World Day Against the Death Penalty

  • October 25, 2016

World Day Against the Death Penalty – Motion in the Australian Parliament.

I move the motion relating to the international day against the death penalty in the terms of which it appears on the notice paper

Mr Deputy Speaker,

“There is no place for the death penalty in the modern world. State execution is a barbaric act that demeans the State that carries it out…..  Not only does an eye for an eye leave the world blind.”

These were the opening words used by the former Member for Berowra, Philip Ruddock in his forward to the parliamentary committee report on the death penalty .

It is appropriate that this new Parliament commences with a recognition that Australia remains steadfast in its opposition to the death penalty for all crimes, in all nations, and that that cause enjoys bipartisan support.

Last week many of us joined together to mark World Day Against the Death Penalty. I acknowledge the work of Amnesty International in bringing many of us together to reflect on the world’s progress but also on the challenges that lie ahead.

International efforts, led by organisations like Amnesty to end the use of the death penalty have overall been incredibly successful.

As this resolution notes, forty years ago only 16 countries – including Australia – had abolished the death penalty. Today capital punishment has been abolished in law or practice in 140 nations.

Last year four more nations joined the list of those abolishing the death penalty for all crimes: Fiji, Madagascar, the Republic of Congo and Suriname.

Yet like many things, progress has been marked by two steps forward and one step back.

One the other side of the ledger, 2015 was a year that saw 1634 people executed in 25 countries. Nine of those executions involved people convicted while under the age of 18.

This represents a 50 per cent increase over the number of executions undertaken in 2014.

These figures do not include the many hundreds, if not thousands of executions that are believed to have been conducted in China but go unreported.

Nor do the figures include extra-judicial killings such as those that appear to be occurring with state sanction in the Philippines today.

And around the world over 20,000 people remain on death row, many of them destined to lethal injection, beheading, flogging or firing squad.

Mr Deputy Speaker, My opposition to the death penalty is fundamentally born from the liberal values that have shaped my involvement in politics.

It is axiomatic that any person who believes in the inate value of every individual should hold dear, at the apex of human rights the value of human life itself.

In opposing the death penalty we recognise that to strip the dignity of one person by the hands of the law, is to strip every person of their dignity.

It has been almost 50 years since Ronald Ryan became the last man to be executed in Australia.

In abolishing capital punishment, our nation understood that violence does not remedy violence.

This alone is enough for me to oppose the death penalty.

Yet there are more temporal reasons to judge capital punishment as unworthy of any nation’s legal system.

By its nature, it excludes the possibility of redemption, so often has taken the lives of those subsequently found to be innocent, often involves incredible cruelty and has no proven value as a deterrent.

In many countries people are killed following judicial processes that are wanting.

Often they are the result of crimes that by any measure do not warrant the forfeiture of life itself.

In some cases minors – just teenagers – and those with mental illness are executed.

In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in the United States for setting a fire that led to the death of his three young daughters. Further evidence showed he was innocent.

In 2006, Angel Nieves Diaz was sentenced to lethal injection. It took 34 minutes and two doses to kill the man.

In Iran, hangings are often public, with children and the general public as onlookers with some aged as young as 15 sitting on death row.

The right to life are founded on universal values not insulated to our shores.

Just as we opposed the death penalty within Australian jurisdiction, we have an obligation as parliamentarians to support an end to the death penalty wherever it is used.

In a time of international cooperation and global policing arrangements, Australia must be steadfast in its principles, and act as a leader to end the death penalty worldwide.

I am pleased that this is an issue that has been a priority for the Australian government for many years.

We have been a co-sponsor of the UN General Assembly’s moratorium on the death penalty which was successfully adopted in 2014 with the support of 117 nations and are seeking to so again.

Mr Deputy Speaker, In the months and days before two Australians were executed by an Indonesian firing squad on 29 April 2015, our community was united in pleading and praying for mercy for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

The fate of those two Australians reminded us all in a deeply personal way as we witnessed the distress of their families as they waited for their sons and brothers to be taken through the actions of the Indonesian legal system.

We stood as a country, knowing that violence does not end violence. Knowing that the value of life trumps all. Knowing that our civilisation values rehabilitation and justice, not retribution.

We understand that the strength of our society comes not from our capacity to harm, but our courage to help and build.

I commend the motion to the House.