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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 59


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (4:22 PM) —by leave—I rise on behalf of the Australian Democrats in the capacity of their Attorney-General’s and foreign affairs spokesperson, but also as one of the co-conveners of the federal parliamentary working group against the death penalty. That is a cross-party group. I acknowledge that the sentiments being expressed today are across party lines, and that is an important message to send to the Singaporean government, and indeed to the region and to the world.

I rise to express my personal and my party’s sadness, grief, anger and frustration at the proposed execution of Van Nguyen this week. I believe that the death penalty is barbaric and unacceptable in any circumstances. While I understand the notion of respect for differing jurisdictions and different countries, I do not respect state sponsored killing in any way under any circumstances.

The Australian Democrats point out that Australia has an obligation because in July 1991 we ratified the second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims at the abolition of the death penalty. It enshrines a desire for us as a nation and other countries around the world to commit to supporting the aim of the protocol. That does not mean just being an abolitionist nation; we have an obligation to work towards the abolition of the death penalty in countries around the world. It is possible. We can realistically aim for that and see other countries—like Singapore, perhaps—join the other 121 nations that have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. There is hope. We cannot be defeatist about this specific case—or any other for that matter.

This is not about the special rights of an Australian citizen; it is about condemning the death penalty, whether we are talking about our citizens or those of any other country. The death penalty is the ultimate abuse of human rights. It not only deprives a person of their right to live but subjects them to the cruellest, most inhumane and degrading form of torture. Senator Evans’s comments about the victims were particular apt. There are some proponents, in our land and elsewhere, who urge us to think of the victims of a crime when the death penalty is being imposed. However, the death penalty simply creates more victims. Van Nguyen’s mum is a victim; the family is a victim. This execution will be felt within the community and their family for generations to come. It is a never-ending punishment for the family and friends of those who are executed.

The Democrats, like many others in this place, have made clear our views. We have lobbied the Singaporean high commissioner in person. We have obviously been keen for this issue to be taken up through CHOGM, through the ICJ and through economic, trade and diplomatic efforts. We acknowledge the diplomatic efforts of this government, but we express our desperation at this time—five minutes to midnight—and request that if there is anything our government can do, they do it. That includes making very clear, as senators in this place have done and Minister Ellison just did, that we abhor capital punishment. We have an obligation to do so. The death penalty degrades everyone who consents to it or ignores it. The least we can do today and this week—and in our behaviour on Friday and beyond—is to try to show its enormity.