Business Day (Johannesburg)

Zimbabwe: Australia Softens Zimbabwe Stance

Pretoria — The Australian government, a vocal critic of Harare and one of the governments instrumental in getting it kicked out of the Commonwealth, has softened its approach and will now provide assistance to Zimbabwe.

"We have agreed on projects to help Zimbabwe with taxation laws as well as water and sanitation technical expertise," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters yesterday.

He said Zimbabwe needed technical expertise to reform its tax laws and build the economy.

Smith said Australia's longstanding view about Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe was that he ought to leave office. But he said that political developments in the country were encouraging.

He said Australia was keen to step up trilateral co-operation in support of recovery efforts in Zimbabwe. Since the establishment of the all-party government, Australia had provided more than 33m in assistance to Zimbabwe, including 5m in funding through the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund.

He announced a further commitment of up to 6m to co-operate with SA in supporting the recovery of the Zimbabwean economy and basic services. The funding would support collaboration between the South African and Zimbabwean tax authorities to build Zimbabwe's tax administration and mobilise South African technical expertise to support recovery efforts in water, agriculture and economic governance.

"The Australian government, like SA's, is under no illusions about the political risks in Zimbabwe ... by working together, we can help that devastated country rebuild and secure a brighter future."

He said Australia supported President Jacob Zuma 's mediation efforts with the backing of the Southern African Development Community. He said SA was pressing Zimbabwean principals to implement the power-sharing agreement .

This had brought hope that Zimbabwe would eventually take a turn for the better, Smith said.

"At one stage in Zimbabwe's future Mugabe will exit the stage ... it will have a free and fair election," he said. Australia believed it would be in Zimbabwe's interest to prepare for that eventuality.

"South African government efforts to see progress in Zimbabwe have encouraged the Australian government to partner it."

Smith was speaking after meeting his South African counterpart, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

SA is Australia's largest trading partner on the continent, with trade estimated at 4bn in 2008-09, growing at an average of 7% over the past five years. Australia is an important export market for SA, with most of its exports to Australia being motor vehicles.

SA exports more to Australia than it does to any country in the Middle East or southeast Asia, or Brazil and Canada. There is also a strong two-way relationship in investment, particularly in the minerals resources sector.

SA is lobbying Africa and friendly countries such as Australia to support its second bite at nonpermanent membership of the United Nations Security Council for 2011-12, while Australia is the candidate for the same seat for 2014-15.

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