Yesterday Crikey reported  that several children of leading figures in the corrupt Zimbabwean regime are studying at higher educational institutions in Australia.

That wouldn’t have been news to the federal government. Three and a half years ago, Senator Andrew Murray asked “if there are any students attending Australian universities who are related to current ZANU-PF members of the Government or parliamentarians in Zimbabwe”. Senator Vanstone’s answer looks like tacit confirmation.

QUESTIONS ON NOTICE Foreign Affairs: Zimbabwe

Question

Senator Murray  (Western Australia) asked the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, upon notice, on 8 September 2003:

With reference to the Government’s policy in relation to the Mugabe Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) Government, can the Minister advise if there are any students attending Australian universities who are related to current ZANU-PF members of the Government or parliamentarians in Zimbabwe.

Answer Senator Vanstone (South Australia—Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation)—The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

The Australian Government implemented a comprehensive package of “smart sanctions” against the Mugabe regime in October 2002. This included restrictions on travel to Australia by 77 Zimbabwean ministers and senior officials; a freeze on any assets they may hold in Australia; down-grading of cultural links; and suspension of non-humanitarian aid, defence links and sales of defence-related equipment, as well as bilateral ministerial contact. Like other smart sanctions, Australia did not include family members of Zimbabwean ministers and senior officials in its restrictions on travel to Australia.

In terms of student visa requirements, the Australian Government operates an overseas student program that is universal and open to all genuine students. To be eligible for grant of a student visa, all student visa applicants must satisfy a set of strict objective criteria, assessing their English language proficiency, financial capacity as well as other legislative requirements.

In accordance with Australia’s privacy laws, we are not able to disclose information about any individual student visa holder that might breach their privacy.

While our government “might have thought they were going as far as they could/should”, Murray tells Crikey this morning, Mugabe has “always taken the view that the Western World have never had their heart in it (and he knows the rest of the world don’t care or actually support him) — and he was right — he and the great extended ZANU-PF political family have held court all over the world, wallowing in their immunity from any real sanction.”

Since 2003, Zimbabwe’s dire course hasn’t altered, but it has worsened. With revolution in the offing, it is imperative that wealth not be siphoned out of the country.

We asked DFAT if the Australian government was now considering extending its financial and travel sanctions to immediate family members.

While not responding directly to this issue, a departmental spokesman noted that that, in Australia’s case, sanctions against Zimbabwe “have been progressively tightened since 2002”.

Further to this, “we and other like-mindeds are looking to further tighten these sanctions to pressure the regime and are currently examining a range of options.”