Page 4230 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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abhorrence of the death penalty at a time when, I think it has to be said, there are some patches beginning to appear in the blanket opposition to capital punishment that has been Australia’s national position for more than 30 years now. We focus on this issue today, as we have in recent times, as a result of the approaching and imminent hanging of an Australian citizen, Van Nguyen, in Singapore. This has focused our minds on the barbarity of the death penalty. The fact that an Australian, Van Nguyen, is facing death in Singapore focuses more generally on what might be described as a creeping complacence about the subject of Australia’s commitment of opposition to the death penalty.

In that context, we reflect on Australia’s proud record as one of the first nations to ratify the 1991 second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is on the basis of that proud record of this nation’s opposition to the death penalty that we need to express some concern about utterances in recent times by prominent figures, including the Prime Minister of Australia.

As I have previously indicated, I concede that, along with the Prime Minister of Australia and the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, significant leaders from within the Labor Party, both federal and state, have done less than condemn the death penalty that is being applied to terrorists, certainly within Bali. They have been less than willing to condemn the death penalty, for instance and most specifically, for terrorists where the death penalty is being carried out in accordance with another country’s domestic law, as if that somehow provides an escape for those who within Australia express their abhorrence of and opposition to the death penalty as it applies to Australians in Australia but have been less than assertive, and indeed somewhat equivocal, in relation to the application of the death penalty to non-Australians in places other than Australia.

Now that an Australian faces death in Singapore and a number of young Australian are being prosecuted for offences which carry the death penalty, we see again the equivocation in respect of the inconsistent separation that some have made between the application of the death penalty in Australia as it applies to Australians and the possibility of the death penalty applying to non-Australians in places outside Australia as opposed to Australians in places outside Australia. This shows the extent to which any equivocation on this issues does weaken one’s moral capacity to argue and to argue with vigour and force at any time around the death penalty.

It is instructive that neither the International Criminal Court not the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda provided for the death penalty even for the most serious crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In the context of that precedent and background it is vitally important that we do not use the so-called war on terror as an excuse to weaken our principled opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances, wherever it occurs in the world and no matter how heinous the crime committed by the offender.

That is certainly the attitude that the ACT government has adopted in relation to refusing to assist the Chinese investigation and possible prosecution of a person detained in China for the alleged murder of a Chinese national within Canberra. We, the ACT government, will not provide assistance in the prosecution of the person detained in China for that alleged offence without a clear, unequivocal and written statement and undertaking by the Chinese government that if that person is prosecuted, and if evidence provided by the

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