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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 50

Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (3:35 PM) —In a funny sort of way I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak to this motion today on Mr Nguyen Tuong Van. I want to thank my colleagues for the manner in which this motion has been accepted onto the business paper of this House. I do not believe there could be any higher duty for me, as a member of this parliament, than to plead for someone else’s life. Today I rise to speak on behalf of Mr Nguyen Tuong Van and to join my colleagues and many members of the Canberran and Australian communities in pleading to the government of Singapore for clemency for this young Australian.

There is no doubt he made a very foolish decision when he agreed to act as a ‘mule’, which is the common word used, for this particular drug syndicate. There is no doubt at all that he has ever denied the charge. He has cooperated with all the authorities since being charged and has shown deep and sincere remorse ever since. He has offered to do all he can to assist in whatever action authorities at either end of this operation need and I believe he has done all in his power to cooperate.

I endorse the remarks made by the member for Pearce when she made reference to the constitution of Singapore. I do not need to go into those points any further, and I will not, but I unequivocally state my opposition to capital punishment—an opposition I have always held and always will hold dear to my heart. However, I also need to say how much out of proportion this penalty is to what this young man did.

I was also, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, part of the delegation that was recently in Singapore. We had an opportunity that we never thought we would need, and we never realised we would have, because we arrived almost on the day that the Singaporean Prime Minister made the announcement that he would not agree to clemency—that he would take his cabinet’s advice and hold to the sentence. We found ourselves in a unique position where our meetings that were already scheduled with senior ministers of the Singapore government also gave us the opportunity to bring this subject up and to speak to them at a personal level. And, whilst I respect entirely the manner in which our discussions were greeted and I respect entirely the ability of the Singapore government, like any other democratically elected government in the world, to make policies, I have to say how much I vehemently disagree with them on the imposition of capital punishment.

But today I want to speak specifically about this young man. Yes, he made a very grave error; but, as I said to each of those ministers and advisers during those meetings, ‘Let us just hope that nobody in this room where we meet here today will find themselves in a position where one of their children makes an equally silly decision, because they would feel what Mr Nguyen’s mother is feeling.’ The attitude in Singapore is that, regardless, the death penalty will be imposed. The point for me is that we are merely human beings and when we are young, as this young man is, there is no guarantee that we will not make a foolish decision. In this case he has made one foolish decision—a big one, but only one—and if ever there was a case that deserves another chance at life it is this young man’s.

I also reiterate the words of the member for Fowler and other members in this debate and pay absolute credit to the Australian High Commissioner to Singapore, Miles Kupa, and his staff. They have visited this young man every week for two years and have gotten to know him extremely well. They can only speak highly and positively of him, even though they know that it may not work out as positively as they would like. The member for Pearce and the member for Cook are right: this is the eleventh hour; there is nothing left for us to do. We as a delegation have written to the Singaporean Prime Minister, we have brought this motion to the House in a unanimous, unbiased and collective way today, and after this I am not sure what else we can do.

I am not a religious person and I do not turn to prayer, but I do turn to the heart of those in the Singaporean government and I plead with them to see this through the eyes of their own children, if in fact one of them made a mistake in their life and needed a second chance. I hope that that sort of plea might cut through. I plead with them to find some way to apply clemency in this case. I hope they can.