House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009

Second Reading

1:24 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009, which essentiallyintroduces some amendments to the Commonwealth Criminal Code. One of previous members for Moreton, Sir James Killen, studied for the bar while he was a member of parliament. He then practised at the bar and did quite a lot of criminal work. I mention that in passing because I have just been taking a group of friends and family on a tour of Parliament House. One of the party, Des Draydon, was a very good friend of Sir James Killen. He shared chambers with him and organised Sir James Killen’s 70th birthday party, had some Sir James Killen bottles of port and gave me one of those bottles of port. It is actually Des Draydon’s 70th birthday today.

When we were doing the tour of Parliament House it was interesting to look at the democratic institutions. As MPs we become used to it; this is our workplace and we see these things all the time. As a new MP, I am very proud of the house that we work in. It is funny that when you take people around the house you see things with fresh eyes and you point out some of the wonderful things that we have here.

I am proud to be able to stand today in support of this legislation, the torture prohibition and death penalty abolition bill. Why? This bill toughens Australia’s stance against the death penalty and torture and helps more fully meet our international human rights obligations. It has been more than 40 years since an execution took place in Australia. I am proud to say that Queensland was the first state to abolish capital punishment back in 1922 and Western Australia—a little bit tardier—was the last in 1984. The last person executed was Ronald Ryan in Victoria in 1967, a mere 45 years ago. Ronald Ryan was executed for shooting a prison guard during an escape attempt.

Incidentally, the first recorded execution in Australia—in terms of whitefella law, I guess—was on 27 February 1788; pretty soon after the first Australia Day, 222 years ago. That was a bloke called Thomas Barrett, who was hanged at Port Jackson in Sydney for stealing food from the public stores. Any student of history would know that the first fleet did it pretty tough in terms of food when they first settled.

Thankfully as a society we have come a long way since 1788. We have learned the value of human life, and all of us agree there is no place in any society for inhumane or degrading punishments like torture or capital punishment. The death penalty is now prohibited in all Australian states and territories. As a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Australia is committed to the abolition of the death penalty—everywhere, every state, every nation—whether it be an Australian on death row or any citizen from any nation on death row. This is something on which all sides of politics agree.

Australia’s opposition to the death penalty is longstanding and has been upheld for decades by governments of all persuasions irrespective of the ebb and flow of public opinion, especially after heinous crimes, murders or the like. Australia also works through the UN human rights commission to lobby other nations to abolish the death penalty.

Some Australians still face the death penalty in countries overseas—people, as the member for Page pointed out, like Scott Rush, who is on death row in Indonesia right now. His parents, Lee and Chris Rush, are my constituents and they are incredibly brave. I cannot imagine how they get up every day and face the fact that their son is sitting on death row. I have spoken on this a couple of times in the parliament, and it has become even more poignant once I had children, once I had a son. In previous speeches I have made the comparison of the mistake that Scott made and how in my life I have made some mistakes as well. Hopefully, I have learnt from those mistakes. Unfortunately, Scott is sitting on death row and maybe will never get the opportunity to learn from his mistake.

Late last year we were reminded again about the cruel and vile act of torture with the release of Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan. Nigel’s safe return was obviously a great relief for his loved ones, but the torture that he and Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout endured over 15 months detained in Somalia is completely abhorrent to everybody. All countries, all societies who value human life, must take a stand against torture and the death penalty.

This bill ensures Australia complies fully with its international obligations to combat torture and demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the abolition of the death penalty. State and territory legislation covering torture and assault occasioning grievous bodily harm ensures Australia meets its obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However, this bill will introduce a specific torture offence in the Commonwealth Criminal Code. In doing so it repeals the Crimes (Torture) Act 1988 and responds to the UN recommendation that Australia enact a specific federal torture offence. The offence will not replace state and territory offences but will operate together with them. It ensures that Australia explicitly meets our obligations under the convention against torture. This bill also amends the Commonwealth Death Penalty Abolition Act 1973 to ensure that capital punishment can never be reintroduced in Australia ever again. The act already applies to Commonwealth, territory and imperial criminal laws. This bill will extend the abolition to the states and ensure that the death penalty cannot be reintroduced at the state level.

The stronger our stand against torture and capital punishment at home, the more credibility we have to lobby other countries against the death penalty; we are then able to speak with a voice with standing, not just when an Australian citizen is in trouble, but at all times. We will be able to look other nations in the eye and say: ‘This is not something you should be pursuing, not just because you have an Australian in a prison cell, but because it is the wrong to do and it is not a civilised thing to do.’ It would obviously give us more credibility when it comes to fighting for the lives of people like Scott Rush. Scott faces the death penalty for carrying 1.3 kilograms of heroin into Bali on 17 April 2005. I remember that day particularly because it is the day my first son was born. Since February 2006, Scott has continued to face that death sentence while my son brings me nothing but joy—that is, mostly joy. All people who value human life stand united against this sentence and continue to hope and pray for Scott’s sentence to be commuted.

This bill also ensures Australia continues in compliance with the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. I commend the bill to the House.


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