Australian Senate passes resolution opposing death penalty in shadow of Van Nguyen execution

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Australian Senate has passed a resolution "opposing the death penalty" in response to the looming execution of Van Tuong Nguyen. The 25-year-old Australian salesman was convicted of trafficking 396 grams of heroin through Singapore, a country which has a mandatory death sentence for trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin.

There was some argument in the Senate, however, over the exact wording of the resolution. The motion, as originally moved by Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, expressed the government's "abhorrence of the death penalty."

Senator Chris Ellison, Minister for Justice and Customs, moved to substitute "abhorrence of" for "opposition to."

Greens members and Australian Democrat members were angered at this. "Should we just say 'We oppose that but we don't abhor it'...Is trade so important that we cannot speak our mind on utterly important matters of life and death[?]" Senator Brown asked.

There was confusion about whether the Australian Labor Party supported the Government amendment.

Australian Democrat's Senator Natasha Stott Despoja made her opposition to the amendment clear. "What is wrong with this place? How can two major parties be such wimps and wimp out on this word? If 'wimp' is considered inappropriate, I could say 'weak', 'timorous' or 'ineffectual'," she said. She later apologised to the Labor Party and redirected her criticism to the Government.

Senator Ellison later said, "when you look at international instruments, you do not often find the language of emotion. You do not often find language which is colourful or extreme. You find language which spells out the situation...We should not bring emotion into the debate which could well hamper other efforts being made in relation to the Van Nguyen matter."

A division on the amendment was called and the motion was amended in the Government's favour, 34 to 30. The amended motion was then carried.


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  • Australian Senate, Hansard, November 29, 2005.
  • ABC News, [1]