Speeches

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS; Death Penalty

October 23, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (16:31): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a) that 10 October 2018 was World Day Against the Death Penalty;

(b) the bi-partisan position of Australian governments over many years in their continued opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances for all people and their commitment to pursuing the universal abolition of the death penalty through all avenues available; and

(c) that the theme of the 2018 World Day Against the Death Penalty is to raise awareness of the inhumane living conditions of people sentenced to death;

(2) acknowledges the Australian Government's Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty, which details Australia's reasons for opposing the death penalty because:

(a) it is irrevocable, miscarriages of justice cannot be rectified, and no legal system is safe from error;

(b) it denies any possibility of rehabilitation to the convicted individual;

(c) there is no convincing evidence that it is a more effective deterrent than long term or life imprisonment; and

(d) it is unfair—it is used disproportionately against the poor, people with intellectual or mental disabilities and minority groups; and

(3) notes that on World Day Against the Death Penalty, the Australian film Guilty, which documents the final 72 hours in the life of Myuran Sukumaran, the Bali Nine convicted criminal who, along with Andrew Chan was executed by a firing squad in Indonesia on 29 April 2015, was screened in every state and territory in Australia.

On 10 October we commemorated World Day Against the Death Penalty. On that day, we, as a nation and as members of a concerned international community, reaffirmed our commitment to the pursuit of a world free of the death penalty. On 10 October this year we received the very welcome news that the Malaysian government has decided that it will abolish the death penalty. It's my hope this will encourage other nations in our region to follow suit, reigniting the debate about the relevance and role of capital punishment in today's society.

I hold strong views against the death penalty. To me, capital punishment is the most cruel and inhumane response to crime. My opposition to the capital punishment is universal; it's not only when it involves Australians. It is inevitably associated with the miscarriage of justice, the inadvertent execution of innocents and the disproportionate execution of poor people and those of religious minority groups. The death penalty is also irreversible, and no legal system is free of error. As long as the death penalty exists, innocent people will be killed. In 2016, Amnesty recorded 60 cases where prisoners were sentenced to death but were found to be innocent of the crime with which they were charged.

Most credible research also indicates that capital punishment does not deter crime. In 2009, a survey conducted by the University of Colorado, which remains one of the most authoritative studies conducted on the issue of deterrence, found that 88 per cent of the nation's criminologists did not believe that the death penalty had any value in terms of deterring crime. This finding is borne out by the actual experience in Canada. In Canada, they stopped executing in 1976. The murder rate has in fact fallen by some 44 per cent.

In modern society, I believe we've got the adequate means to punish people for the crimes they commit, but I also believe we have a process to assist people with genuine rehabilitation. The international community has come a long way towards abolishing capital punishment. Recent statistics from Amnesty reveal that 142 countries now have abolished the death penalty, and that compares to only 16 back in 1977. Unfortunately, there remain 56 countries which actively retain the death penalty.

Australia can be very proud of its longstanding and principled opposition to capital punishment and its support for the work of the United Nations on abolition. Most recently, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Australia pledged to continue its strong commitment to the global abolition of the death penalty. I'm pleased that the Australian government has recently released its whole-of-government strategy outlining Australia's overarching approach to pursuing global abolition of the death penalty. The strategy implements one of the main recommendations of the report compiled by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade entitled A world without the death penalty. The strategy focuses on bilateral and multilateral advocacy, engagement with civil society organisations, support for research in the field, the need to strengthen the safeguards currently in place to prevent exposing people to the death penalty and the role that various government agencies can play as part of this advocacy. Simply put, we have a responsibility to continue to use our various platforms to support, inspire and encourage other nations to move towards abolition.

Digressing slightly, we should spare a thought for the people of the Philippines, where the death penalty does not exist at the moment but where the rule of law has now been set aside by their government, which has granted police impunity, effectively giving them a licence to kill based on mere suspicion without any judicial oversight. I conclude with the words of the former Chief Justice of South African Constitutional Court, Ismail Mahomed:

The death penalty sanctions the deliberate annihilation of life …

It is the ultimate and the most incomparably extreme form of punishment … It is the last, the most devastating and the most irreversible recourse of the criminal law, involving as it necessarily does, the planned and calculated termination of life itself; the destruction of the greatest and most precious gift which is bestowed on all humankind.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Wicks ): Is there a seconder for this motion?

Photo of MPMs Vamvakinou: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

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