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Thursday, 11 February 2010
Page: 1187


Mr HAYES (1:20 PM) —There can be no more important public discourse on human rights than that on the death penalty and the lives of our citizens, and it is for this reason that I rise today to lend my full support to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009. I would like to start by thanking the Attorney-General for his resolve to introduce this significant human rights bill into the House and ensure that Australia fully complies with its international obligations to combat torture and to demonstrate our commitment to being part of the worldwide abolitionist movement. Whilst this bill contains two key human rights measures, I would like to concentrate my comments on the second measure, which extends the application of the current prohibition of the death penalty to state criminal law.

This is an issue that I, along with other members of the House, have been involved with for some time. I am certainly concerned that as a parliament we should do all that we can to save the lives of three young Australian citizens—members of a group colloquially known as the ‘Bali Nine’—now on death row in Indonesia. As members would be aware, I have put on record in this House on a number of occasions why I decided to take a stand on this matter. I speak not just in pursuit of a matter which I genuinely regard as being a most significant human rights issue but as a parent who holds the view that, regardless of what our children do, there is nothing that extinguishes our love and our care for our kids.

In particular, I have shared with the House the plight of Scott Rush, who is one of the three young Australians on death row in Kerobokan prison. It is well to record that Scott was a courier, a 17-year-old drug mule, when he was arrested at Denpasar airport a little over four years ago. He has now been in prison all that time, but over the last two years has been on death row. I have spoken about the judgment which imposed the death sentence on Scott Rush, which surprisingly contains almost no comparative analysis with any other accused person.

I would like to make it very clear at this point that I condemn the menacing criminal world of drug related crime. And I know, after meeting Scott’s parents, Lee and Christine, that they share that view. Nevertheless, it must be said that, if Scott had been convicted in Australia for his crime of being a drug courier, he would likely have received a custodial sentence in the order of 10 years. I know that at the heart of our judicial system is the principle that the punishment should fit the crime—and, as I understand, that is also a central rule in the Indonesian criminal justice system. I have received a number of letters from Scott Rush over the past 18 months or so, and I have previously shared those with the House, but they all go to show Scott’s effort to show good behaviour, his rehabilitation—but, moreover, his genuine wish to deter other young people from getting involved with drugs. In November this year my wife, Bernadette, and I received a Christmas card from Scott. Each time I receive correspondence from him, it certainly does have a profound effect, at least on me, because it takes me back to thinking, ‘What if he were one of my sons?’

As I stated earlier, Scott now spends his days and nights in Bali not knowing from one day to the next as to what will be his final hour. In my previous remarks to this House I have highlighted the fact that Scott’s parents, Lee and Christine, are like the rest of us—typical parents, with all the struggles of ordinary life. But we share the common bond in our unreserved love for our children. Each time that I meet with Lee and Christine Rush I see the emotional strain that they are under, having a son condemned to death in a foreign land. Receiving his Christmas card, I can only imagine what thoughts go through their minds at that particularly holy season that we celebrate.

What makes matters worse in this case is that it was out of love that Lee and Christine Rush notified the Federal Police of what they suspected their son was up to in relation to couriering drugs. That ultimately led to an investigation which led to his arrest in Denpasar. On what was an attempt by his parents to prevent a life of crime, particularly a life involving drugs, Lee Rush said to me, ‘I did not realise I would be condemning my son to death.’

It is for these reasons that I have said before in this parliament that we need to be very clear in our message, and certainly our message to the Rush family, that both sides of this parliament support the abolition of capital punishment in all places. The measure in this bill relating to Australia’s opposition to the death penalty demonstrates that this government does care about the predicament of not only the Rush family but of all Australians, regardless of where they are, and that we oppose the death penalty as a genuine human rights issue.

Australia has a longstanding principle of opposing capital punishment. The death penalty was abolished in Australia federally in 1973 in this parliament, by one of my predecessors in the seat of Werriwa, Gough Whitlam. He led his government in one of the more significant human rights measures they took in abolishing the death penalty.

In 1990 Australia signed the second operational protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which importantly commits Australia to the abolition of the death penalty. Australia voted in the UN General Assembly resolutions calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty in 2007. Australia annually cosponsors a resolution of the UN Human Rights Commission that calls for all nations to abolish the death penalty.

The right to life is a fundamental human right recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights of 1966. It is our duty to ensure that these rights do have a living reality. Just over a year after the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the declaration, it is an occasion now for all of us to recommit to our position in a practical manner in terms of giving effect to those declarations. They remain as relevant today as the day they were adopted. Last year I moved a motion in this place and called on the House to incorporate into domestic law the contents of the second operational protocol on the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to ensure the unequivocal abolition of the death penalty throughout Australia and to commit Australia’s position so it would be seen worldwide for what it is—that is, that we be seen as an abolitionist country. I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later time.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.