Nguyen Tuong Van, John Howard, Helen Clark

Nguyen Tuong Van is the Australian who was caught a few years ago trafficking drugs into Singapore. Although he should be punished for his crime, Singapore does itself no favours for punishing drug dealers with execution.

In a way, it is true that Nguyen, as a drug dealer, is responsible for the potential deaths of many through drug addiction. Nevertheless, I do not believe that this crime should result in capital punishment. As an Evangelical, I do believe in justice - but in this day and age there is too much that can go wrong when a person is sentenced to death. If the person is eventually discovered to be innocent, then there is no way to pay recompense to a dead person. No system of justice can be free from corruption.

Singapore, if it is to be regarded as a progressive and strong Asian nation, must put aside the death penalty. If Nguyen has committed a crime (which is probably more than likely), then he should be jailed for a long time for his crime.

John Howard appears to be in a lose-lose situation at the moment. On the one hand, he cannot really do anything short of sending the SAS to rescue Nguyen. On the other hand, he does have a cricket-watching date that just happens to conincide with Nguyen's execution. The Sydney Morning Herald, in particular, seems to frown upon Howard's decision to watch the PM's XI during Nguyen's execution - but then again, what can he do?

Howard and others probably should have got their acts together a few years ago when Nguyen was first arrested. The fact that they are getting all uppity about it now is probably due to public and/or media pressure. Nguyen is the third Australian, after Michelle Leslie and Schapelle Corby, to hit the headlines for drug-dealing or drug usage in an Asian country. Nguyen, however, is unlikely to be given much sympathy because he isn't a young attractive white female. Excuse the cynicism, but it's true.

What was totally unexpected was the sudden work of Helen Clark, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, in taking the matter up with Singaporean authorities. I have often said to people that Helen Clark must be a competent person because there is no way she could have made it politics in personality and image alone. Sexist comment? Maybe, but there is no doubt that Clark is hardly the paragon of good looks.

I will always remember the protests in New Zealand when our John Howard came for a visit just as the invasion of Iraq was about to begin. Most New Zealanders opposed the war and gave Howard heaps when he arrived. Helen Clark also told Howard that her nation would not participate - though in a much more diplomatic way.

For me, that visit was a watershed in my attitude towards New Zealand. The New Zealand people and its leadership stood up to Howard and Australia and openly disagreed with them. New Zealand, always in the shadow of its larger colonial brother, was standing on its own two feet and was confident and sure enough to tell Australia where to go. Helen Clark was the PM at the time and so, in many ways, she represented New Zealand's strength to us in Australia who were taking notice.

The fact is that New Zealand - and particularly Helen Clark - owed Australia no favours whatsoever. Yet Helen Clark has now decided to intervene to try to settle an international incident (the Nguyen execution).

Of course, her actions were hardly altruistic. She would gain some level of political mileage from her actions. Nevertheless, she would have lost nothing had she not acted. In many ways, her actions seem to be consistent with certain values and beliefs that I thought had disappeared altogether: the desire for peace, consensus and mutual respect between nations. Since 9/11 I had thought such things had gone out the window, especially with George Bush in America and the insular attitudes of the Howard government.

In short, it was nice to see good old fashioned Aussie values being exhibited - even though it was a New Zealander that was exhibiting them. Times have changed, especially here in Australia.

From the Department of Wha' Happnin?

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Craig Schwarze said...

Howard and others probably should have got their acts together a few years ago when Nguyen was first arrested.
Indeed they did. It just didn't have the media's attention back then.

The Australian government has made approximately 30 representations on behalf of Nguyen since 2002, including 5 personally by the PM.

They have done everything in their power to save this young man. Any criticism of the government is just petty partisanship.

One Salient Oversight said...

Hmmm okay. I vaguely remember you blogging about this guy a month or two ago. The SMH had a report today saying that Australian officials should've been more proactive earlier on.

This issue isn't very partisan for me. I did express sympathy with John Howard's upcoming PM's xi happening on the same day.

Craig Schwarze said...

Yeah, I blogged about this back on the 20th October -


The story was very low key - and has been until the last couple of weeks.

But the Australian government made their first representation back in 2002 - prior even to the trial.

Anonymous said...

Fair comment on Nguyen and capital punishment, but it was the personal observations regarding the Charisma score of certain PM's that lifted this piece.
(And made me laugh). 9/10.

Paul W said...

Thanks for this post Neil. It gave me a warm glow inside reading about it as a NZer.

By the way I had to laugh about what you said about Helen Clark being an extremely competent person: she is certainly not as easy on the eye as Michelle Leslie!

One Salient Oversight said...

I'll be honest... at the moment I am so pissed off at Australia and its leaders that there is a small part of me that is seriously considering going to NZ.

NZ ain't perfect - but it seems to be a far more honest nation at the moment than Australia.

Besides, I love mild weather.

Craig Schwarze said...

NZ is a lovely country. If you think you would feel more comfortable there, I'd say go for it!

Craig Schwarze said...

The opposition has acknowledged that the government worked very hard for Nguyen. Kim Beazley this morning said -

"I do know they did a lot. And they did a lot for a long time.

"I started taking this up myself when I went to visit Singapore months ago now, and I became conscious when I did so of a plethora of approaches, for some considerable time, by the commonwealth government on behalf of Mr Nguyen.

"So they have actually been engaged for some time."