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Thursday, 9 March 1972
Page: 673


Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - I am persuaded to enter this debate in relation to the amendment only because of! what Senator Wood has said I think he diverted attention from the amendment which is before the Chair to the general principle which was decided on during the debate on the second reading. I do not think it is emotional to draw the attention of the Committee to statistical facts, I accept Senator Hannan's figures because I have no knowledge of what has happened in other countries which have tried what we are proposing here. J.t is understandable that those statistics would be as they are because if a man has committed a particularly violent crime such as armed robbery and has wounded somebody. Tn the course of that crime, when the police are endeavouring to apprehend him he is probably already up for a life sentence. What more has he to lose by shooting down a policeman in an effort to escape? The policemen are the representatives of society. I do not think we can ignore the statistical fact that one country faces great difficulty because of a huge leap in the percentage of crimes of this character - the murder of policemen. We have argued that the death penally is not a deterrent; that it is an act of vengeance in this case. Bui here we see a specific set of circumstances in which perhaps the threat of the death penalty is a deterrent. Do we owe more to the criminal than we do to those in our society who have to do the unpleasant jobs on our behalf? 1 think of the warder in the gaol who is charged with the incarceration of a murderer already under a life sentence for murder. If that prisoner murders the warder there is little that can be done to increase his sentence. He may be put on bread and water but then we get back to torture, which is something that none of us agrees with these days. I wonder whether the death penalty could not be considered as a further punishment which would act as a deterrent in those circumstances. I would like somebody to produce other figures to show me that that would not be so. To my mind there is a faint hope that the death penalty would act as a deterrent in those circumstances. If it did, whatever may be my beliefs about the taking of human life in the circumstances that we have discussed here tonight - and I voted for the second reading of this Bill - we owe it to those people to whom we give such tasks on behalf of society to hold on to any deterrent whatsoever. In the fina) analysis their lives are more precious than those whose lives we threaten to take if they go to the extreme of murdering a policeman or a warder acting in the course of duty.

As our law stands even today, we still make the final decision on the degree of the crime. I disagree with the argument that we should not discuss the degree of the crime. It is impossible not to keep in mind at all times that there are degrees of crime and degrees of responsibility. One man may commit a particularly atrocious sex murder and be found not guilty of murder' because he is not responsible for his action. Society once may have considered him to be responsible but we have progressed and we recognise that there are degrees of crime which must be taken into consideration at all times when deciding punishment. This does not mean that if we retain the death penalty a man who kills a policeman at the moment of committing a crime, without really intending to kill the policeman, necessarily will be subject to the extreme penalty at all. But if he killed a policeman in the circumstances I outlined earlier - that is while he was endeavouring to escape from the responsibility for a crime already committed - if he was prepared to kill callously because he knew that no further retribution could be made against him, I think that is a different degree and I would be happy to leave it for our courts to determine, as we. do today. The courts make the final decision on degree and they deal with the final appeals if necessary.


Senator Gair - If he did not intend to kill he would not be armed.


Senator LITTLE - That is an oversimplification. That is not necessarily the case at all. In the past we have exacted the death penalty on people who have been with people who were armed and killed somebody in. the process of a robbery, lt mav be that in the mind of one person the arms were to be used merely as a threat in order to get whatever they were after. That person may never have dreamed of meeting a policeman who would be in a position of resisting the threat. That illustrates the point 1 am trying to make. Degrees of responsibility have to be considered. We have procedures in our courts and there is a final appeal to the representatives of the Crown. That virtually means there is an appeal to the parliaments of this country. At this point of time I see no harm in retaining the death penalty as a further deterrent against crimes of the type 1 outlined.

It would be much better to retain the death penalty for a period in order to see the effect of the advances that we propose in the form of the abolition of capital punishment in specific fields. Then we could take the final steps. It would be much better to progress in that way than to do what Canada apparently had to do. I wonder how many honourable senators who spoke quite sincerely in this debate, as did my colleague Senator Byrne, would still be prepared to vote against the reinstitution of the death penalty if they were faced with the statistical evidence that seems to be building up in England. To reinstitute the death penalty would be a greater step backward than to do what the amendment suggests, that is, to retain the right to exact the extreme penalty in circumstances such as those I outlined. In my opinion we should have that further deterrent to stop that type of crime from increasing and to protect the people whom we charge with the responsibility of maintaining law and order.







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