Australia has always been quick to condemn Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe’s crumbling regime. But its tough stance was — until this morning — undermined by the fact that children of Mubage’s Zanu PF party are living and studying in Australia.

Crikey first pointed out the hypocrisy in March, arguing it was a diplomatic minefield.

In May, after Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met with Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, who was in Australia to give voice to Zimbabwe’s plight, Crikey wondered: “When will the Australian Government detail its plans for ensuring that money isn’t siphoned out of Zimbabwe via Zanu-PF officials’ children? And when will the hypocrisy of their residence in Australia reach tipping point? It must surely be coming.”

Today. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer revealed that he’s closing the sanctions loophole:

I have decided to strengthen further Australia’s bilateral ‘smart sanctions’ against the regime of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe…

Australia will now screen all student visa applications from Zimbabweans to identify whether any applicants are children of Zimbabwean officials or regime supporters subject to Australian travel and financial sanctions…

I have also decided to initiate steps to revoke the student visas held by eight children of senior members of the Mugabe regime. Once their visas have been revoked, the Government will take the appropriate measures to have these individuals removed from the country.

I have also initiated steps to reject the student visa applications of a further two adult children who are children of a senior Mugabe regime figure. For privacy reasons, the names of the individuals subject to the measures I have outlined will not be released.

“It’s very welcome news”, says Peter Murphy, Secretary of the Zimbabwe Information Centre, who’s been campaigning hard on the issue for months.

Moreover, while it could be coincidental, Downer’s timing seems a calculated and “intelligent move” — his announcement comes as leaders from the Southern African Development Community meet in Lusaka, Zambia.

The Zimbabwe crisis is a prime focus of the summit, but the issue is not cut and dried; Mugabe received the loudest applause of any leader from his peers yesterday. South African President Thabo Mbeki is due to report on his progress in encouraging mediation between Zanu PF and Zimbabwe’s opposition party.

Downer’s new policy is a clear message of support to those standing up to Mugabe.

Who are the eight university students? While Downer kept the names of the affected children private, we presume there’s a fair double-up with the nine students Crikey named in April

The West Australian is reporting that most of the eight are studying at Perth universities — they were apparently told by the Immigration Department yesterday that their student visas would be revoked.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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