The former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer says the Federal Government has nothing to lose by granting asylum to Zimbabwe’s outgoing ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila.
TONY EASTLEY: Former foreign minister Alexander Downer says the Federal Government has nothing to lose by granting asylum to the Zimbabwean ambassador.
Jacqueline Zwambila is seeking political asylum in Australia after lashing out at her country’s government, describing it as ‘illegitimate’.
Ms Zwambila says she’s become the subject of a smear campaign since Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was returned to power. In a statement, the Federal Government says any application for a protection visa will be assessed on its merits.
Reporter Caroline Winter spoke to the former foreign minister Mr Downer and began by asking him what options are open to the Federal Government.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: They can of course give the former ambassador a protection visa, that would be quite a simple procedure and they have due process to follow there. They obviously have to establish whether she has genuine fears of persecution if she’s returned to Zimbabwe.
She is close to Morgan Tsvangirai, the former prime minister, recently defeated. His movement for democratic change is the opponent of president Mugabe’s regime. So she may have some fear of persecution, but that will be something for the immigration department to establish.
CAROLINE WINTER: In a statement the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has said any application for a protection visa will be assessed on its merits and then in accordance with normal rules that apply in these circumstances. But what powers does the Government have; I mean can it bypass those usual protocols?
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well occasionally, and I can only think of very few occasions, there have been direct applications for political asylum, I think I’m right in saying that the Chinese consulate worker, who in 2005 applied for asylum, applied for political asylum, so in rare circumstances political asylum has been given.
There will be a another case going back years, I think to around 1979 when the so-called girl in the red bikini, a Soviet citizen, a Ukrainian as we’d say today, jumped from a Soviet cruise ship and sought asylum and was given asylum for right or wrong, but she was given political asylum. So that can happen.
But I suppose in this particular case, the former ambassador, she would have to apply specifically for political asylum for that to be considered.
CAROLINE WINTERL Should this be treated like any other asylum case?
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Probably, yeah, I think it might be a bit unfair on all other asylum seekers for her to be treated somewhat differently. I mean she’s entitled to make a claim, as apparently she has done, and make a claim based on genuine fear of persecution or worse, if she were to return to her home, to Zimbabwe.
But just because she was an ambassador and of course she’s not now, wouldn’t necessarily give her any special privileges.
But it depends on the application she makes, but if she’s made an application for a protection visa I think it would be appropriate for it to be handled in a normal way. And that’s what the Government’s doing.
CAROLINE WINTER: So what is the relationship currently between Australia and Zimbabwe and would a decision to grant asylum to Jacqueline Zwambila put that in further jeopardy?
ALEXANDER DOWNER: I don’t know if I’d use the word jeopardy. I assume that the Zimbabwean government would be very irritated if the Australian Government was to do that. But to be frank, there’s not much the Zimbabwean government can do about it, through simply appalling economic policies, have isolated themselves very much from the international community.
So, they can hardly punish Australia by threatening Australian investments in Zimbabwe, because most of our investments in Zimbabwe have been either confiscated or withdrawn or nationalised. We don’t have much of an economic relationship with Zimbabwe; we have, of course, some historic ties with Zimbabwe, but it’s been expelled from the Commonwealth; it’s, at the moment, economically of limited importance; there’s not much Zimbabwe can do about it except express irritation.
TONY EASTLEY: Former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer speaking with Caroline Winter. The Immigration Minister wasn’t available for an interview with AM. ABC.net.au