Death to the Death Penalty

The story of the 9 Australians arrested for heroin smuggling in Indonesia has brought the reality of the death penalty to the fore. The accused should be assumed to be innocent until their trials are finished, but it has to be said the evidence presented in the media to date doesn’t look good.

I am very strongly opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances and I get very frustrated at the unwillingness of our political leaders to do more to highlight its inherent barbarity. It is true that the drug trade also has its barbaric aspects and consequences, and this should also be affirmed, but one wrong should not be used to obscure another.

Australia’s police officers and other officials should participate wherever possible in assisting law enforcement activities in other countries, but we should seek to make our involvement conditional on it not leading to people being subjected to the death penalty. I realise there are practical problems with fully implementing this, but that is no reason not to try to implement the general principle.

I guess I should be thankful that we do not (at the moment) have politicians in Australia willing to score political points at the cost of other people’s lives by promoting the death penalty. However, even though the last state-sponsored execution in Australia was back in 1967, many of our political leaders, while not supporting a return of capital punishment, clearly have few qualms about it being carried out elsewhere and are not interested at all in trying to promote the wider abolition of the death penalty.

It is easy to turn a blind eye to the possible consequence of a death sentence when objectionable crimes like heroin smuggling, murder and terrorism are involved. But it is precisely with these unpopular cases that political leaders should take a firm position. Principles are easy to defend when they are popular, but if you don’t defend them when it is unpopular, they will inevitably be watered down.

I copped a lot of flack when I spoke out against the death sentence given to the Bali bombers in 2003, but it is precisely at these sorts of times that the principle of abolishing capital punishment needs to be reaffirmed. The gutless squibbing of the issue by John Howard and Simon Crean at that time is mirrored by the responses of Mr Howard and Mr Beazley to the potential of the death sentence being applied in the current situation as a direct result of the actions of Australian police. Indeed, as a party to the second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Australian government has an obligation to work with other countries towards the international abolition of the death penalty, something they refused to acknowledge when challenged on this in the Senate. Of course it is true to say that the sovereignty of other countries should be respected and their laws should be determined by their own Governments, but that should not be used as an excuse to be blind to the consequences or to avoid making valid criticisms.

This reluctance to strongly support the abolition of capital punishment and speak out against its inherent barbarity also puts Australian lives at risk. Schapelle Corby has endured the spectre of execution in Bali for many weeks, other Australians currently face the death sentence in other south-east Asian countries, and it is clearly on the cards for some of the 9 people recently arrested in Indonesia.

Our Government cannot credibly ask for Australian citizens to be spared the death penalty in overseas countries if we indicate we have no concerns with such a sentence being carried out on others. Our Government obviously has a higher responsibility to protect the interests of Australians but that should not be mistaken for taking a view that other lives are of lesser value.

According to Amnesty International, the country that deliberately kills the most people through its ‘justice’ system is China, the very country John Howard has just visited in his efforts to explore further trade opportunities. I’m all for building trade opportunities, but not at the cost of turning a blind eye to major human rights abuses. This is particularly so with China. Apart from its record with executions, its oppression in Tibet, its persecution of Falun Gong, there is a fair amount of evidence that the ‘competitive’ economic position of this Communist regime is at least partly built on the grotesque exploitation of millions of its own people.

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  1. Why is advocating the death penalty about scoring cheap poliical points?
    According to many opinion polls a very large number of Australians support the death penalty. Why should their views not be represented in parliament?
    What ever happened to Democrat Consititutional Reform Policy as balloted 1 July 2001 – ‘…ensuring that the people are the rulers and not the ruled.’

  2. I applaud you Senator Bartlett on your stance and agree with everything you say.
    I visited Schapelle a few weeks ago, and the thought of her being put to death, especially as there is so much doubt about her case is nauseating.
    If you are interested in reading about my visit and experiences with the Indonesian courts it’s all on my blog.

  3. Tom, if you feel the death penalty should be reinstated, go start a political party and advocate for it. Nobody’s stopping you.
    But the point is that both major parties have a long-standing policy of opposing the death penalty – except when they don’t, because a certain section the Australian populace wanted revenge for the heinous Bali bombings and wasn’t in the mood to be thinking about the consequences. Now witness a bunch of young Australians who have allegedly committed serious crimes, but ones that very few Australians would advocate the death penalty for.
    Because of Howard, Crean and Beazley’s gutlessness, the moral weight of any push for clemancy has been seriously dented; I can just imagine that in certain sections of Indonesian society some people will take great delight in pointing out the hypocrisy of the white heathens to the south. And they’ll be right.

  4. Tom
    You are right that it is possible to support the death penalty without automatically being engaged in political point scoring. I could have been a bit more precise in my choice of words, but I was intending to say that we thankfully do not have people in Australia who are willing to campaign on supporting the death penalty purely for political advantage – as clearly occurs in the USA.
    A calculated decision by a political leader to play the “death penalty card” would be as damaging to society and to the targetted individuals and their families as a calculated decision to play the “race card” has been in the past.

  5. It is so refreshing to find another who shares the same views as I have on the death penalty.
    I’ve come across very few people who are not selectively for or opposed to it. In my opinion it should never be used. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
    People might think I’m totally nuts, but so what if person is convicted of a heinous crime. Does that give anyone else the right to take their life?
    I’m afraid I don’t care what someone has done. Even if the victims were my own loved ones, I still very much doubt that I would call for the death penalty, and no way could I administer it.

  6. Here here indeed.
    I thought that the end of the 20th century would have ended the barbaric practice of the death penalty. Obviously I was wrong.
    As long as “civilised” countries like the US have it, then it justifies “less civilised” countries having it.

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