Pubdate: Mon, 05 Dec 2005
Source: Australian, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2005The Australian
Author: Ian Moore
Note: Ian Moore is a founding editor of the Sunday Herald Sun in 
Melbourne and former editor of The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney.
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Death Penalty)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


AUSTRALIAN drug-runner Nguyen Tuong Van has been executed in
Singapore, but his death has not halted the stupidity of those that
seek to blame the Howard Government over his death.

Chief among this brigade must be Melbourne barrister Robert Richter
who has launched a personal attack on members of the Government, but
in doing so, has offended every Australian who comprehends the extent
of suffering of Australian prisoners at the hands of the Japanese in
Changi during World War II.

Richter took to the steps of the Melbourne County Court on Friday to
describe statements over Van by Prime Minister John Howard, Justice
Minister Chris Ellison, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Foreign
Minister Alexander Downer as lies. He said that he had heard these
ministers say that they had done all in their power to save Van from
the gallows, but "it is a lie, a complete lie".

"We have not legally or politically done everything that we can. When
did we propose to the UN that we should bring up capital punishment as
being contrary to the rule of law because it does not recognise the
notion of judicial discretion in sentencing, of proportionality
between crime and punishment which lies at the root of all
punishment," Richter said. "We know the Singapore Government is
susceptible to pressure, it had not been pressured at all."

Downer reacted angrily, as well he might. "You can imagine how we all
feel about it now and for some creep to say something like that -- how
contemptible can you get?" he said.

Richter is plainly wrong, as the record -- discussed ad nauseam during
last week -- will attest. He also is deluding himself if he believes
anything said to the UN would make an iota of difference. The
ineffectiveness of the UN also is a matter of record.

However, from the downright stupid, Richter went on to cause much
greater offence. In his grandstanding speech, he described Van's
execution in Changi Prison as more shameful than the wartime
atrocities committed there against Australian POWs, as it was not done
in the heat of war.

If shame could be apportioned, Richter should be given a full dose.
There is no heat of battle to be considered when beating malnourished
prisoners and leaving them to die, often an agonising death. His words
not only equate the Japanese torturers of Changi to a legitimate
government, but desecrate the memory of the Australian soldiers who
died there, by giving a convicted drug-runner moral equivalency. There
is no suggestion here that Richter is wrong to feel empathy with Van's
family; to express his frustration and sadness at a young life
squandered as a consequence of his own folly. Many would share those

It is just that from a prominent barrister, a QC, one expects that
emotion would not be allowed to blur facts; that morality would not be
subverted to support a personal view against the death penalty in a
foreign country.

If Richter so opposes capital punishment in Singapore, his voice
should be ringing out on behalf of Van's cellmates on death row --
along with those who mounted candlelight vigils for Van and called for
a minute's silence to mark his death (yet another act that denigrates
an honour reserved usually for Australians who have made the ultimate
sacrifice in war).

But no, there is silence. One can only conclude that the reason is
that -- as these criminals are not Australian citizens -- they cannot
be used as pawns to attack Howard or his Government.

Richter, a former president of the Victorian Council for Civil
Liberties, is no stranger to odd moral positions. The barrister who
successfully represented Melbourne crime figure Dominic Gatto in a
murder trial earlier this year, seems to support the argument that it
is not criminals that are responsible for crime but

In a recent speech on political intrusion into the legal process,
Richter endorsed a book published in 1970 by Norval Morris and Gordon
Hawkins, The Honest Politician's Guide to Crime Control. The premise
of the book is that most crime is generated by politicians "who for
one reason or another criminalise conduct which is not in the natural
purview of core prohibitions for an organised and civil society".

"Their solution involves profound analysis of the overreach of the
criminal law; a harm reduction and cost benefit examination of several
focal nodes of what is considered criminal conduct; and the reasoned
assessment which, with a bit of clear thinking and non-moralising, can
drastically cut what we call crime in our society by as much as 60 per
cent" he told his audience. With a notion that crime can be reduced by
making it it legal, it is little wonder his moral compass is awry.

Similarly with David Marr, a former host of the ABC's Media Watch, who
wrote at the weekend that Van's execution represented the death of
compassion in Australia, is suggesting it is not Van, but the broader
community that is at fault for a belief that heroin smugglers should
be punished, even in Singapore where it means the death penalty.

This execution has brought out the worst in Australia's leftist elites
and shown how out of touch they are with Australian society.

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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath