Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (19:30): Last week, along with many members of this House, I attended a rally organised by the Vietnamese Community in Australia NSW Chapter outside Parliament House in support of an Australian citizen, Mr Van Kham Chau, who is currently detained in Vietnam. Mr Chau was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City in January this year while meeting members of the democracy movement as part of a human rights fact-finding mission to Vietnam.
On 11 November this year, Mr Chau was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment in a Vietnamese court. Human rights groups have called this a 'sham trial': a closed court over a couple of hours—with media prohibited, as well as family and friends—handed down this sentence of 12 years. Mr Paul Nguyen, the president of the VCA NSW Chapter, highlighted the seriousness of this issue when he stated:
We urge the Vietnamese Government to apply the principles of fairness and compassion, to allow Mr Chau to immediately and unconditionally return back to Australia.
I understand that while in detention for almost 10 months Mr Chau was denied access to legal defence counsel until immediately before his trial, and that it was then restricted to three one-hour sessions. Given the gravity of the allegations raised against him, it's without doubt that restricting legal access had an adverse impact on his defence, impairing his ability to have a free trial.
The fact is Mr Chau is a 70-year-old retired baker who lives in Western Sydney, but he has had a longstanding interest in advancing human rights. Together with his wife and family, Mr Chau has been in Australia for over 30 years and is well-known locally for his contribution to the local community. Some of us had suggested that the verdict calls into question Vietnam's commitment to advancing human rights, whether it is sustainable economically, and whether security partnerships with Vietnam and Hanoi are at all possible. It is certainly disheartening, if not infuriating, to see that the human rights situation in Vietnam continues to decline.
Those who are brave enough to speak out against the Vietnamese government are being charged under vague national security laws and being thrown into prison without a fair trial and in many cases without access to defence lawyers. On top of this, those who have been jailed are facing very poor conditions in detention, and mistreatment by authorities. The Vietnamese government has shown that they are unwilling to adhere to the rule of law, and are keen to oppress, jail and exile those who simply advocate for the most basic of human rights. I note the view of Human Rights Watch. They say that:
A 12-year prison sentence in a Vietnamese prison, where the conditions are horrible, is the equivalent to a death sentence.
This is particularly true in the case of Mr Chau, who is 70 years old, as I said, is in deteriorating health, and has twice been hospitalised while he has been in detention in Vietnam.
With no evidence presented by the Vietnamese authorities to substantiate Mr Chau's terrorism charge, it is imperative that the international community continues to place pressure on Vietnam to ensure that it remains accountable for its human rights record and to encourage it to apply due process and uphold the rule of law. I acknowledge the work of DFAT, which has provided continued consular assistance to Mr Chau and his family. I also acknowledge the bipartisan commitment on this matter from members and senators of the Australian parliament. I also acknowledge that the member for Goldstein and I wrote to the Vietnamese government calling on it to honour its commitment to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In a similar bipartisan spirit, I call on all members of parliament to take all reasonable steps to ensure that Mr Chau can safely return home to Australia. On this note, I take the opportunity of thanking the VCA NSW Chapter for organising the rally outside Parliament House. I commend their state president, Mr Paul Huy Nguyen, and also their national president, Mr Bon Nguyen, for their unceasing human rights advocacy. On this occasion, it is just so imperative that members of the House take whatever steps they can to encourage government to take all reasonable steps to help this family. Once again, I commend the officials at DFAT. They have engaged properly on this matter. I have no complaint with their actions, and they've kept me in the loop.