Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (16:00): Again I draw the attention of this parliament to the case of Mr Van Kham Chau, an Australian pro-democracy advocate currently detained in Vietnam. Since his arrest on 15 January this year, Mr Chau has been held in detention without charge by the Vietnamese authorities. Mr Chau is being investigated for his alleged activities against the Communist Party of Vietnam, including, as I understand it, an attempt to overthrow the government.
Vietnam is one of the most prolific jailers of peaceful activists in the region. Basic civil rights, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, are severely restricted. Communist Party courts have issued increasingly harsh prison sentences for activists convicted of vague national security charges. Australia needs to do everything in its power to ensure that an Australian citizen is not subject to the impulses of a government widely known for severely punishing people who dare to criticise its rule. This case must be expedited, and Australia should demand the release of Mr Chau from indefinite detention without charge in Vietnam.
Mr Chau resides in Bankstown and is a prominent figure in our Vietnamese diaspora. He's highly involved in the promotion of human rights, democracy and social justice issues in our community. For years he has worked to shed light on Vietnam's ongoing crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Six months ago, Mr Chau went to Vietnam on a fact-finding trip and never returned. Since his arrest, he has only been allowed monthly consular visits, which have now been monitored by the Vietnamese authorities, restricting his ability to talk freely. He has been denied legal representation so far during a period of ongoing investigation. The investigation has been extended until September and could be extended further. It is most doubtful that the trial process will be open and fair, given the Vietnamese courts remain firmly under the control of the Communist government.
I have met with Mr Chau's wife and two sons, who are deeply depressed over his unknown fate. They are increasingly concerned about his mental and physical wellbeing. His family and the Vietnamese community in Australia are pleading for the Australian government to bring home this 70-year-old Australian. This is a man of good repute who has contributed to our society. He came to this country as a boat person some 30 years ago. The Australian government has an obligation to protect the rights of its citizens. I therefore urge the government to pressure the Vietnamese authorities to expedite this case and call for Mr Chau's unconditional release.