Sydney Peace Prize Award Ceremony

(7.15pm, Thursday 8 November 2012, MacLaurin Hall, University of Sydney)

Thank you, Debbie, [Whitmont, MC] and good evening, everyone. I would like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our city.

I also acknowledge Her Excellency the Governor, Dr Marie Bashir, Stuart Rees, chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation and Deputy Chair Paul Wand, and of course, the 2012 Sydney Peace Prize laureate, Senator Sekai Holland, Co-Minister for Reconciliation, Healing and Integration of Zimbabwe.

Many of you in this room tonight have known Sekai from her time as a student in Australia. And you will know that her commitment to peace with justice was evident even when she worked in the anti-apartheid campaign with many local people.

Importantly, she also worked towards recognition of the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, many of whom remain her close friends and are here this evening.

I like to think her Australian experience has helped shape her unwavering commitment or at least the terms in which she expresses it. Because I noted in Nikki Barrowclough's article in The Good Weekend, Sekai said - that she had firm views on "politics, justice, equality and a fair go for everybody".

Certainly an Australian way of putting it!

She has not just adopted the phrase of "a fair go for everybody", however. She lives it.

Sekai could have remained in Australia, to enjoy a much easier life. But she returned to Zimbabwe to join in her country's struggle for liberation. Even her brutal torture at the hands of government operatives did not deter her, or warp her vision, though it took many months of treatment here in Australia for her to make a recovery. It was significant that Aboriginal voices were among the many from around the world who protested at her torture and imprisonment.

And once again her recovery was, inevitably, followed by her return to Zimbabwe to continue the struggle. Finally, following the power-sharing arrangement of 2008, she was named as her country's Co-Minister of State for Reconciliation, Healing and Integration.

She now is tireless in that cause, travelling around the country to promote human rights, non-violence and democracy.

She describes her work as the task of building "an infrastructure for peace" and her courageous challenge to violent opposition made a particular impression on the Sydney Peace Prize jury.

They recognised her life-long campaign for human rights, wherever those rights are ignored, and her persistent challenge to violence in all its forms.

Her values are not only idealistic but practical and at home in Harare, she and Jim usually have as many as 30 orphaned children living with them. Sekai is clearly also a woman of enormous energy!

She works tirelessly to empower women and she is, as well, an astute and brave community leader, one who has said, "You have to remember why you are in politics."

I would say she has never lost sight of why she is in politics, of what she can do for her country, for a just and peaceful future for women and children and all Zimbabwe.

It is an honour and a very great pleasure to present to her this evening, the 2012 Sydney Peace Prize.