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Tuesday, 16 November 1993
Page: 2866

Senator SHORT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the minister to reports reaching the Vietnamese community in Australia that Professor Doan Viet Hoat, a well-known and highly respected human rights activist in Vietnam who earlier this year was imprisoned for 15 years for issuing pamphlets advocating greater freedom and democratisation in Vietnam, was late last week moved into solitary confinement in a prison in Ho Chi Minh City, coinciding with the release in Australia of an article which he had recently written in prison for international human rights day. I ask, firstly, will the Australian government seek full details from the Vietnamese government as to the reasons for and the specific conditions of Professor Hoat's solitary confinement? Secondly, will the minister advise the Senate as to the present situation in respect of the proposed Australian human rights delegation to Vietnam which was agreed during Prime Minister Kiet's visit to Australia earlier this year?

Senator ROBERT RAY —The government is fully aware of the case of Dr Hoat, although we have not received the information presented by Senator Short as to his current whereabouts and state of health. We will seek confirmation and, if this is forthcoming, we will pursue the matter with the Vietnamese authorities. Senator Gareth Evans did so in his discussions with the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Vo Van Kiet, on 27 May this year. The Australian embassy in Hanoi did also in November 1992 and in March this year.

  I think Senator Short asked about the delegation and the prospects of that. We are in an advanced stage of putting the delegation together. Our feeling is that it should ideally consist of members of this parliament, three; academics with a strong background in human rights and Vietnam, two; Vietnamese Australians of some standing, two. It would be supported by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

  There will be further discussions with the Vietnamese foreign ministry this week on the composition, objectives and itinerary of the delegation. It would not be appropriate to release further details of the delegation's composition until we have had the opportunity to discuss these questions with the Vietnamese government.

  As to timing, we are aiming for the week beginning 7 March 1993 and we will be doing what we can to ensure that there is no further slippage. However, it must be remembered that the delegation can only travel with the agreement of the Vietnamese authorities. We are nevertheless taking every opportunity to impress on the Vietnamese government the importance with which the delegation is regarded in Australia. We would find it strange if Prime Minister Kiet's personal undertaking were not soon followed up with action to facilitate this visit.