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Monday, 22 February 2010
Page: 1357

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (6:17 PM) —in reply—I am very pleased to sum up the debate on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009. I would certainly like to thank members for their contributions to the debate and the bipartisan support for the bill.

The bill contains two measures. First, it enacts a specific Commonwealth torture offence in the Commonwealth Criminal Code to operate concurrently with existing offences in state and territory laws. Since 1989, Australia has been a party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Among other obligations, the convention requires Australia to ensure that all acts of torture are offences under domestic criminal law. At the moment, Australia meets its obligations, as acts falling within the convention’s definition of torture are included as offences under state and territory criminal laws. In recent years the United Nations Committee Against Torture has been critical of nations that have not enacted torture as a specific criminal offence and has recommended that Australia enact an offence of torture at the federal level. The provisions in this bill would respond to the recommendations of the committee and further demonstrate the government’s condemnation of torture in all circumstances by more clearly and explicitly fulfilling Australia’s obligations under the convention against torture.

The second measure in the bill would amend the Commonwealth Death Penalty Abolition Act 1973 to extend the application of the current prohibition on the death penalty to state laws to ensure the death penalty cannot be introduced anywhere in Australia. The bill proposes extending the application of the current prohibition on the death penalty to state laws. This would ensure that the death penalty could not be reintroduced anywhere in Australia in the future.

Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, once said:

The forfeiture of life is too absolute, too irreversible, for one human being to inflict it on another, even when backed by legal process. And I believe that future generations, throughout the world, will come to agree.

Through this bill, the House declares that it does so agree. These amendments would emphasise Australia’s commitment to our obligations under the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ensure that Australia continues to comply with those obligations. These domestic amendments complement the measures Australia is taking internationally to promote universal abolition of the death penalty. Through our overseas missions, the government is currently making bilateral representations against the death penalty to all countries that may carry out executions or maintain capital punishment as part of their law.

In summary, the bill contains important measures which demonstrate the government’s ongoing commitment to better recognising Australia’s international human rights obligations. I thank all members for their contributions to this debate and I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.