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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 919


Mr LAMB (La Trobe) - I rise to support the Bill. I do so knowing that this is the third time that this House will have dealt with a similar Bill. It seems rather strange that on 2 occasions it should have been rejected until one realises that one can either take a party line or exercise a free vote on such a matter. I will be taking that up later. It is also relevant that this debate takes place now when there are 2 men waiting capital sentence in the Australian Capital Territory. I cannot claim to have had the close association with the law that the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) has had but I can understand his wrestling with the problems involved and wrestling with his approach to consistency as to the value of life and the role of a government in upholding that value.

I can understand how many governments have changed their stand and how many individuals have changed their stand on this matter. I myself was equivocal on it when I was quite young but with maturing years and maturing attitude I think I have taken the only right objective conclusion and that is to support the present Bill. Therefore it was interesting to come across the words of someone who is vitally concerned with the matter of the repeal of capital punishment. I am referring to Sir Ernest Gowers who was Chairman of the United Kingdom Royal Commission on Capital Punishment. He wrote in his book 'A Life for a Life: The Problem of Capital Punishment', published in 1956 after the Commission had published its report:

Before serving on the Royal Commission, I like most other people, had given no great thought to the problem. If I had ben asked for my opinion, I should probably have said that I was in favour of the death penalty, and disposed to regard abolitionists as people whose hearts were bigger than their heads. Four years of close study of the subject gradually dispelled that feeling. In the end I became convinced that the abolitionists were right in their conclusions - though

I could not agree with all their arguments - and that so far from the sentimental approach leading into their camp and the rational one into that of the supporters, it was the other way about.

There are many reasons why we should oppose the retention of capital puishment. The death penalty is a barbaric practice which has no place in a society claiming to be civilised. It is derived from a crude desire for revenge which is made doubly abhorrent by the fact that should justice go astray and a mistake be made it can never be corrected. It seems strange to me that the charge of those who would like to retain capital punishment is directed to the abolitionists by saying that the abolitionists have too much concern for the murdered and not enough for the victim. They would rather appease their sense of revenge and extend to the murdered the hurt that was suffered by the victim. If the victim was murdered, capital punishment is not going to bring that victim back to life or in any way improve the situation of those who have suffered. Some people may prefer to retain the death penalty for such other crimes as rape. To liquidate the rapist is certainly not going to reconstitute the virginity or wholesomeness of the victim. It is only because they wish to feel a sense of revenge that they carry out the death penalty for severe crimes of a like nature. If they were concerned perhaps they would have extended their attention to relieving the hardship of the remaining family or of the victim if close to death. In fact, I find in my readings and studies that it is the abolitionists who are more concerned with the victim and would like to see changes made in the law that would give compensation and other forms of assistance to offset the harm and danger to the victim.

The move that we are making here is only another step of a member nation of the United Nations to follow one of its recommendations. The United Nations involvement in the question dates back to a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, a recommendation by the United Nations Economic and Social Council 4 years later that governments remove capital punishment from the criminal law in the case of crimes to which it was in practice not applied, and a further recommendation in 1971 that the main objective to be pursued is that of progressively reducing the number of offences for which capital punishment might be imposed with a view to the desirability of abolishing this punishment in all countries. A similar affirmation was approved by the United Nations General Assembly.

I understand that the Australian Capital Territory has not carried out the death penalty for some time. So it is certainly one of those penalties which not being applied would well and truly come under the recommendations of the United Nations. I came across a report issued recently in the name of the SecretaryGeneral of the United Nations, Dr Kurt Waldheim. En this report he lists 23 countries, including Britain, that have abolished capital punishment. I understand that Venezuela was the first in 1863, followed by Portugal of all countries 4 years later and the Netherlands in 1870. The report also noted that since the United Nations charter was signed in 1945 only a few countries have abolished the death penalty, but we notice that in those are countries very similar in culture to our own. I refer, in addition to Britain, to Austria, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, Malta, Peru, and among the non-members of the United Nations, West Germany.

Of the 50 States of the United States of America 15 are abolitionist, and of the 32 States and territories of Mexico 29 are abolitionist. Strangely, in Australia 3 of the 6 Australian States and Territories are abolitionist. Gradually the States have been loath to carry out their death sentences upon convicted murderers. Queensland was the first State of Australia to abolish the death penalty. It did so in 1923, after its last hanging in 1913. New South Wales followed in 1955 with its last hanging - I nearly said 'celebrated' - in 1939. Last year the Northern Territory passed an ordinance abolishing the death penalty. So we can see that there have been advances not only internationally but in our own country.

One might ask then what are arguments in favour of the retention of the death penalty. Once again in my reading - this has been quite extensive - I have tried to boil it down to principles. Although specific exemptions have been given - and I understand that is probably the content of the amendments to be moved to this Bill - I find that they can boil down to two, and they are correlated. The first is that the death penalty is a unique deterrent. Secondly and consequently, there is not a suitable alternative. The people who adopt the attitude that it is a unique deterrent have yet to show that it does reduce the incidence of crimes. If we take the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory we find that the number of those imprisoned and sentenced in the Northern Territory is about 17 times that of the Australian Capital Territory although at the time of these comparisons both had retained the death penalty. It is when we consider these comparisons of territories of a similar population but with vastly different cultures and social fabrics that we realise it is not a question of the crime or the circumstances of that crime but that the reasons for crimes go well into the fabric of society. It is here that we should be looking for the causes. Instead of lopping the scab off the sore we should be trying to heal the disease - the cause of crimes.

We find that in those countries which have abolished the death penalty there has been no change in the incidence of crimes caeteris paribus - that is, other things being equal. In fact, probably there has been a marginal decline in the incidence of crime. But still we have the death penalty retentionists telling us that there should be exceptions in the case of the killing of prison officials and politicians. I was fortunate to come across some evidence which would suggest that the retention of the death penalty does not lower the incidence of murder against officials. I am referring to the work carried out by Professor Sellin in the United States who shows that in 265 cities - that is in 11 death-penalty States and 6 abolitionist States - where the police had always been armed, death penalty or not, in the abolitionist States there had been 1.2 fatal attacks on policemen per 100,000 of the population and in the capital punishment States the rate was 1.3. Commenting on this Professor Sellin holds:

The claim that if data could be secured they would show that more police are killed in abolition States than in the capital punishment States is unfounded. On the whole the abolition States appear to have fewer killings, but the differences are small. If this is the argument upon which the police rest their opposition to the abolition of capital punishment, it must be concluded that it lacks any factual basis.

We also find that the retentionists would like to retain the death penalty for such crimes as hijacking, drug trafficking and treason. I must differ with the honourable member for Moreton in regard to treason in respect of which he argued that the death penalty should be maintained. 1 would like to ask him what would have happened to George Washington if America had lost the War of Independence? Would he have been tried for treason? This is the kernel of the argument that the death penalty should be retained for treason. The fact is that it is a highly political matter; it is very vague in its terms and is left entirely to the discretion of the extremists - the John Birches, the nazis, the communists and those of extreme ideologies who would use such vagaries and such interpretations for their own political causes.

So, looking for common principles in these exemptions from the abolition of the death penalty we must ask ourselves why one deterrent should work in some cases and not in others. This is what lies behind the argument. Why should the retention of the death penalty work when it comes to hijacking or treason, drug trafficking or lulling officials but not in other crimes in respect of which they agree that the death penalty should be lifted. For example, in premeditated murder we would find that if the people concerned were conscious of the penalties they would weigh up the chances of being caught. It is very rarely that a criminal of this nature thinks that he will be caught. In other words, the existence of the death penalty is not a deterrent. Of course, we cannot consider that the death ' penalty would act as a deterrent if people were not conscious of it. Most crimes of passion committed in the heat of the moment are those for which most people agree the death penalty should be lifted. Hijacking is a desperation move and usually has its causes in some desperation move due to some political situation. Of course, most people in this House would agree that the death penalty should be lifted for those murders by accident which can usually be dealt with by a sentence for manslaughter.

But I still ask those who would have exemptions why some crimes are more serious than others. It is nothing more than a value judgment and they pit that value judgment against the principle of the sanctity of life. It seems to me in summary that the barbaric penalties of death or flogging are always suggested when a particular crime goes out of proportion and frightens reasoned public opinion or reasoned politicians. It may seem strange to some of my opponents in the debate on the Medical Practice Clarification Bill for me to talk about the sanctity of life so I should like to repeat one of the principles which I enunciated in that debate and which 1 should like to apply to the debate tonight. I was talking in that debate about rights only being as strong as when protected by might - by the State and I said that once a State had conferred that right, it must use its might to protect it from then on. I stated:

The State that can confer the right to life and honour that right without question, such as to the viable foetus, will also honour that right at all times. The obligation is such that the principle be enshrined in law and capital punishment repealed and euthanasia continued to be made illegal. For, once the right to life has been conferred, life should not be taken unless by consent or when it can be proven beyond doubt that the taking of life was essential to protect the equal rights of another. The principle of right to life should not be granted cheaply and unless the right to life can be protected, its consistent application is the greatest legal protection against a government or a society developing a disrespect for all life.

I am arguing that to accept the death penalty is to invoke a disrespect for life.

I should like to summarise by running quickly through the main arguments for the abolition of the death penalty. Firstly, capital punishment and all that surrounds it is degrading and brutalising. It affects not only those who take a direct part in the proceedings, but the whole community. The publicity which accompanies it - there must be publicity if it is to be a deterrent - arouses a morbid sensationalism and lowers the general moral tone of society. Secondly, violence begets violence. Why should we be surprised when individuals solve their problems in a violent way when society solves its problems in a violent way? Thirdly, the act is irremediable and mistakes have been made. Fourthly, it facilitates the development of undesirable - that is, sadistic - drives and emotional states among the population at large. Finally, it allows people to allay their own guilt by enabling them to indulge in a sort of moral orgy of selfrighteousness. This could result in the taking away of attention from the real problem, a denying of any degree of collective responsibility, either for the conditions in society which may have been facilitating factors in the crime situation or for the reform and rehabilitation of the murderer. It is on that argument and for those reasons that I support the abolition of the death penalty in the Australian Capital Territory and territories under the control of the Australian Parliament.

To conclude, there are still those who may think this is an individual stand. But this is a collective stand of this Parliament. It is not a decision which has been taken by an individual in society; it is a decision which must be taken here and now because it is only this Parliament which can decide whether a man should lose his life. That is why I believe that the only right, consistent, collective responsible decision of this Parliament is to support this Bill.







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