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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 48

Mr BAIRD (3:30 PM) —I am very glad to support this motion today on Mr Nguyen Tuong Van. I thank my colleagues the member for Isaacs, the member for Campbell, the member for Fowler, the member for Riverina and, of course, the member for Pearce, who brought this motion to the House. I thank the very many members and senators who signed the petition which Laurie Ferguson, the member for Reid, and I took to the Singapore High Commission only last week. Over 400 members of parliament and staffers signed it. Certainly we were very pleased with the reception that we had from the Singapore High Commission, but we have heard already that the Singaporean government has refused any consideration of amnesty. Nevertheless, as Bronwyn Lee, a close friend of Mr Nguyen’s said, ‘Every day Van is alive, there is still hope. Every day represents an extra day of hope. Please help us to save our friend’s life.’ As the Daily Telegraph editorialised on 25 October:

It may be that any further entreaty—

to save Van Nguyen’s life—

will fall entirely on deaf ears. But that does not mean no further effort should be made.

…            …            …

Australia does not support the death penalty and we should be at pains to ensure we do not send even an inadvertent or tacit indication of resigned acceptance.

And we should not stop protesting until all hope is lost.

On a combined basis, both sides of the House are asking for clemency for this young man.

This young man, with a tragic background of being in refugee camps in Thailand, who ended up in Australia, had a difficult family environment and his brother got into trouble. He was in Singapore for the first time. He left Australia to try to find some money to assist the family. This is by no means to excuse his involvement in the drug trade, but I think for all of us who have made mistakes at some point in our lives there is a need for forgiveness, there is a need for compassion and there is a need for understanding. By all means, he should be punished for his involvement with the drug trade, but by no means should he receive the death penalty.

In our meeting with the Singapore High Commission last week, where we were received most courteously, we reiterated several things. Firstly, the relationship between Australia and Singapore has been very strong since World War II. We were involved in the war together when the Japanese moved down onto the Singapore peninsula and we fought together at that time. Our relationship has gone on since that time. We have forged the free trade agreement with Singapore and, of all of the countries in South-East Asia, Singapore is amongst our closest neighbours in friendship and economic cooperation. We look to the future together. But we would also point out that Singapore is regarded as a First World country in what it has achieved economically. It has a strong, vibrant economy which attracts many of the world’s largest corporations to establish regional offices and major corporations in that city and in that land. Yet one of the things that stands out about Singapore in comparison with other countries is its persistence with the death penalty. We are asked how we can explain to Singaporean parents whose children are put to death if we spare the life of a young Australian, and we say to them, ‘It is time to review your attitude to the death penalty and to establish the right status that you have amongst the world as being a First World country.’

The case itself deserves compassion and consideration. This young man, on his first exercise to bring drugs into Australia, was caught at Singapore airport. I cannot imagine what his mother must be feeling as he faces the death penalty at this young age. The President of Amnesty said that he met the mother who went up to Singapore to see her son. The son put his hand up at the glass window as they could not have direct contact and said to his mother, ‘Put your hand where my hand is.’ She said to him, ‘My son, here is my hand and my hand will be with you for all time.’ And so we think with compassion of that mother. We call on the Singapore government to review this case. On behalf of the members of this House and the people of Australia: have compassion on our young son, this son of Australia, of Vietnamese background. We ask you to commute his sentence to one of imprisonment from the death penalty.