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Transcript of speech and doorstop on Van Nguyen, Carnegie Mellon University.

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DATE: November 25 2005

TITLE: Carnegie Mellon University Speech / Doorstop - Van Nguyen

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, Premier, Ministers, Professor Camlot, ladies and gentlemen, I just want to say how delighted I am to participate in this signing ceremony today. I think for the Premier and me, in particular, today is a very exciting day.

This is something that, as Professor Camlot said, we dreamed up on the inaugural passenger journey of The Ghan, and it's one of those things that you talk about late at night - and it has to be said it was pretty late at night - and I think it should be admitted that we had a glass or two in our hands. And, you know, we were just shooting the breeze with Robert De Crespigny and a couple of other businesspeople, and this idea was promoted and seemed a bit of a dream, but we've worked very hard on it and now it has become a reality. We have a couple of hurdles to get over yet. One of them is to get the necessary legislation through the Senate.

Now, I know the Premier wants to abolish Upper Houses, but we actually do have to deal with the Senate. And we respect our Upper House federally and we're going to-- Well, we have done for the last few months, yes. The last five months, is it? But, look, I don't think there's any problem with it going through, in the sense that both major parties will certainly be supporting the legislation, which will allow Carnegie Mellon to go out and do the appropriate marketing, in particular, and also have access to the Fee Help Scheme.

The second thing I want to do today is to announce that, as part of the support that I'm giving to this project, we are providing 20 Australian Development Scholarships for Carnegie Mellon, and we will be doing that over a period of four years (80 scholarships overall) at a cost of $8 million. That'll be funded by AusAID, for which I'm the Minister. And if we do see a substantial increase in Australian scholarships in the not-too-distant future, then I think we could get still more young people from developing countries coming here, developing their skills and being able to go back to their homes and make a bit contribution to the development task in their own economies and societies, because my vision of this university is going to be not just to provide outstanding education here in my home city for Australians, but also for students around the Asia Pacific region.

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And for Adelaide to become a great education centre for the Asia Pacific region is a dream I have for Adelaide, and I think it's a dream we can achieve, and I think this project is a very important step towards fulfilling that ambition. I have other dreams for Adelaide, as the Premier knows. And don't think this is the last project we're working on together - of course I only can work with him up until the 18th of March next year - but don't think this is the last project we're working on together, because, I mean, I think regardless of your party politics, if the State and Federal governments can work together and really promote Adelaide, we can turn Adelaide into the truly great city that it deserves to be and renowned throughout the world.

So thank you to Carnegie Mellon for all they've done. I think this project's going to be a great success and I'm delighted to be associated with it.

Doorstop interview

DOWNER: … I just want to something about Van Nguyen. I spoke the night before last to a couple of lawyers, Chris Ward and Professor Don Rothwell, about some ideas they had on how we could use the International Court of Justice to try to assist Van Nguyen and stave off his execution. The first thing I did was arrange for the Attorney-General's Department and my Department to examine their ideas, which seemed at least, prima facie, to be at least worth examining. And I'm sorry to say that their examination was pretty negative; they didn't think that there was any realistic way, even on the basis of the ideas put forward by Chris Ward, that we could go to the International Court of Justice without Singapore accepting the jurisdiction.

But I thought, bearing in mind that this is a question of life or death, it was worth referring these ideas one stage further to Professor James Crawford, who is a Professor of International Law at Cambridge University. He's an Australian, he's represented Australia on occasions in the International Court of Justice, I think it's probably arguable, but the leading expert on the International Court of Justice. And he has emailed back today saying that on the basis of the ideas that have been put forward there simply was no basis for going to the International Court of Justice.

So unless there are fresh ideas that others come forward with, I think it has to be said that my original pessimism about being able to use the International Court of Justice in this case has been confirmed by a combination of the legal advice of the Foreign Affairs and Attorney-General's departments, but also by Professor Crawford who's a leading-- well, a world leader, as an international lawyer, somebody who has a lot of experience of the International Court of Justice.

So there's no course-- no point, of course, in pursuing a course of action which is going to be completely unproductive. All we'll do is embarrass ourselves by doing that. We've got to be responsible and focused. We just have to keep pleading for the Singapore Government to

Inquiries: (02) 6277 7500 2

reconsider, to understand the strength of feeling here in Australia, and hope that by some miracle they will decide to change their minds. But all the indications we've had, including contacts with the Singaporeans over the last 24 hours, are that they are absolutely and firmly determined to proceed with the execution.

QUESTION: When do you say you've done all you can?

DOWNER: Well, I said this a couple of days ago: if people come forward with additional ideas I'll always put them to the test and see what we can do, I've got an open mind. But really we have been through a very large number of options in the context of action in the International Court of Justice. And the fact is that Singapore essentially doesn't accept the jurisdiction of the Court, except in one particular case, one particular Convention, which is a Convention on Narcotics of 1961. But Professor Crawford has confirmed the advice of the Attorney-General's and DFAT lawyers that it couldn't be used in this particular case.

QUESTION: Do you accept that there may be other lawyers who disagree with Mr Crawford?

DOWNER: Well, I don't know other lawyers who have better expertise in international law than Professor Crawford. I really don't. I mean there are a lot of lawyers in the world and they have a lot of different points of view, but you have to go to the people who are the true experts, and there's no greater Australian expertise than the expertise of Professor Crawford. We have to accept that. And I have done two things here. I've asked the officials in Government departments to have a look. Their response was very negative. But so I was leaving no stone unturned, I ensured that it was referred to Professor Crawford, and his view just confirms their view.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to the family at all about this?

DOWNER: I haven't, no.

QUESTION: And will you?

DOWNER: Well, you know, there's been a lot of contact with the family. They're in Singapore, I understand, and our High Commission staff are looking after them and dealing with them and helping them. Look, to be honest with you, I don't think the family has had any real hope since the death penalty was confirmed as a result of the rejection of the appeal for clemency. And there wasn't a high expectation that an appeal for clemency would work, bearing in mind there have only been six successful appeals for clemency since 1965. Of those, only two related to drug trafficking. And in one of those cases a woman testified against her partner and he was hanged instead of her, and in the other case the woman was dying from cancer, which she subsequently did.

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QUESTION: Mr Downer, now that this avenue's been closed, should the Prime Minister raise the issue at CHOGM?

DOWNER: Well I don't think, being realistic about this, he can raise it again with Prime Minister Lee. But I mean he's raised it with Prime Minister Lee last week; I've raised it with George Yeo last week. And I think, you know, in the context of CHOGM, in the context of the Commonwealth, it might be slightly less than, but around half of all the members of the Commonwealth do have capital offences, they do execute people, so I don't think this is going to get any traction in the Commonwealth.

We tried, for example, to get the European Union, get the European Commission interested in making representations, but their point was, "Well, you know, this is not a European citizen". There are a lot of countries, there are 80, I think, countries around the world that have a system of capital punishment, and there's not much can be done about it at least in the short term. I mean I hope that there'll be a day when all countries abandon capital punishment, but we're nowhere near that.

QUESTION: So what of criticism today that the Australian Government has left this lobbying too late?

DOWNER: Well, I saw a lawyer for the Bali-- Was it a lawyer for the Bali Nine, or someone like that, who made this claim? Well, that's just completely wrong. That's just an expression of complete ignorance. You know I think if you're going to buy into these public debates, you want to make sure you know something about the debate before you buy into it. This lawyer has no idea.

We've been making representations for - I have to check when we first did - but a very long time. I mean this isn't something that we've been doing in recent times; our lobbying and representations have been made over a long period of time. One of the lawyers of the Bali Nine is suggesting we should start making representations to the Indonesian Government now. These people haven't even been convicted let alone sentenced, so a preposterous thing for a lawyer to say. Lawyers have got to fight for their clients, that's their job.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Jemaah Islamiyah's plan to attack mourners at the memorial service in Bali as well? What was your reaction when you found out?

DOWNER: Well, I was actually at the ceremony. But, look, our travel advisories made it clear, and in public comments we made it clear, that there were risks involved, and we put in place, as did the Indonesians, very substantial security for all those who went to the ceremony in Bali. And the ceremony was a very-- It was short, but it was a very moving ceremony, and I think it meant a lot to those families. And the fact that there was security ensured that they were safe. Everybody knew that there were risks involved though; it was there, we were all aware of that.

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But, you know, Australians are a very courageous and robust people and they're not going to be dictated to by terrorists. And there were a large number of Australians there who not only were mourning the losses in the two rounds of Bali bombings, but those Australians were there to make a very strong point that we're not going to be told what to do by terrorists.

QUESTION: What do you think it says about them, if they're prepared to attack mourners [indistinct]?

DOWNER: Well I mean these terrorists will stop at nothing. The people who would consider attacking mourners, the families of victims, are people who are just depraved. This is just utterly symptomatic of these people, you know: they care not for human life, they're quite happy to massacre human beings. These people are complete barbarians.

QUESTION: Just back to the Singapore issue. Have the comments by Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke been helpful or a hindrance?

DOWNER: Well, look, I think in Bob Hawke's case he's made contact with the Singapore Prime Minister. We're obviously helping to facilitate the delivery of his letter. I mean I just appreciate people making their views known to the Singapore Government. I don't have any problems with that. And Gough Whitlam, you know, I suppose he's understandably upset about it all. I don't know that-- He's an old man though, I mean he's in his nineties, and I wouldn't choose those words myself.

But, look, I think the honest truth here is, and we don't like it, but the Singaporeans - and from our discussions with them in the last 24 hours we've been reminded of this - the Singaporeans are absolutely determined to go ahead with this execution. And the point they make over and over again is, "Look, we execute our own people. How would we explain it to the families of those we have executed who are Singaporeans, that we grant clemency to a foreigner because of the appeals of the government and the community of that foreign country, but we execute our own people?". They've said to us, "That is an impossible thing for us to do".

QUESTION: So is there any hope left for saving Van Nguyen's life?

DOWNER: Well, I mean, there's always a miracle. I can't imagine what it is.

QUESTION: Minister, 36 Islamic members have come out today and denounced the Islamic Charitable Foundation as having preached anti-western sentiment. Do you think it's a useful thing that those most in the know, other Islamic leaders, are acting as a bit of a watchdog in terms of revealing some of these issues?

DOWNER: They probably don't want to be called a watchdog. But I meet with Islamic leaders from time to time, I did in Perth earlier this week on Monday, and I make this point - they are as determined to crack down on extremists and terrorists as anyone else in Australia.

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I mean why would Muslims, just because they're Muslims, have a different view? I mean they don't. They don't want to see extremism, they don't want to see terrorism in Australia, and they're loyal and patriotic Australians and they'll do what they can to try to protect us.

And I think it is helpful, by the way, for the image of the Muslim community, which is in Australia as it is around most of the world a moderate and law-abiding community, it is helpful that they come out and denounce extremists. Because this isn't a battle between religions or a battle against Islam, this is a battle against ideologues who happen to be Islamic

but don't represent the vast majority of Muslims in Australia or anywhere else.

QUESTION: Minister, on that point, what do you make of the State Attorney-General coming out with claims that radicalist Islamics are preaching here in Adelaide at one particular mosque?

DOWNER: Well, you know, I suppose he has his sources of advice. I'm not sure about that, I'm not sure what evidence he has, but I assume he wouldn't have made that statement without some evidence.