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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11982


Ms PARKE (9:35 PM) —Why is it that blank bullets are distributed among the Indonesian firing squad, leaving each member of the squad with the hope that it was not their bullet that exploded the heart of the condemned tied to a stake? Why is it that, when dealing with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that killed over 800,000 people or the Srebenica massacre of 1995 in which 8,000 men and boys were killed—which was just one incident in the course of the war in the Balkans—or the conflict in Darfur in which it is estimated that at least 300,000 people have been killed since 2003, the international tribunals responsible for ensuring that the perpetrators of these massive atrocities are brought to justice have all forsworn the death penalty? Why is it that an increasing number of countries are abolishing the death penalty or never using it? It is contrary to our shared human values of respect for life for the state to plan and calculate the termination of life regardless of the nature of the crime or the nationality of the perpetrator. Amnesty International describes the death penalty as:

... the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights ... created by a system riddled with economic and racial bias and tainted by human error.

The death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment, as described by Geoffrey Robertson QC:

The brooding horror of contemplating one’s own death, alternating between hope and despair over a period of years, in a specially sterile environment and in the company of other men who are also liable to be taken out and executed, creates what the European Court describes as a ‘death row phenomenon’—a trauma which exceeds the severity threshold imposed by human rights law.

As it is irrevocable once carried out, the death penalty cannot allow for mistakes in law or fact to be corrected. So many innocent people have been executed over the centuries. The death penalty is often applied to offences in one country or time that would not attract the death penalty in another country or time—so many different standards depending on geography and generation.

The death penalty is often applied to one person and not applied to another in identical circumstances. The arbitrariness in such discrimination is terrifying. As observed by Father Frank Brennan in the Age newspaper on 30 July 2008:

Scott Rush does not deserve to die. He did not commit the worst of offences. He has been arbitrarily singled out for the death sentence by the Indonesian courts with his three accomplice drug mules having been given life sentences or 20 years imprisonment. His criminal act, if successfully executed, would have caused direct harm in Australia rather than in Indonesia. Our courts would probably have imposed a 10 year sentence with a minimum of five years to serve.

While the death penalty as a deterrent is often cited by governments as a principal tool in the fight against terrorism or drug trafficking, it has never been demonstrated to deter crime more effectively than other forms of punishment. And the death penalty does not allow for the possibility of redemption. People often make mistakes or wrong choices in life, especially young people, but where the death penalty applies they cannot live to regret their mistakes or make it up to society for the wrong choices they have made. This is why as Australia celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December it is important to focus on the pre-eminent human right—the right to life.

Today Colin McDonald QC and John North, solicitor, visited the parliament. They are the lawyers for Scott Rush, one of the young Australians in the death tower in Indonesia. They spoke of several practical measures the Australian government could take. Firstly, as a signatory to the UN’s Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is aimed at the universal abolition of the death penalty, Australia should legislate to incorporate its international undertakings into domestic law. They said, ‘This would prevent any government in Australia in the future from reintroducing the death penalty, and it would ensure that the exposure of an Australian citizen to the death penalty would be a relevant consideration in administrative decision making.’

Secondly, the government should ensure that the Australian Federal Police will not intentionally and predictably expose Australian citizens to the death penalty in AFP operations, including in informal cooperation with foreign law enforcement agencies. Further, Australian political leaders should speak out against the death penalty in all cases. Australia will this year cosponsor a resolution in the UN General Assembly seeking a global moratorium on capital punishment, as it has done in previous years. We could also forge a regional understanding whereby citizens from abolitionist countries can have their death sentences commuted.

Finally, we can seek to advance the recommendations of the Indonesian constitutional court on 30 October 2007 in paragraph 3.26 of the majority reasoning in the official English translation, in particular subparagraph (b), which says that the death penalty should be able to be imposed with a probation period of 10 years so that, in a case where a prisoner shows good behaviour, it can be amended to a life-long sentence or imprisonment for 20 years. To stand for life and human dignity and to eschew violent retribution, even when one has the power to carry it out, is the mark of civilisation. (Time expired)