I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to southern Africa (Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Seychelles), and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection to that report.
This report outlines the main activities and observations of the parliamentary delegation from the Parliament of Australia's visit to the Republic of Zimbabwe, the Republic of South Africa, and the Republic of the Seychelles between 3 and 16 August 2014.
The overall objective of the delegation was to enhance bilateral relations between Australia and the three countries visited, while also gaining a greater understanding of Africa—particularly southern Africa—and the Indian Ocean region.
The members of the delegation included me, the member for Leichhardt, for the Liberal Party, as the delegation leader; Senator Sue Lines, senator for Western Australia, for the Australian Labor Party, who was my very capable deputy delegation leader; Senator David Bushby, senator for Tasmania, for the Liberal Party; Dr Andrew Southcott MP, member for Boothby, for the Liberal Party; and Senator Penny Wright, senator for South Australia, of the Australian Greens. We were accompanied by Mr Daniel Weight, our delegation secretary, who had come from the Parliamentary Library.
Travelling through this area, there were a number of issues over the course of the delegation that we saw were reoccurring wherever we went. One, of course, was the importance of stable property rights, which are absolutely critical to ensure that individuals and communities have an interest in developing sustainable models of economic activity and growth.
The second one was improving the economic and social status of women. Ensuring that women have real control over their sexual choices and activities is critically important. The third reoccurring point was that the potential of Africa has not been fully tapped by Australian businesses and there are also opportunities for further cooperation in education, particularly vocational education.
In Zimbabwe we visited both Harare and Bulawayo. Zimbabwe enjoys significant natural and human resources but largely politically-inflicted economic difficulties continue to undermine the potential of the country and its people. Many contemporary problems within Zimbabwe appear to result from explicit policies aimed at addressing historic injustices. Rather than improving circumstances for current-day Zimbabweans, however, these policies have had devastating economic and social effects.
Despite the adverse circumstances in Zimbabwe, there were reasons for optimism. The delegation met with the women's caucus of the Zimbabwean parliament, building on ties that were established by several of those women during their visit to the Australian parliament as part of the Oxfam program for women's participation in politics and decision making. I certainly enjoyed meeting with them when they were here in this parliament, and it was great to be able to catch up with them when we were in Zimbabwe.
In South Africa we visited Johannesburg, Pretoria, KwaZulu-Natal province and Durban. We visited civil society and other organisations that have been active in addressing the cultural and social issues that have their origins in the apartheid era and its end in 1994. We visited the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa and viewed the outstanding work being undertaken. The management of natural resources and wildlife, particularly the balancing of environmental conservation with the economic utilisation of those resources, was a particular area of interest. From its difficult history, South Africa has developed institutions and expertise to address its current economic and social challenges.
We then travelled to the Seychelles and we visited Mahe and the island of Praslin. We met with many Seychellois politicians and dignitaries and canvassed a broad range of issues, many of which were related to natural resource management. Other issues resulted from the Seychelles' strategic position in the Indian Ocean and its important role in combatting international crime and piracy. I have to say that we also had the opportunity to visit a prison in the Seychelles. The work that they are doing is absolutely outstanding in the way of rehabilitation. They have a number of Somali pirates residing there. The rehabilitation work that they are doing within the prison system was a real eye-opener and something of which the Seychelles government can be very proud.
The delegation considered that in the future the greatest assistance to the Seychelles would be the development of the clear and obvious business opportunities which exist for Australian businesses and greater cultural and educational exchanges. In order to develop this, more regular—at least annual—ministerial engagement between Australia and the Seychelles should become a feature of the relationship.
We looked at a number of aid projects in Zimbabwe that are assisted by Australian aid, and the delegation had the opportunity to look at a number of projects that were funded directly or indirectly through Australian aid.
Projects included: water, sanitation and hygiene projects; family impact—relationship counselling; the Sandra Jones Children's Home, run by a wonderful Australian, which supports young sexual assault victims; the Bulawayo Water and Sewerage Emergency Response Program; the Kirimuva Community Gardens; and Ebenezer Farm.
We have three primary recommendations from our visit.
The first is that the delegation encourages the government of Zimbabwe to recognise the deleterious effects of uncertain property rights on economic growth and to restore effective protections for those rights, including protections over interests in land.
The second is that the delegation encourages the government of Zimbabwe to expedite the establishment of the various civil society institutions required by the 2013 constitution. Appropriate non-government organisations or regional bodies, such as SADC, may wish to monitor Zimbabwe's progress in this regard.
The final recommendation is that the Australian and Seychellois governments seek to develop the relationship between the two nations, including through more regular, at least annual, ministerial exchange.
The delegation was very, very successful, in no small way due to the cooperation and the good spirit of the members of the delegation. I commend the report to the House.