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Monday, 2 March 2015
Page: 1801


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (17:30): I rise to speak on the plight of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. These young men face the death penalty for drug crimes they committed in Indonesia. Whatever way you look at their circumstances, you will see nothing but tragedy—tragedy for them, tragedy for their families, tragedy for the victims of the drug trade both here and in Indonesia, and tragedy for the trauma these circumstances bring to both our nations.

I do not envy the position of Indonesian President Joko Widodo in trying to safeguard his people from the dangers of the national drug emergency his country faces. To get some perspective on the size of the problem, President Widodo has said that some 4.5 million Indonesians need to be rehabilitated due to their illicit or illegal drug use and that 40 to 50 young people die each day due to the same cause. To those who dispute the accuracy of these figures, I say this: the gravity of the real issues at play here are not served by anyone being pedantic about numerical projections.

President Widodo has a responsibility to the people of Indonesia to them keep the safe. And indeed, we should expect nothing less from him as an honourable and well-intentioned man. It is also clearly a responsibility that he cares about very deeply. To the extent that there is even one death resulting from the illicit and evil drug trade, either in Indonesia or in Australia then it is one death too many. I share his concern and distress at this meaningless loss of life. It is this point that I believe is most important in our consideration of this issue—applying the death penalty to these two men just adds to the trail of death and human misery caused by drugs.

I am most heartened to hear that this view appears to also be shared by President Widodo's close friend, the current Governor of Jakarta, Governor Purnama. Governor Purnama was reported on Saturday, during a visit to the Pondok Bambu Prison in east Jakarta, as saying that he was against the death penalty for drug traffickers because they can change and they can be rehabilitated. The specific quote from Governor Purnama as reported in the Indonesian Kompas is: 'I do not agree with the death sentence. They have the opportunity to be a better person.' I could not agree more with this statement. Who among us has not made a mistake? Who among us would not want to make amends for the hurts we have caused others?

It is universally acknowledged that Andrew and Myuran have reformed. Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Julie Bishop, has highlighted this fact many, many times. Andrew and Myuran have both acknowledged their crimes and, as part of their commitment to making amends, have reformed not just themselves but also others in prison through a series of rehabilitation programs they have set up inside Kerobokan jail in Bali.

The questions that come to mind most for me when I consider these horrible circumstances not just for Andrew and Myuran but for anyone on death row anywhere in the world are these. What possible good comes from killing these two men? What does killing them actually achieve? What message does it send to anyone who seeks to rehabilitate themselves?

The answers to these questions all highlight the fact that punishment by death is not a path to a better outcome in Indonesia, here or anywhere for that matter.

Throughout history there have been three main justifications for imposing the death penalty: deterrence; the prevention of re-offending; and closure and vindication. There is no statistical evidence that deterrence through death works, in the same way that there is no meaningful evidence of whether the death penalty deters more than life imprisonment; but, in considering the justification of deterrence, I invite everyone to consider the ridiculous contradiction that taking a life will actually save others. In terms of preventing re-offending, it is undeniable that those who are executed cannot commit further crimes; but, when we consider the value of human life, I cannot support a view that this is sufficient justification for taking life. It is often said that where there is life there is hope. And to this end, we should all consider that there are other ways to ensure that offenders do not re-offend—such as imprisonment for life, without the possibility of parole. We should also be mindful of the hope for rehabilitation and that if just one life can be redeemed in this way then we have made the right choice—life over death.

In terms of justifying killing on the grounds of achieving closure and vindication, it is often argued that the death penalty provides closure for victims' families. But I see this is a weak argument as every family reacts differently. Some people recognise the simple truth that seeking death through vengeance to right a wrong does not provide closure; it only provides more pain. If we are to take a view of the sanctity of life based on humanism, then I ask: how is it that any of us can determine whether it is the value of the life of the victim or the life of the accused that is worth more? Should a desire for retribution determine what is a just punishment? And should not governments defend the sanctity of life equally? My answer to these questions respectively is no and yes, and it is clearly a view that is supported by the Indonesian government when it rightly pleads for the lives of its own citizens on death row for crimes committed in other parts of the world.

In pleading for the lives of Andrew and Myuran, I, like many others, ask for nothing more than what Indonesia asks for its people in the same circumstances. On 12 February this year, His Excellency Ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema appeared before the Human Rights Subcommittee of this parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. It was a sombre and very emotional meeting, and I want to thank His Excellency Ambassador Kesoema for his sensitivity and understanding. He is an honourable man. An issue that came to mind for me following that meeting was that, for all the strengths that our two nations have, surely in seeking to secure the safety of our people from the scourge of drugs there must be a better way to save them from such deaths than to actually extend the cycle of death by killing the accused. To this end, I would like to support the statement of Minster Bishop and say that the delay in the plans to execute Andrew and Myuran has been a relief to the two men and their families.

The Australian government will continue to engage with Indonesia to advocate for a permanent stay of execution. It is clear that Andrew and Myuran are reformed men who are making a positive difference to the lives of their fellow prisoners and to Indonesia. The Australian government asks President Widodo to show mercy and forgiveness to Andrew and Myuran. And I add my voice in making this plea to President Widodo as a generous and forgiving man to see the remarkable difference these young men have made in prison.

Mercy has just as big a place in the Indonesian concept of justice as it does in Australia. In seeking mercy for these two young men, Australia is only doing what Indonesia does for its citizens on death row overseas. I end with a quote from a great humanist who, as a young officer in the British Army in World War I, saw too many needless deaths in the trenches in the Somme—we all know him as John Ronald Reuel Tolkien:

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.