatic and active approach to its consideration of the next steps.

We have a responsibility to do what we can to support Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his Ministers in their efforts to bring positive change to Zimbabwe.

Mr Speaker.

At the peak of the "hungry season" in March 2009, almost seven million Zimbabweans relied on emergency food aid.

After a better-than-expected harvest in 2009, the outlook for the coming year is more positive. However, it is still estimated that nearly three million people will need food aid before the next harvest in April 2010.

I announce today a substantial assistance package of food and agriculture assistance for Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has tremendous potential in agriculture and historically was a significant agricultural exporter.

Australia leads the world in dry-land agriculture and agricultural science.

The first element of this package is that Australia will provide $5 million in food aid immediately through the World Food Programme to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

Importantly, and for the first time in more than a decade, Zimbabwean suppliers who have been able to increase production this season, will be able to tender to supply this food.

This will have the double benefit of both feeding those who desperately need food and also contributing to the strengthening and rebuilding of the agricultural sector in Zimbabwe.

The resuscitation of the country’s agricultural sector is central to its overall economic recovery.

Longer term recovery in the agricultural sector must also address the private sector.

The second element of this package is a joint effort between Australia and the Netherlands through the Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation.

Under this measure, Australia will contribute $1 million in 2009-10 to support private sector activities aimed at boosting agricultural production, for example, by contracting farmers to grow seeds for food crops.

Creating these links between farmers and the private sector is the first step in reinvigorating private sector interest and engagement in Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector. It is an area of significant Australian experience and expertise.

Australia is also continuing to support agricultural recovery in Zimbabwe by funding the distribution of more productive and disease resistant maize seeds through the World Bank’s global food security fund.

The fund was announced in July 2008 and Australia was one of the first countries to contribute, providing $50 million to the global food security fund. Nearly $9 million has now been allocated to Zimbabwe from the fund.

Australia believes it is time to carefully consider working directly with select Zimbabwean Government Ministries and agencies to help build capacity and support the restoration of essential services for the long term.

Education and health are important areas for such consideration.

Today I announce that Australia will contribute $2 million through UNICEF to help Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Education reinvigorate the education sector.

Australia’s funding will support the procurement and distribution of textbooks and learning materials for Zimbabwean schools, as well as teaching materials. It will also help address capacity constraints and assist the Ministry of Education in policy development and implementation.

Australia’s assistance to the Ministry of Education follows support provided earlier this year to help restore the ability of the Ministry’s headquarters to operate and function.

Yesterday in Harare the Minister of Education, David Coltart, welcomed Australia’s assistance in this respect.

Mr Speaker.

The Australian Government is under no illusions about the political risks in Zimbabwe, and the track record of Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

Australia’s financial and travel sanctions will remain in place for the present.

These sanctions target individuals who have been responsible for, or involved in, acts to undermine the rule of law, corruption, violence and intimidation and restrictive laws and regulations.

The sanctions do not impact on the broader population in Zimbabwe and are not responsible for Zimbabwe’s economic demise over the last decade.

Since 2002, Australia has also applied a ban on Minister-to-Minister contact with Zimbabwean Ministers.

In recognition of the efforts of parts of the new inclusive government over its first year, Australia will consider opportunities for Ministerial engagement on a selective case-by-case basis with those Ministers of the Zimbabwean Government who we judge to be making a real and genuine contribution to Zimbabwe’s social and economic recovery.

Australia is not considering and will not consider at this time a removal of sanctions which target those individuals who have been complicit in the brutality of decades past and who continue to present barriers to Zimbabwe moving forward.

Much more significant progress will be required before the Australian Government undertakes any broader review of Australia’s sanctions with respect to Zimbabwe.

Australia places the utmost importance on the need for real and demonstrated improvement in economic and political governance.

There must be substantial progress towards real reform.

Zimbabwe’s long term future will not be secure without such reform.

A united international community must send that strong message to Zimbabwe.

Many more improvements will need to be effected before full normalisation of relations, including in the area of development assistance, can take place.

Australia’s views in this respect were shared by the delegation from the European Commission which visited Zimbabwe on 12-13 September.

Mr Speaker.

All efforts must be made, both in the region and by the international community, to ensure that recent gains are not lost, and that Zimbabwe continues to move forward.

The terms of the Global Political Agreement must be adhered to in letter and in spirit.

Constitutional reform must proceed smoothly, and in accordance with the terms of Agreement.

This would allow the holding of full, free and fair democratic elections.

Restrictive media legislation must be repealed.

Mr Mugabe’s unilateral appointments of the Reserve Bank Governor and the Attorney-General must be reversed.

The rule of law must be respected.

The people of Zimbabwe must be given hope for a brighter future.

Australia’s assistance announced today and its ongoing support adds to this hope for the people of Zimbabwe.