Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Adjournment - Death Penalty, Mr Luke Cook

October 25, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (19:50):

On 10 October we commemorated World Day Against the Death Penalty. On that day we as a nation and concerned members of the international community reaffirmed our commitment to the ultimate pursuit of a world free of the death penalty. As I've expressed in this place on many occasions, I believe capital punishment is the cruellest and most inhumane response to crime. My opposition to capital punishment is universal, and it's not just when Australian lives are at stake.

The death penalty is invariably associated with the miscarriage of justice, the inevitable consequence being the execution of innocents and the disproportionate execution of the poor and of ethnic and religious minorities. Clearly, no legal system is free of error, but the death penalty is irreversible. As long as the death penalty exists innocent people will be executed. To this end, I'd like to draw the attention of the House to a very significant outcome that was reached only last month with respect to an Australian national, Mr Luke Cook. Mr Cook was arrested and sentenced to death in Thailand after being convicted of drug related crimes. On appeal, Mr Cook fortunately not only escaped the death penalty but also had all charges against him withdrawn. Mr Cook, happily, now has returned to Australia. I'm pleased to have worked on Mr Cook's matter together with Senator Dean Smith, my fellow Co-chair of Australian Parliamentarians Against the Death Penalty, engaging all diplomatic efforts to reach a positive outcome in this case. I specifically want to also acknowledge the tremendous work of the Capital Punishment Justice Project, and in particular acknowledge the commitment and dedication of Australian lawyers Simone Abel, Sarah Kowal and Stephen Keim SC. They were instrumental in providing effective legal representation of Mr Cook and in preparing an amicus brief to assist the court, which certainly provided a determining factor in this matter.

The Capital Punishment Justice Project undertakes significant work in promoting the worldwide abolition of the death penalty and in supporting pro bono work, ensuring the effective legal representation and just outcomes for those individuals facing the death penalty. As was evident in Mr Cook's case, effective legal representation is crucial for a successful outcome, an outcome of life and death, which we now know in his case could have gone the wrong way, and an innocent man would have been executed. I also take this opportunity to thank the Australian Ambassador to Thailand, Mr Allan McKinnon, and his team for the support they gave to Mr Cook over his four-year ordeal.

I particularly thank the ambassador for his timely intervention in the days leading up to Mr Cook's appeal.

Not only is there room for mistakes in cases involving the death penalty, I've got to say that the most credible research also indicates that capital punishment does not deter crime. I believe that in a modern society like ours there are adequate means to punish offenders for their crimes, but there is also the ability to assist people with their rehabilitation. The international community has a long way to go towards the abolition of the death penalty, although recent statistics show significant improvement. They show that 144 countries have now abolished the death penalty, as compared to only 16 in 1977. Unfortunately, that leaves 55 countries which are actively deploying the death penalty.

Australia can be proud of its longstanding and principled opposition to capital punishment, including our whole-of-government strategy in pursuing the global abolition of the death penalty. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to continue to use our various platforms to encourage, inspire and support other nations in their move towards abolition. After all, we have a responsibility to work towards justice and the advancement of human rights, and this includes the most important right of all: the right to life itself.

I conclude with the profound words of a former Chief Justice of the South African Constitutional Court, Ismail Mahomed:

The death penalty sanctions the deliberate annihilation of life. As I have previously said:

"it is the ultimate and the most incomparably extreme form of punishment … involving … the planned and calculated termination of life itself; the destruction of the greatest and most precious gift which is bestowed on all humankind".

I remain inspired by these words, and I am proud to be associated with the Capital Punishment Justice Project.