Page 4205 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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There has been a deal of work done on this topic, and I will draw from some of those. A paper was recently presented by Mr A J Glynn SC to the LawAsia conference in March this year under the heading—and this is quite topical—“Death penalty: to execute one terrorist is to reward terrorism”. There will be those who argue that the death penalty must be reintroduced as a deterrent or an appropriate form of just desserts. And there will be others, particularly in politics, who may wish to capitalise on the public’s apparent fear of terrorism and reintroduce capital punishment. There can be no case whatsoever to justify the introduction of capital punishment or the use of capital punishment in the war on terror. This is not a solution.

I was, in fact, the only member of this Assembly who had the opportunity to hear Geoffrey Robertson QC speak at a dinner recently organised by the parliamentary Amnesty group at the federal parliament where he canvassed the issues of war criminals and particularly speculated on what might be advocated in the case of the former ruler of Iraq. He very soundly pointed out the ill-advised course advocated by some parties towards the use of capital punishment should he be convicted of those crimes. There is no case for matching the removal of one life by taking another.

I am very pleased that Australia moved on from this era—it completely abolished the death penalty in 1985—with the last hanging in 1967. Regrettably, many countries in South East Asia and greater Asia have retained the death penalty for a variety of crimes.

Mr Smyth spoke of the Ronald Ryan case. As members would be aware, I had the privilege of working for, in my view, one of Australia’s greatest premiers of all time, Rupert Hamer, who in fact was the Premier who moved to get rid of the death penalty in Victoria. Hamer was a visionary. He was a classic Liberal in the Deakin Victorian mould and demonstrated great capacity to lead, to run a sound economy but also to display compassion in his style of government. He is a model for any state politician or territory politician to which to aspire.

Ryan was convicted by the Supreme Court of Victoria in March 1966 for the murder of a prison guard during a prison breakout. Mr Smyth talked about new evidence on ballistics that has raised some doubts about it. I am not sure whether members are aware but, in 1986, a former prison guard Douglas Pascoe confessed, on national television, to firing at the now deceased Ronald Ryan during the escape, apparently believing he may have accidentally killed the prison guard. He did not say anything at the time as he feared he would be in trouble. He was 23 years of age at the time of the shooting and stated:

What I do know is that had I not been such a devout coward, had I mentioned the fact I had fired a shot from the tower in the direction of the escape, there is no way they would have hanged Ryan.

Pascoe also thought that Ryan’s death sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment as there had not been an execution in Victoria since 1951. Some of the jurors came forth and stated they would not have convicted Ryan of murder had they known that he would in fact be executed. As I have said, Hamer abolished the death penalty in 1975. Capital punishment has been abolished in all states and territories for many years and was abolished federally in 1973.

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