Australia Day 2018 – Australian Ambassador’s Speech
It is a great honour to host this event today, to celebrate Australia, to celebrate our relationship with Zimbabwe and also, on behalf of myself and Christina Landsberg, departing Head of Development Cooperation, to say farewell.
We arrived more or less together in early 2015 and I know I speak for both us when I say that our lives will be forever touched by the friendships and connections we have made, the incredible experiences we have had.
Leaving at this time in Zimbabwe’s history is bittersweet. I have had the privilege as Ambassador to witness significant events in Zimbabwe’s history, but I leave before I see how this next chapter plays out.
But I am cautiously optimistic.
Zimbabwe right now has an opportunity for change. We hear voices from the highest level of government that there is a desire to turn around the deeply troubled economy. The government knows that re-engagement with countries like Australia will greatly assist this recovery. Earlier this month I met His Excellency the President and we both expressed a commitment to work to improve our relations.
The President rightly sees Australia as a country with a lot in common with Zimbabwe, and the increase in Australian-Zimbabwean trade and investment is something we would both like to see.
I know there is interest from Australian companies, mining companies and others, who are attracted by the abundant potential of Zimbabwe. Following the events in November, our trade promotion authority – Austrade, told me that they’d received numerous enquiries. But ‘potential’ is a word that I feel I’ve used too often during my posting. I would like to see this potential turned into reality.
On the economic front, there certainly been positive messages from the government, and we look forward to seeing improvements in the business climate – for example, on indigenisation, ease of doing business and economic efficiency. This week’s visit to Davos will have given the President a strong sense of what investors are looking for: security and certainty of investment, strong rule of law, transparent policies and practices, and intolerance of corruption.
Talented Zimbabweans both here and in the diaspora in Australia, bodies like the Australia Zimbabwe Business Council and our alumni association can all help to make connections and break down the barriers. But private investment will only flow where it feels secure and where companies can make a profit.
But investors are also attuned to what is going on in the broader environment, and elections this year will be a significant marker for them, and for the broader international community, about this government’s commitment to the Constitution and the freedoms contained in that. I applaud the President’s public commitment to delivering free and fair elections. If that happens, it will go a long way to build confidence that Zimbabwe’s new government means what it says, and that Zimbabwe indeed is moving in a different direction.
But free and fair elections for us will not just mean non-violent elections – it will mean an election where opposition parties are free to deliver their message, where the electoral systems have integrity, where people are genuinely free to cast their vote for their preferred candidates, and where the result, whatever it is, is respected by all.
One way to help demonstrate the credibility of the elections is to open up to election observers from across the world – something the President in recent days has indicated he would do.
I am confident that if we see a free and fair election in 2018, and there continues to be an ongoing commitment to implementing the Constitution and rule of law, Australia will continue to look for ways to improve relations with Zimbabwe.
One means by which we could help is assisting Zimbabwe to re-join the Commonwealth, should it commit to the key principles of democracy and good governance as required of all those seeking to join or re-join. There are many benefits to being a member of the Commonwealth, including cooperation across many areas of government and society – Australia will be hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games in April.
Australia continues to support Zimbabwe in many other ways.
Around you today are displays and a video highlighting some of the development cooperation projects Australia has supported in recent years. We are proud of the contribution we have made here.
Our major investment in water and sanitation infrastructure and institutional strengthening has ensured many thousands of Zimbabweans have a much better quality of life, and a dramatically reduced risk of waterborne disease – something at the forefront of our minds with the recent reports of cholera.
We continue to work with Australian and local NGOs across the country to improve livelihoods and the resilience of local communities, and to work with civil society on accountability and transparency. In addition, our small grants program empowers women, the disabled and children, amongst others at the community level.
Our scholarships program, Australia Awards, sponsors Zimbabweans for short courses, and this year we have offered a small number of scholarships at Masters level. Thank you to all in the development team for your hard work in making this happen.
We urge the government to be good stewards of the investments we and other donors have made and will make in the future, to enable strengthened institutions and systems better equipped to deliver services to the people.
As the local representative of the Australian government, we need to continually innovate in ways of getting our message across, which why I am delighted to launch the Embassy’s Facebook page. Further information and some giveaways can be found at the booth over there. This will supplement our presence on Twitter, our website and other public diplomacy tools to inform Zimbabweans about Australia.
I would like to conclude with some thank yous. First, thanks to the fabulous Australian Embassy team. To all of you, I have valued your advice, your commitment and your hard work and I wish you all the best for the future. Thank you in particularly to those who have worked very hard to make today a success – as always this has been a great team effort.
To my colleagues in the diplomatic corps, thank you for your support. Thank you to other friends here present and absent, Zimbabwean, Australians and others, who helped us to build bridges between our two countries. Thank you to civil society colleagues, human rights defenders, business leaders, economists and others, who work hard every day to make this country better place. Finally, thanks to those in the Zimbabwean Government who were keen to engage with us and help us to do our work, particularly in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance.
The Australian poet and writer David Malouf has said that ‘All the things we achieve are things we have first of all imagined’.
My replacement, Bronte Moules, takes over at a critical time in the history of Zimbabwe. I so very much hope Bronte, Peter and the Embassy team will witness the achievements of things that we have today imagined. I’ll be cheering you all from afar.
With those few words, I would like to propose a toast to the President and people of the Republic of Zimbabwe.