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Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Page: 10822


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (16:41): I'm very pleased today to speak on the motion raised by the member for Fowler, which affirms Australia's commitment to the abolition of the death penalty on a global level and also acknowledges the bipartisan position of Australian governments over many years in our continued opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances for all people. I want to take this opportunity to also acknowledge the work that the member for Fowler has done over the course of many years in this place in pursuing this issue.

The death penalty has, as far as I'm concerned, no place in a modern society, and my own personal opposition to it is absolute. It comes from my own profound belief that no human being has the right to take the life of another human being under any circumstances. It is also central to the tenant of our belief—and my belief—in human dignity and the power of forgiveness and mercy. These are values that we have seen expressed also by the broader Australian community. They did so—it was palpable—during the period when we, as a nation and as a parliament, appealed for clemency to be granted to the two Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Also, ten years prior to that, there was the effort put into appealing for clemency for Van Tuong Nguyen, who was executed in Singapore in 2005.

The parliament's opposition to the death penalty, as has been noted by the member for Dunkley and the member for Fowler, is bipartisan. In 2010, this parliament passed laws to ensure Australia's continued prohibition of the death penalty, which were described at the time by the former Attorney-General Senator George Brandis as a joint condemnation of torture and the death penalty.

Over 140 countries have abolished or put in place a moratorium against the death penalty. But many nations, albeit fewer than 40, still impose capital punishment. Amnesty International reports that in 2017 there were at least 933 executions across 23 countries. I also want to welcome, as my colleagues did, the announcement by the Malaysian government on 10 October that it plans to abolish the death penalty and introduce a moratorium on executions immediately. Australia and other like-minded nations have a collective responsibility to advocate for the abolition of capital punishment, and we must do this not just globally but also within our own region. I'm pleased that we actually lead the way. As a parliament we have pursued ways we can advocate for the abolition of the death penalty within our region.

Amnesty International estimates that there were at least 21,919 people on death row at the end of 2017. The death penalty should never be an option. There are a whole lot of reasons it should never be an option. Some of the more obvious ones—and they have been spoken about many times—are the sheer human error in the legal system and deliberate miscarriage of justice, as has been referred to by the member for Dunkley, where governments choose to punish people, especially dissidents. In 2016 Amnesty International found 60 cases where prisoners who had been sentenced to death were subsequently found not guilty. The death penalty cannot be reversed. It is irreversible. There's no compensation great enough to make up for the erroneous loss of a human life. There is no denying that reprehensible conduct must be met with action by our judicial system, but there is no evidence that capital punishment reduces the incidence of crime.

I also want to spend a bit of time congratulating and commending Australian cinemas across our country for screening the film Guilty on World Day Against the Death Penalty. Guilty is a powerful and important film which documents the final 72 hours in the life of Myuran Sukumaran. It shows firsthand the impact that this barbaric practice has on the convicted, the families and the community, but it also shows the tragic waste of life, particularly of a rehabilitated man who made a big mistake when he was a younger man. I want to end with a quote from the director of the film, Mr Matthew Sleeth, who said:

This film was a way to try to do something out of a very traumatic situation for everybody involved …

After living through it and watching the excruciating slowness of it and the intimacy of it and the effect it has on families and the lawyers and anyone else who really came into contact with it, I was completely convinced - even more than I was before - about how wrong the death penalty is.