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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 52

Ms BURKE (3:45 PM) —Today we have made a clear and unequivocal statement that we believe in the dignity and sanctity of human life, that capital punishment is wrong and that under no circumstances should we adhere to capital punishment. At the end of the day, capital punishment serves no purpose; it deters no-one from these horrendous crimes. We certainly need to punish people who are involved in the drug trade, but not by death. It is my fervent belief that nobody should be punished by death for any crime.

It is quite interesting that everybody has been saying only Australia has taken up this issue. That is not true. There have also been people in the Singaporean community who have been saying for a long time that the death sentence in Singapore is wrong and should come to an end. The Japanese parliament is on the verge of bringing an end to the death sentence. On its web site this week, Singapore’s Think Centre asked:

If this inhumane practice is really a deterrent, how come we after 40 years of executions still have the highest per-capita execution rate in the world with the greatest known proportion of these executions small-time drug mules?

The executions are not achieving the desired end; they are not achieving an end to the drug trade. We should also remember and put on the record today that Nguyen Tuong Van was commuting through Singapore and had no intention of taking those drugs into Singapore. Tragically, he had the intention of bringing those drugs to Australia. If he had made it to Australia and had been found, he would have faced a very different sentence.

Yesterday I had the honour of attending the incredibly moving church service at St Patrick’s Cathedral. I spoke to Van’s mother, Kim Nguyen, who spoke in a very calm and quiet voice but obviously was incredibly distressed. She asked us over and over to ensure that her son would not be put to death by hanging. Tragically, I could not bring myself to say that we are going to achieve that. All I could do was assure her that everybody in this parliament was doing their utmost to ensure that we send Singapore a very loud, clear and united message that we are opposed to the death penalty and that we are seeking clemency in respect of her son’s life. Kim Nguyen prayed that those who have the power of life and death over her son be guided by the spirit of justice, mercy and humanity. And that is what I ask for today: justice, mercy and humanity for Van Nguyen.

As the brochure for the church service said, Van Nguyen is an Australian man who has been sentenced to death in Singapore, and there is no doubt that he was carrying drugs from Cambodia. The transcript of the judgment says that, when caught, Van said: ‘Yes, they are drugs. Here they are. Take them.’ He did not profess his innocence. He did not put up a ruse. He admitted his crime. During his time in jail he has been an extraordinary help to both the Singaporean police and the Australian Federal Police. One of the big tragedies is that the prosecution of other people will not take place without Van’s testimony. He will be killed before he is able to assist in those cases. The judgment makes fascinating reading. This is not a man who was out to commit a horrendous crime; this is a naive individual who was led down the garden path by a lot of people. He ended up in a horrendous situation, admitted his guilt straightaway and has been helping the police ever since.

Van has been a loving child to a loving mother. He went through school as a typical teenager. He did part-time work in a variety of jobs, went to scouts and venturers and did some postgraduate study. His life went off the rails and he ultimately went to collect heroin as a courier. Caught passing through Changi Airport in December 2002, the then 22-year-old immediately admitted his guilt. He has assisted police ever since. The Australian Federal Police have acknowledged his assistance. He is now on death row in Changi prison. Singapore rarely grants clemency but, because of his help to police and his personal circumstances, Van’s case fits within the slim definition of cases in which clemency can be granted under their constitution. If, on advice, the President of Singapore grants clemency, Van would still serve a huge jail sentence of perhaps 20 or 30 years or more. Who can say that this is not enough punishment for a repentant young man?

Father Peter Hansen and the Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan led a very moving service. Today’s message from the Australian parliament should be heard by the Singaporean government.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The time allotted for this debate has expired. Whilst the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting, the House has once again spoken on the matter of clemency for Nguyen Tuong Van and the view of the House is clear.