Page 4231 - Week 13 - Wednesday, 16 November 2005

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ACT government is utilised, the death penalty will not apply. In the absence of that undertaking, the ACT government will not cooperate in the provision of evidence that would lead to that possibility.

Further—and I think this is at the heart of some of the concern some of us have felt in the last year or two in relation to the extent of the commitment of Australia in its opposition to the death penalty—we must not give the impression that we are happy to export the death penalty or happy for other nations to carry out this most inhumane and irreversible punishment. If we are seen to be prepared to export the death penalty, it makes it almost impossible for us to advocate on behalf of our own citizens facing the death penalty in foreign jails, as Mr Van Nguyen is at the moment. Unless we oppose the death penalty as an assault on the most fundamental of human rights, we as a nation cannot effectively claim those rights for our own citizens in the position of Mr Van Nguyen beyond our borders.

I conclude with a couple of remarks of others who have engaged in this debate over the years. George Orwell, writing in 1944, observed that no commentator, no-one who had ever watched an actual execution, whether it be Plato, Byron, Bennett, Thackeray or Walpole, ever wrote about the event with approval. George Orwell said that the dominant note of all those commentators across the centuries, across the millennia, was always one of horror. Recalling his own experience, George Orwell, in watching a man hanged, said there was no question that everybody concerned knew the hanging to be a dreadful, unnatural action.

Dr Philip Opas QC, the barrister who defended Ronald Ryan and later campaigned against the death penalty, said:

… our emotions may cry for vengeance in the wake of a horrible crime but we know that killing the criminal cannot undo the crime, will not prevent similar crimes, doesn’t benefit the victim, destroys human life and brutalises society. If we are to still violence, we must cherish life.

I think it is important—and I again thank Ms MacDonald for the motion—that Australians, parliamentarians, people in positions of influence and authority within Australia, need to restate in this way vocally and publicly Australia’s opposition to the death penalty under any circumstances and Australia’s commitment to the inherent dignity of all human beings. This is not an issue in which one can pick and choose in the circumstance of the issue the people in relation to whom we might support the application of the death penalty. This is an issue in which there is there is no grey. This is an issue in which we must as a people and as a nation continue to maintain absolutely in all circumstances at any time and in relation to any crime our opposition to the death penalty.

MR PRATT (Brindabella) (3.58): I rise to speak against the death penalty. Although I am not speaking for or against Ms MacDonald’s motion, I certainly understand the spirit of that motion. While I have no doubt that many of the perpetrators of horrendous crimes we have witnessed here and in other parts of the world do not deserve to walk this earth—and one can entirely understand the feelings of and sympathise with the communities and families of victims and their desire for revenge—in all conscience I have determined in my own mind that the state has to be much better than that.

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