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Almost 30 years on, the man convicted of killing politician John Newman deserves to be pardoned.

Michael West Media - 1st July 2023

It was a murder that shocked the nation and left a man in jail with no hope of parole. Innocent or guilty, that man, Phoung Ngo, deserves to be pardoned, writes Mac Halliday

NSW MP John Newman was gunned down outside his Cabramatta home one evening in early September 1994. Newman and his fiancee, Lucy Wang, were putting the cover on his car when the Labor politician was hit by two bullets and died instantly.

Wang saw a hooded man in an army style jacket escape in a waiting car. Newman, the member for Cabramatta and anti-drug campaigner, was given a state funeral. The killing is often reported as the country’s first political assassination. It was not the first – that’s thought to be the 1921 killing of NSW MP Percy Brookfield – and there is some doubt as to its political nature.

But being portrayed as such ensured the case gained considerable political, media and judicial attention.

Convicted after three trials

Seven years later, and after a coronial inquiry and three trials (the first aborted, the second ‘hung’), Phoung Ngo, a former deputy mayor of Fairfield council and a local club owner, was convicted of masterminding Newman’s murder – and given a mandatory life sentence, effectively being put away for the “term of his natural life”.

Appeals to higher courts failed; a later judicial inquiry, prompted by a ABC Four Corners report, confirmed Ngo’s guilt.

Ngo, who has shown neither regret nor remorse, has consistently denied plotting to kill Newman. When his remand period is counted, Ngo, now 64 years old, has spent 23 years in jail where is a model prisoner. The time has come to pardon him.

Reasons to pardon Phoung Ngo

  1. Ngo was convicted as the mastermind of the killing rather than the gunman. David Dinh and Quang Dao, the alleged shooter and driver, respectively, were found not guilty. The identity of both the shooter and driver is not known.

  2. Of the three other people allegedly involved, one was granted immunity from prosecution for giving evidence for the prosecution (and can not be named), another (Dao) denied Ngo’s involvement.

  3. The jury in the third trial accepted it as a politically motivated killing, despite evidence to the contrary from Labor powerbrokers Graham Richardson and John Della Bosca. Reba Meagher, who later held Newman’s seat of Cabramatta for almost 14 years, said she had been offered preselection for Newman’s seat at 3.30 pm on the day of the killing.

  4. In sentencing, Justice Dunford expressed regret at not being able to set a parole period given NSW’s mandatory sentencing laws. Ngo’s previous service to his local community counted for nothing nor could any subsequent good behaviour in prison.

  5. NSW is the only state in Australia where mandatory sentencing rules still apply. According to research by lawyer and academic Daniel Matas, that is a breach of Australia’s commitment to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

  6. In the aborted first trial, Justice James Wood instructed the jury to deliberate first on the case against the alleged shooter Dinh –and only move onto Dao and Ngo if he was found guilty. Justice Duford instructed the jury to start with Ngo.

  7. Unlike the UK, Scotland, Norway and New Zealand, no Criminal Case Review Committee is available here.

  8. Mr Della Bosca gave false evidence, if Ms Reba Meagher is to be believed, in the judicial enquiry by Mr David Patton, which destroys the description of “naked political ambition.”

  9. Errors of both political parties, police, judiciary and the Crown Prosecutor have contributed to an unjust sentence.

Horrific crimes deserve appropriate sentences, but in this case, innocent or guilty, the sentence is disproportionate and many worse cases have been released earlier. Under S61 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 NSW, a court is to impose a life imprisonment for murder if the court is satisfied that the level of culpability in the commission of the offence is so extreme that community interest in retribution, punishment, community protection and deterrence can only be met through the imposition of this sentence. This is not the case with Ngo.

No threat to society

Innocent or not of Newman’s murder, Phoung Ngo is no threat to society or any individual and his incarceration lacks any sense of fairness. He should be pardoned by the NSW Governor. If you agree, please consider signing this petition.

I also write about this issue on my blog.

Mac Halliday (2023)


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