Page 4206 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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There are many examples, of course, of miscarriages of justice that have resulted in people being executed. The United States has an abundance of examples and, fortunately, we are seeing a decline in the number of people who are being executed. But one is too many. At the end of last year, there were 3,315 people on state and federal death rows, 63 fewer than in 2003, and last year there were 125 people in America sentenced to death. Thankfully at least, it is fewer than in 1973 but it is still an unacceptable state of affairs. Twelve states executed 59 prisoners in 2004, six fewer than in 2003. As you will see from statistics, Texas leads the way with their enthusiasm for this solution to crime.

All of Australia has inherited what is English law from the early 19th century, which provided the death penalty then for some 250 offences ranging from robbing a rabbit warren to cutting down a tree, as well as theft and, of course, murder. We saw an incredible number of examples of people being executed between 1830 and 1839. There are numerous studies that have demonstrated that there is no correlation between those jurisdictions that favour the death penalty and reductions in murder and crime. Indeed, the United States is a classic illustration of where there have been massive numbers of murders, and they are particularly prevalent in those states that advocate the death penalty.

I understand that at about this time this week the US Catholic bishops are poised to issue, and may even be in the process now of issuing, a very strong statement advocating the end of the US death penalty. The draft statement for the US conference of Catholic bishops calls for an end to the death penalty, which contributes to a cycle of violence in our society that must be broken. This campaign, which is proposed in the United States, certainly echoes the position of the late Pope John Paul II on the death penalty. It is an illusion that we can protect life by taking life. When the state, in our names and with our taxes, ends a human life, despite having non-lethal alternatives, it suggests that society can overcome violence with violence. Clearly, civilized people should not resort to capital punishment as a solution.

I support the sentiment contained in Ms MacDonald’s motion and hope it will enjoy the complete support of all members of this Assembly.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo) (12.16): I voice my support also for the sentiment behind this motion. I am personally opposed to the death penalty. I am opposed to it for any reason and in any circumstance. I believe that the principle that we need to uphold in our society is the protection of human life. I believe the only circumstance where the taking of human life is justified is in self-defence or in the defence of others. The death penalty, for me, clearly does not fall within that category. I consistently believe that we need to protect life at all stages. As a society, if we give away that principle in any aspect or for any class of people, we do ourselves a disservice and fail the people we are elected to represent and the people we are elected to protect.

I guess my opposition to the death penalty comes from a number of factors. The overarching principle is that we should protect human life. I do not see how putting a convicted murderer, drug trafficker or someone convicted of any other offence seeks to protect human life.

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