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Wednesday, 29 August 1973
Page: 522

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Mr Speaker,this is the third Bill to abolish capital punishment which the House of Representatives has received from the Senate. The first such Bill was received on 5 June 1968 and the second on 21 March 1972. On each occasion a debate took place only because I, as Leader of the Opposition, took it upon myself to move that the Bill be given a second reading. The first Government speaker on each occasion moved that the debate be adjourned. The debate could then be revived only if the then Government revived it. It did not. The Bill which reached the House of Representatives on 5 June 1968 was still on the notice paper when the House of Representatives was dissolved for the 1969 elections. The Bill which was received by the House of Representatives on 21 March 1972 was still on the notice paper when the House of Representatives was dissolved for the 1972 elections.

On this occasion I have decided once again to move that the Bill from the Senate be read a second time. When I sit down a member of the Opposition will have the call. He can move that the debate be adjourned. On the other hand he can continue the debate. The Government will be happy to take a vote on this Bill today. If, however, the Opposition does not wish to have a vote taken on this Bill today, I can assure honourable members that the opportunity will be given them to vote on it in no more than a month's time. There is some urgency about the matter. There are, I hear, 2 men under sentence of death in the Australian Capital Territory. Whatever happens to the Bill, they will not suffer the penalty of death. It is, however, not appropriate any longer in our country that the execution by this means of court sentences should depend upon the caprice or principle of a government. This law should be repealed. No further delay should be tolerated in repealing it.

I do not propose to give my reasons for supporting the Bill. Many honourable members will remember what I have said on previous occasions in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. The first occasion was during the debate in the Committee stage of the Crimes Bill in November 1960. It was a Government Bill. Accordingly anybody could move an amendment in the Committee stage of the debate. A vote had to be taken on the amendment before the then Government could secure its Bill. Accordingly there was on that occasion a vote on the question of the abolition of the death penalty. The amendment seeking the abolition of the death penalty was defeated in a vote on party lines. The same process occurred again in the debate on the Crimes (Aircraft) Bill in September 1963. A third occasion on which I gave reasons for seeking the abolition of the death penalty was in the debate on the Senate Bill in June 1968. A fourth occasion was in the debate on the Senate Bill in March 1972. I had in fact given notice on 20 March 1968 of my intention to introduce a Bill to abolish the death penalty. That notice by me was overtaken by the fact that the Senate dealt with a similar notice more promptly.

It will be seen that honourable members have had nearly 13 years in which to con sider this matter. I would think that it has been quite improper for our predecessors in the last 2 parliaments to avoid a vote on a Bill which the Senate has passed. There will not be such delays again. In the meantime, the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory on several occasions has passed an ordinance to abolish the death penalty in that Territory. Only this year under the new Government was that ordinance allowed to take effect. However, there are other areas such as the Australian Capital Territory and the armed forces, upon which the details can be read in my speech of 21 March last year, where the death penalty can still be imposed.

The matter has been in the minds of honourable members for many years and on several recent occasions. I believe that there is no reason why this House should not without any considerable delay now pass this Bill. The Bill which we are considering was the first Bill introduced by the Government in the Senate. It was introduced by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) on 1 March. The Senate at last passed the Bill yesterday. I commend the Bill to honourable members of this House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser) adjourned.

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