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Monday, 22 February 2010
Page: 1284


Mr SIMPKINS (12:20 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to make some comments today on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009. It is not my intention to go over all the points that others have made. Certainly from what I have heard I agree with the points that have been made in this debate. While I think that Australia was always unlikely to go back to death penalties for any crimes in this country, this bill will take the steps needed to ensure that it can never be done again. So I welcome the bill and it certainly has my personal support. But I would like to go to some slightly different places in the time that I will make my contribution today, because I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that when you walk on the streets of suburban Australia and you knock on doors there is some support out there for things like the death penalty and even corporal punishment. I think we can be certain of that. I think that they are wrong. I think that ultimately there will not be any improvement as a result of having the death penalty as a possible outcome for a conviction in Australian courts. Yet there will still be people who will say, ‘Look back to what happened in Singapore in 2005, when an Australian was executed,’ or who go back further to Barlow and Chambers, who were executed for drug offences as well. Nothing has really moved on. People are still taking those chances with their lives when they try to traffic drugs.

I will say it again later on but there is a degree of personal responsibility involved with this, particularly for those Australians who take the risk of smuggling and trafficking drugs to or from various countries in the world. It is a high-risk scenario and the rewards will never make up for the risks that they take. As the member for Fremantle has quite rightly said, once people are beyond the protection of our borders they are subject to the charges and penalties that another state may impose. So it does come down to people realising that just because we will never have the death penalty and it is unlikely that we will ever have corporal punishment again in this country does not mean that other countries will observe our standards. People need to be very careful when they take these risks for a quick buck, to support somebody else or for whatever misguided reason they have to try to traffic drugs: they are and will be subject to the penalties that apply in other countries. Of course, I would also say that the damage they do if they get the drugs back here is completely unacceptable as well. But there are more appropriate penalties to be imposed upon people who try to traffic drugs and hurt this country and the people of this country by selling and trafficking drugs—other ways that do not include the death penalty.

I can understand when members of a family, particularly children, have been the victim of a hideous crime—such as the hurting or molesting of a child—how parents could feel that revenge through the death penalty would in some way help them. I understand that people feel very strongly about these things. But, again, as the member for Fremantle said, we need to be consistent. While I personally think there are some people who commit crimes for which they cannot ever be rehabilitated, such as child molesters, child rapists and often drug users—I do not believe that a lot of those people can be rehabilitated—you can never be certain in the matter of capital punishment. You can never be certain that the person who is executed is actually the one who committed the crime. The fact that there is any form of doubt even in one case is a very strong argument for why it is right to go down this path and fully enshrine the abolition of the death penalty in this nation.

I would also like to speak on the matter of torture. Again, I think we all have very clear ideas of what is involved with torture. I would just make the point that by some definitions of torture the methods used in the acquisition of information in combat zones by intelligence personnel for, say, the Australian Army would be considered torture. I am not talking about water boarding. I am not talking about those matters where a person who has been detained—a POW or whatever—is in fear of their life. I am not talking about that. That is certainly torture and should not be allowed. But certainly from my limited experience over 15 years in the Defence Force the pressure that is placed upon people to obtain information from them reasonably quickly is an essential part of fighting and combat. By that I mean sleep deprivation and other ways of imposing a great deal of pressure on someone that do not cause permanent damage. Sleep deprivation is a very quick way of obtaining information. Within 24 hours people are sufficiently disorientated that they are more likely to provide information. This is non-lethal. This does not cause long-term damage. It is a little bit of pressure which can be very useful in obtaining information. Provided that is still retained as part of legitimate acquisition of information, I certainly stand by all other modes of torture being prohibited.

I said before that when Australians travel overseas they need to be very careful about the decisions they make. They need to appreciate that they will be held accountable for the actions they take. If they attempt to traffic or smuggle drugs then they have to appreciate that, whatever their reason for doing it—for instance, the young Vietnamese Australian who was executed in Singapore wanted to pay off his and his brother’s debts—these are not legitimate excuses. As soon as you hop on a plane or exit immigration control in Australia and have taken actions to commit an offence you will be beyond the control of the Australian government, and the rules and culture of another country will then be what will affect you if you are caught.

12:29:37 It is very important to make the point that we do not control the values and laws of other countries. We attempt to influence, and that is good, and the United Nations working in this area is definitely good, but there are some countries out there that are ultimately and totally wedded to capital and corporal punishment. While we may think that barbaric, that does not mean that they will stop. So every time an Australian goes overseas they need to be very careful with the way they conduct themselves because consular assistance cannot stop another country imposing its system of justice and punishments on Australian citizens.

I want to conclude by reiterating that I support this bill. I believe that the death penalty will never be the way forward. It will never stop crime. What will stop crime is the certainty of being caught, a belief that no matter what you do you are likely to be caught and that justice will be imposed upon you, not that if you get caught your life might be in jeopardy, might be forfeit. We need to put in place measures that will increase the certainty of people being caught. That will be the best deterrent to crime. I acknowledge that there are many Australians who remain in support of the death penalty and who support corporal punishment such as the use of the rattan in Singapore but, if you look at the way some countries operate around the world who have the death penalty and these forms of corporal punishment, I do not think such countries maintain the sorts of systems of government that Australia would ever look up to. It is right that we take this move now and that we complete the abolition of the death penalty in Australia. I stand in support of this bill.