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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 26


Mr RUDD (2:08 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Noting the positive efforts that the government has undertaken so far on Mr Nguyen’s behalf, I refer to the legal opinions of Dr Chris Ward, university medallist in international law from Cambridge, and Professor Don Rothwell, Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney. The opinions argue that there is a credible basis in international law for an action to be brought against Singapore in the International Court of Justice in relation to the case of Mr Nguyen. I refer also to the reported statements by the minister’s officials today in the press that this proposal is still under consideration by the government. Mindful of the diplomatic actions already taken by the Prime Minister and the foreign minister, I ask: will the government please give positive consideration to now acting on the Ward and Rothwell advices and initiate an action in the international court?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Griffith for his question and for his concern. The government has examined very carefully the legal options that have been put forward, including those by Don Rothwell and Chris Ward, to whom the honourable member referred. Obviously I have also been in close contact with Lex Lasry and his team, and I have examined—and had examined, which is probably more to the point—the suggestions that they have brought forward.

The problem is that every suggestion that has been put forward—with one exception, which I will come to—has required Singapore’s agreement to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice for a case to be taken to the court. I had a letter yesterday from Don Rothwell, the professor of international law at Sydney university, and of course I have had some contact with him over the last week on this matter. His letter was really just to the effect that he would like us to ask Singapore to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in this matter, which is a reasonable proposition.

I can tell the honourable member and the House more generally that the Prime Minister raised this very same point with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Malta. Prime Minister Lee made it clear that Singapore would not accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, and that had been the impression that we had had all along. That is, of course, not a surprising response from Prime Minister Lee, bearing in mind that Singapore have made it very clear they want to pursue the execution of Van Nguyen for heroin trafficking. We regret that the Singapore government have taken that view.

The only other alternative which has been put to me, which was put to me by Chris Ward and Don Rothwell last week, related to article 36, from recollection, of the 1961 UN narcotics convention. We referred this proposition to the government’s lawyers in the Attorney-General’s Department and my department. They had a meeting with both Ward and Rothwell the following day, and they were very strongly of the view that no credible case could be brought to the International Court of Justice on the basis of the 1961 narcotics convention.

Not prepared to give up on that, I then referred this case to Professor James Crawford, whom honourable members may know of. Those who have studied international law will certainly know of Professor James Crawford. He has represented Australia in the International Court of Justice and is a professor of international law at the University of Cambridge. Chris Ward suggested that we refer this case to Professor Crawford. Unfortunately, the advice we received from him was that there was no basis whatsoever for taking Singapore to the International Court of Justice on the basis of that convention.

All of this is disappointing. I suppose that these same issues were examined back in 1993 and in the 1980s when Australians were executed by Malaysia. The sad thing is that at this stage we can find no aspect of international law which would enable us to take Singapore to the International Court of Justice without Singapore’s consent, without them being prepared to allow the International Court of Justice to arbitrate and make a decision.

Singapore have on one occasion accepted the court’s jurisdiction, in relation to a territorial dispute with Malaysia, and I know the honourable member for Griffith has referred to this in public statements and press releases. But they have certainly made it clear that they will not accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in relation to capital punishment and specifically in relation to Van Nguyen’s case.


Mrs Irwin —Let’s try. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Just try.


Mr DOWNER —I make the point in response to that interjection that the Prime Minister did try, only yesterday.