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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26858

Ms BURKE (9:08 PM) —I rise tonight to talk about two people—both associated with death, sadly. I want to put on record my condolences to a wonderful family and to a wonderful character: Joseph Maidment. Joseph was a true believer. He leaves behind his wife of 55 years, Monica, who is also a gorgeous person. Sadly, Joseph was laid to rest last Thursday and I could not attend the funeral. I am very sorry about that. Joe was father to five children: Terry, Greg, Clare, Moira and Paula. He was father-in-law to Rob and Jim. He was grandfather to nine grandchildren: Johanna, Mark, Matt, Joshua, Simon, Daniel, Bethany, Monica and Melina. I would like to place on record my condolences to these people, who have lost a great family member. There was a wonderful part of the ceremony at the church which, I think, summed up Joe's life. The funeral service program says:

Placing of symbols reflecting Joe's life:

Moira, Jim, Matthew, Simon, Daniel and Bethany Conway will place the book “True Believers” symbolising Joe's belief in and dedication to the Australian Labor Party.

Paul, Monica and Melina Maidment will place Joe's War Medals representing his selfless service to Australia.

Joe was a decorated war veteran. It continues:

Claire, Rob, Joanna, Mark and Josh Dowling will place a Carlton scarf representing his lifelong devotion to the “Navy Blues”

All this happened within a Catholic church, Catholicism being his other great passion. Joe was a terrific human being and a man of strongly held views. He told Monica, after they had been married and they were off to their first election, that every Maidment voted Labor. Monica said that she never told Joe how she voted. That was up to her. He was a terrific human being who will be sadly missed by the community, particularly the Clayton Bowls Club, where he was a lifelong member, and the Clayton RSL.

I also want to raise the plight of a young Australian who has no future: Tuong Van Nguyen. He has been sentenced to death in Singapore for trafficking drugs. He is not a seasoned criminal, a drug trafficker or a drug addict. He was not attempting to bring the drugs into Singapore but was on transit to Australia. I do not want to condone in any way Tuong Van Nguyen's attempt to traffic drugs, but I want to express my outrage at the sentence Van faces. A mandatory death sentence is barbaric and has no place anywhere for any crime in this day and age. As reported in the Age today:

In the past decade more than 400 prisoners in Singapore have received what most developed nations deem a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International estimates the city-state has the highest per capita rate of executions in the world.

Tuong Van Nguyen was an ordinary kid who did well at school, loved his tennis and was a member of a Vietnamese scout group. He started a computer course at uni and commenced a computer business with friends. Recently he had been working as a salesman. He started on this stupid course of action to clear debts incurred by his twin brother. Looking for a way to clear the debt, he sought help from a friend, and this is where it all went sadly wrong. His friend led him to a Sydney based syndicate which took him to Cambodia to courier drugs back to Australia. Tuong Van Nguyen's lawyers described his actions as unworldly and that of an immature man making a very foolish mistake in life. Yes, this deserves to be punished, but not by death.

Tuong Van Nguyen's mother Kim fled Vietnam alone in 1980 in a boat, had the twins in a transit camp in Malaysia and was accepted into Australia with her twins, aged four months. Tuong Van Nguyen is Australian for all intents and purposes, and his mother Kim has worked extremely hard to educate herself and her sons. His lawyer speaks very highly of the support they have received from the High Commission in Singapore. A letter that Kim Nguyen, his mother, has written says:

For my part I feel more frightened than anything. I know that my son is very sincere and he is still very immature. He does not have enough knowledge to face real life. He does not know how to tackle difficulties of society and people around him.

Now Van is trapped into the danger of life. The suffering and mistakes that were created in his life are partly my fault. I wanted my two children to have good education and good shelter, therefore I have tried to work hard. In looking after my children I feel that I did not give them good parenting, to lead them to live a good life and to guide them from the teenage years to adulthood. I feel ashamed of what happened to my son and my family.

I ask for your kind consideration of my son's case. I beg that he be given the opportunity to change so that he can make a good start in life. While he has been in the correctional center he has learnt a lot and changed to become a good person. I beg for your mercy so that I can be reunited with my son.

I call upon the Singaporean government to show clemency in this case and to return this silly boy to his mother—yes, to punish him for his crime, but not by the death sentence.