25 Nov 2005

Former leaders call on Singapore to grant reprieve for Nguyen

This is a transcript from PM. The program is broadcast around Australia at 5:10pm on Radio National and 6:10pm on ABC Local Radio.

You can also listen to the story in REAL AUDIO and WINDOWS MEDIA and MP3 formats.

PM - Friday, 25 November , 2005 17:18:00
Reporter: Daniel Hoare
MARK COLVIN: Australia's backlash against Singapore continued today.

Former Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser all joined the chorus of politicians and lawyers calling for Nguyen to be spared the death penalty.

But Malcolm Fraser has told PM that Singapore would only ever bow to private diplomacy in such a case. He says the public backlash has been counter-productive.

Mr Fraser says the Nguyen case should spark renewed efforts to abolish the death penalty in all Commonwealth nations.

And Justice Ronald Sackville, the Chairman of the Judicial Conference of Australia, says Singapore has ignored its own constitution in the case of Van Nguyen.

This report from Daniel Hoare.

DANIEL HOARE: In the absence of a miracle, this time next week, Van Nguyen will have been hanged. But that hasn't stopped the growing chorus of opposition to the death penalty handed out to him.

Former Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke have all called for the Singaporean Government to grant Van Nguyen an eleventh hour reprieve.

Mr Whitlam told Southern Cross Radio today that the issue needs to be raised at this week's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

GOUGH WHITLAM: Singapore has a very thick skin in these matters. But the point is that the matter should be raised at CHOGM, and this is a matter which should be discussed in the Commonwealth, which has a very wide coverage around the world.

DANIEL HOARE: But the man who succeeded Mr Whitlam as Prime Minister has told PM that raising the Nguyen matter at the CHOGM meeting won't achieve anything.

Malcolm Fraser didn't want to speak on tape when PM contacted him this afternoon, but he was happy to put his views on the record.

Mr Fraser says the only approach which might have convinced the Singaporean Government to spare the life of Van Nguyen would have been private diplomacy.

Mr Fraser agrees with Prime Minister John Howard, who has, throughout the case, firmly rejected the use of what he calls 'megaphone diplomacy'.

Malcolm Fraser says the Nguyen case should spark a fresh look at the use of the death penalty by Commonwealth nations.

He says a panel of judges should be appointed by the Commonwealth countries to make recommendations about how to convince all member nations to abolish the death penalty.

Justice Ronald Sackville, who chairs the Judicial Conference of Australia, which represents over 550 judges and magistrates, has joined the growing criticism of the Singaporean Government.

Justice Sackville says the judges in the Van Nguyen case may have breached the country's constitution.

RONALD SACKVILLE: The Singapore Constitution provides that all persons are entitled to equal protection before law. That is a provision which is similar to one found in the United States Constitution and it's also found in many human rights instruments throughout the world. Of course, it's not found in Australia because we don't have a Bill of Rights.

The interpretation that was taken by the Singapore Court of Appeal in this very case involving Mr Nguyen was a rather narrow view. Of course, it is a matter for the Singapore courts as to how they interpret their own constitution, but the point we are making is that that particular interpretation might be thought to be somewhat out of step.

DANIEL HOARE: Despite an unprecedented backlash in Australia against its use of the death penalty in the case of Van Nguyen, the Singaporean Government has made its intransigence strikingly clear.

The country's state-controlled newspaper, the Straits Times, today published a pointed editorial for anyone wishing to test its drug laws. The editorial warned:

"More Australians can expect to face the death penalty here because too many choose to dice with death."

The newspaper said that Van Nguyen's looming execution had "churned up a wash of angst from across the seas".

MARK COLVIN: That report from Daniel Hoare.

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