House debates

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Constituency Statements

Chau, Mr Van Kham

10:05 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

'I wish the Australian government would do more for Mr Chau, because it's more like life and death for him. There is no medicine and no emergency services. The water is not clean, the environment is unhealthy and the food is worse. The longer he stays, the worse it will be.'

This is a statement from Michael Phuong Minh Nguyen, a former inmate, about the Australian national Mr Van Kham Chau, who is currently in prison in Vietnam. Accordingly, I take this opportunity to raise my concerns regarding Mr Chau's continued incarceration and welfare, particularly given the restrictions that have been imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. I'm advised by Mr Chau's lawyers that all prisoner visits have been suspended and Mr Chau has not received a visit from the Australian consular office since October last year.

Mr Chau is 71 years of age. He lives locally, in the Bankstown region. His health is in decline. He's been to hospital twice since his detainment in Vietnam. I understand that he has also faced difficulty receiving his regular medicines and has been forced to endure long hours of hard labour in prison, with very limited food. He is in very poor health. As a consequence, these conditions have taken a significant physical and mental toll on his wellbeing.

I personally spoke to Michael Nguyen. He is a citizen of the USA. He has advised me that he was convicted under section 109 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code in 2018. Like Mr Chau, he too was sentenced to 12 years jail. However, Mr Nguyen was released in October 2020, following representations from the US State Department. The case of Mr Nguyen demonstrates that, with the appropriate support, there may be some willingness on behalf of the Vietnamese authorities to afford Mr Chau, the Australian citizen, the same outcome.

Given the strong strategic relationship that has been developed under this government with Vietnam—which was only recently reinforced by the Prime Minister, when he publicly referred to Vietnam's Prime Minister as 'his very close friend'—surely we can do more in the case of Mr Chau. Therefore, I call on the Australian government to take all possible steps to secure Mr Chau's welfare and ensure that Mr Chau can safely return to his family here in Australia.