Page 4202 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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Under section 8 of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987, the AFP must—I repeat “must”—refuse any request to offer assistance if it relates to the prosecution of a person charged with an offence that attracts the death penalty. Only the federal Attorney-General may authorise such assistance. Under section 9 of the act, the federal Attorney-General may impose any conditions he likes on any assistance provided to a foreign country. The Attorney-General has delegated this authority under the act to the justice minister, Senator Chris Ellison.

This means that if the Bali nine are charged with offences attracting the death penalty the AFP cannot assist the Indonesian authorities without first being authorised by Senator Chris Ellison, through Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. In other words, that becomes a political decision. However, prior to charges being laid, the AFP’s anything-goes policy allows Australian police to exchange information with Indonesian police even if it is likely that capital charges will be laid.

The Senate committee recommendation that I cited is a very significant one. I hope that we go beyond our re-affirmation or affirmation, whichever is relevant, of this Assembly calling on our major parties on the hill to see that this recommendation is implemented; for if it is not, Australia will definitely be moving backward.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (11.58): I thank Ms MacDonald for this opportunity to speak on this very important matter that relates to the dignity and the rights of all men. I use that word in a non-sexist term. The death penalty is one of considerable contention and considerable prominence.

As I said in the adjournment debate last night, when touching on the work of this Assembly and on behalf of Mr Van Nguyen, it is a very important matter which has been highlighted by this tragic case. I have to echo many of the words that Ms MacDonald used when she spoke about the death penalty being gross and inhumane and of no deterrence at all. The sad case that we are seeing currently in Singapore highlights many of those things. While appreciating and understanding the position of the Singaporean government—and in this context it may be advantageous for us to dwell upon that a little—we are going to have to say to our Singaporean friends, in friendship, that we heartily disagree with the position that they take.

Last Wednesday, when I called upon the High Commissioner for Singapore, he did me the courtesy of providing me with a copy of a media release that was about to be broadcast by the Singaporean authorities which was, in fact, a copy of a letter that the Singaporean foreign minister had sent to Mr Downer. I take this opportunity to read from the letter, because it sets in context the Singaporean case:

Dear Minister Downer,

I received your letter of 25 October with a heavy heart. I fully understand why the family of Mr Nguyen Tong Van and many Australians must find it hard to accept the President’s decision not to grant clemency.

I can only say this: in advising the President, the Cabinet carefully considered all relevant factors of Mr Nguyen’s case including his sad personal circumstances and his value as a potential source of information. However, due to the seriousness of

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