The death penalty – the final revenge? 224



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It now appears certain that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the leaders of the Bali Nine drug smugglers, will face an Indonesian firing squad.

Our official bi-partisan reaction has been one of horror and revulsion yet there are many Australians who believe that the two, who committed their crimes in the full knowledge of what Indonesian law is, should pay the ultimate penalty.

If there is an argument that, for example, a convicted murderer should be executed, why not argue – in the dubious cause of consistency – that an arsonist should have his house burned down, that a rapist should be raped or that a convicted drug smuggler should be pumped full of the poison he was trying to inflict on society? Nobody has ever suggested that apart from fringe fanatics; it is too bizarre to even contemplate.

We have a long and inglorious history of imposing the death penalty from the first in 1788 when Thomas Barrett, 17, was hung for forgery to Ronald Ryan, 41, who was hung in 1967 for killing a prison guard during an attempted prison escape. In the 20th century, 135 men and two women were executed.

Queensland was the first State to abolish the death penalty in 1922 and NSW was the last in 1985. In 1973, the death penalty under Federal law was abolished and in 2010 legislation was passed by the Commonwealth Parliament with bipartisan support to prevent any State or Territory from ever trying to reintroduce it.

One argument in favour of the death penalty is its alleged deterrent effect. But is it really a deterrent?

By the 10th century, hanging became the usual method of execution in Britain although boiling in oil, burning at the stake, beheading and drawing and quartering all had their vogue. During the reign of Henry VIII (1509 – 1547), an estimated 72,000 people were executed for such “crimes” as marrying a Jew, cutting down a tree and robbing a rabbit warren. By the mid 1700s, 222 crimes were punishable by death in the UK.

For a long time, executions were a bizarre form of public entertainment yet despite this heavy-handed approach, crime continued unabated. Poverty, alcoholism and desperation all contributed and, increasingly, juries wouldn’t convict an accused if the penalty was death. Between 1823 and 1837, the death penalty for more than 100 crimes was eliminated.

So, while there no longer the prospect of any death penalty in Australia and while Australia has signed international conventions and UN General Assembly resolutions against the death penalty, the peak legal body, the Law Council of Australia, has noted, that, “… is not the beginning and end of the death penalty debate for Australia”.

In a recent paper, the Law Council stated: “Faced with the prospect of the execution of some of our own citizens abroad, the Australian community has increasingly been forced to grapple with the question: what does it mean to be opposed to the death penalty in a region where our neighbours and allies continue to shoot and hang people?”

The Council posed the question, “Is it consistent with Australia’s opposition to the death penalty to allow the Australian Federal Police to work cooperatively with foreign law enforcement agencies in the investigation of offences which carry the death penalty knowing that the provision of that assistance and information may ultimately lead to charge, conviction and execution?”

“Questions have also been raised about whether the Mutual Assistance Act should, as it currently does, allow the (Federal) Attorney-General a broad discretion to authorise the provision of mutual assistance in death penalty cases if he or she is satisfied that ‘special circumstances’ exist. The term ‘special circumstances’ is not defined in the Act”.

In other words, is it morally right – even if legally correct – for Australian authorities to notify foreign governments that an Australian citizen on route to that foreign country might be carrying drugs, knowing that the penalty for that offence there is death? The Australian Federal Police have been heavily criticised for sending Indonesian Police most of the names and flight details of the Bali Nine in 2005.

Albert Pierrepoint, the UK’s last official executioner had a unique perspective. His father and uncle were official executioners and when he wasn’t running a pub in Manchester, he was busy hanging people through the British Empire as well as at home and he executed some 200 Nazis after the war.

However, in his 1974 autobiography, he wrote, “It is said to be a deterrent. I cannot agree … I do not now believe that any one of the hundreds of executions I carried out has in any way acted as a deterrent against future murder. Capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing but revenge”.


Do you agree with the points presented in this article? Should the death penalty exist in Australia, or anywhere else in the world? Is it barbaric? 

Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

  1. While most of us do not agree with the death penalty the present systems of criminal punishment do not work either. The small minority per capita of criminals in our countries cost us the taxpayer millions that could be spent on health, education, elderly care etc…… Drug dealers who risk getting caught overseas in countries that do have the death penalty also cost the governments millions but these dealers go on taking the risk because they so often actually get away with the smuggling and make enormous amounts of money. I therefore say the responsibility lies with the drug dealer and they should not expect intervention if they are caught overseas.

    15 REPLY
    • Totally agree, I know that execution is barbaric but there have been some crimes committed in our country that I believe should be punished by death. The Anita Cobbe murderers for instance

      1 REPLY
      • Exactly! It’s not for punishment, it’s not to deter others who may think of doing the same and it’s not for revenge. Purely and simply it’s to ensure that these people cannot ever carry out such an horrific act again. If released, or escaped, they are an unacceptable risk to society.

    • I agree, they knew the risks. The signs are up there to say what is the law in that country . why should we feel sorry for them

    • If they showed no signs of remorse I would feel differently. They have rehabilitated and not only that, have been deterring many others from a life of crime with the programs they are running in prison. I believe that they should not be put to death. I worked in prisons in my younger years and also managed adult corrections as well. I have seen those convicted of crime turn their lives around and go on the straight and narrow. Prison can change people for the better, especially if rehabilitation programs are engaged in. Prison can make some worse but that should be monitored and dealt with accordingly as well. Parole shouldn’t be automatic. It should be earned and also those applying need to have a demonstrated history of appropriate behaviour and attitude as well. While there is evident risk (and it can be identified if enough attention is paid to individuals within the system) then they should remain in prison. Prisoners should be made to engage in programs…no options. That’s my two bob’s worth anyway.

    • Well said Sandra Troy it is not our law that was broken so it is not our place to say what the punishment should be.

    • I wonder if anyone or the guvment would go into bat for anyone else ??? bet they wouldn’t so why these two??

    • I have even asked my sons NEVER EVER go to this country as u don’t know who could plant drugs in your luggage and u take the wrap… both my sons are clean cut .. decently dressed ppl.l.

    • Cheryl Rajamae…..The Government “go into bat” because Australia opposes the death penalty. Our Goverment is obliged to seek clemency. It has done so in the past with Bob Hawke and John Howard at the helm with three other executions.

    • Well said Sandra. I agree with every thing you have said.
      When people are making judgement on these countries stand back and look at all the lives that have been saved because these people got caught.
      The drugs never made it to Australia.
      Thank goodness.
      Now they have to pay the price so be it it was their choice to try to smuggle out these drugs.

    • Cheryl, don’t blame others, they were caught nothing was planted on them, I have three boys over the age of 40 and I brought them up clean

    • Sandra Troy well said and Sonja grosser you would say and do anything not to be put to death they did the crime for greedy selfish reasons have you thought about how many other lives would have been destroyed because of thier greed they new the law

  2. Two of our own ? I’m Australian, but I have nothing else in common with these two criminals. I have no sympathy for them – my thought are with the victims.

    12 REPLY
    • That is true, to a certain extent. If drugs were not available, however, they would not get themselves killed. If low-lives like the Bali-9 did not exist, our society would not have to worry about the victims becoming victims.

    • Very few drug addicts are true victims. At some stage in their life they make the choice to take a drug, and continue to until they are addicted. There is no lack of information warning about drugs and addiction but they know better. As for no drugs being available, an addict I knew found many alternatives in nature to destroy his life.

    • So what about these animals that target kids in schools?’s happening more & more, so you are saying Mareea it’s the kids fault.

    • Lyn, I have lost one school friend and one neighbor, a young girl, to drugs. I saw them as victims, but even if they were responsible for their own deaths, the drug dealers and drug smugglers were responsible for making the drugs available and putting it in front of kids.

    • Mareea Anderson
      Firstly it is spelled addicts.
      Secondly, most drug dealers get kids aged 10 and 11 years old into taking drugs. An age when they have no idea of what it will do to them and the effects in their lives. By the time they are 15 or 16 they are fully hooked, living on the street and prostituting themselves to get money for their next fix. So don’t assume that the addicts are at fault. It’s the greedy people at the top of the ladder who produce and sell the drugs who are to blame.

      1 REPLY
      • Ruth I have never heard such none sense ,drug dealers don’t need to peddle drugs to young children . Drug dealers try to keep a low profile and there is a chain of pple where the drugs are passed down till the drug dependant person buys the drugs. I am the mother of a child that used heroine for 15 yrs this child is now in recovery has been for 10yrs and working and giving back to society I can tell you she came from a good home was well educated etc drugs are across the board whether you are rich middle class or poor drugs don’t discriminated my child young and incline to take risks made a bad choice and it to this child years of struggle and pain to find recovery it could have been a yet to come that she may have made the decision to travel over seas and bring back heroin for a small amount of money and a holiday these two boys and that is what they were at the time made a bad decision and now have spent 10yrs paying for that choice how can anyone say that now they need to be shot. Again as a mum of a child who alone made the decision to use heroin at a young age didn’t have drug dealers shoving drugs into her hands to get her hooked it was a school friend who introduced her to the drug she at the young age didn’t think that it would take her where it did . What amazes me with society is how unforgiving we can be imagine if it was your child would you not want to do everything to keep them alive ? Also one minute we are saying look how many they could have killed and in the next breathe those dirty junkies if they want to use drugs then if they die so be it. Let me tell you one thing I know from walking the walk with my child heroin alone is not usually the cause alone of a person overdosing when other drugs eg alcohol depressant drugs etc are used at the same time this is what can put a person in danger, also using alone and when they may have stopped for a period of time and their tolerance is down. I don’t like dealers be quite clear about that but I don’t believe that killing these two fellows is going to deter other young ones taking the same risks it hasn’t up until now. Please get creditable information before making wild statements about drugs

    • Berndt Rudiger Olesen i feel your pain, we are “propping up” three family members that are addicts and in turn “propping up” their parents. In short when do we stop the Blame game and that, accountability is recognised by the addict. Education on the descruction of illegal drugs is important. How do we teach kids that saying NO is OK .

      1 REPLY
      • Dee alcohol is legal and causes chaos in families we can say the same thing these pple made a choice to drink alcohol etc what is important to note is that alcohol does not become a problem to most pple the same as some pple take drugs recreationally and it doesn’t become a problem not one shoe fits all. In my field of work do you realise that we have pilots nurses doctors dentist chemist bus drivers train drivers and so it goes on that use legal and illegal drugs.

    • That is very difficult, Dee. I was surrounded by drugs, when I went to school in the 60íes. I always was able to say NO and have to this day not even tried any drugs. Some of my friends tried drugs and managed to escape without any problems, but some were not that lucky. I have also often wondered if some of my friends, who died prematurely, had in fact been affected by drugs in such a way that their health suffered. In this particular case, we have to bear in mind that the smugglers tried to bring 8 kg of heroin to Australia. Some people seem to consider a rather benign crime.

    • Heard on the radio it was their THIRD RUN. Had they got away with it ……. .!!!! Once caught they want to be saved even though they knew the risks. Don’t believe in the firing squad. Too barbaric.

  3. I was appalled by the AFP involvement in this particularly as the intelligence provided came from a parent of one of the other boys. We do not extradite people to jurisdictions where the death penalty may be applied and I believe we should not provide intelligence to countries where it applies either. It isn’t a deterrent, it is barbaric.

    12 REPLY
    • Some people are just so blinkered. They can overlook the fact that the two on death row are the people who were coercing other young people to commit criminal acts yet are scathing in their attacks on the AFP for alerting authorities in the country the crime was being committed in to what was going to happen. If a security organisation became aware of a crime that was to be committed in Australia would these people not want the AFP to be alerted?

    • They were intending to bring the drugs to Australia where it should have been dealt with. Their actions in this case will almost ensure no other parent or family member will ever offer intelligence on possible criminal acts by someone in their family.

      1 REPLY
      • Barb totally agree with you I have personally spoken to the family that reached out for help and I am sure that knowing now how it turned out would have did it differently. Barbaric and murder. Having had a child who was using heroin for many years from a young age I still don’t believe these guys should be shot especially when you know that indonesia asked for clemency for their own pple in other countries facing execution. Also r pple aware that the bigger player here in Australia who organised for this to go ahead won 5million in lotto . Also nothing has ever been said about the pple involved in Indonesia I don’t recall them being apprehended

    • would prefer these 2 shot than for them to have been successful in bringing back into Australia the drugs they were caught with, how many young peoples lives could they have ruined naw better them dead

    • Their crime was committed in Indonesia, why should the AFP aided and abetted their crime? That would have meant the AFP officers were committing a crime too. These two knew the risk they were taking, they had done this run several times before. They are now getting what they deserve.

    • Rod the people that take drugs ruin their own lives, if the drugs weren’t there they may drink themselves into oblivion, sniff glue or hunt out magic mushrooms. Graham so many people think gaol is what they deserved not the death penalty and I am one of them, and if gaol was what they would have received I would agree to the AFP providing intelligence.

    • The law is now changed and these two convicted men would not receive the death penalty now.
      AFP can share their info but not allow the death penalty to happen to the Australians or anyone their info is about.

    • what is barbaric is to let bleeding hearts say we can’t punish criminals a who commit violent crimes. I believe that the death penalty works. when carried out in timely manner. not give the criminal 2 yrs to think about it. too many these days out there murdering innocent children and more . o all knowing that even if they get caught. what’s the worse that will happen? 3 square meals and free bed. no more taxes . that’s is the barbaric part.

    • Norma how does it work. I am all for punishing criminals, real life sentences and toughening up on parole. There is no evidence anywhere that the death penalty works as a deterrent. It seems to be vengence nothing more. For some a violent act can be an act of desperation committed for reasons a court and jury may never fully understand. Recidivist criminal who continually get out of gaol then commit another violent crime should be given life on the third offence.

  4. It’s very arrogant to believe we get to dictate the laws of another country. Good luck getting the US to do away with the death penalty. Or is that ok because they are a western country.

  5. I think of the families that would have lost loved ones due to the drugs they had previously carried. They should have been put away years ago not wait ten .within the first six months they should have died.

  6. If alcohol was not available there would be less violence, less road death, if cigarettes weren’t available there would be less suffering less cancer… I don’t believe drug addiction can be blamed on the supplier. If they had deliberately murdered some one.. Then yes if there is no doubt then death penalty.. But in this case life imprisonment.. Especially an Indonesian prison would have to be a worse punishment…

  7. I am anti death, for everyone, I think we should all live forever, but in saying that I think the punishment should fit the crime. These serial Killers like Milat,and the slime that killed Daniel Morcombe and the many other atrocious criminals, should be kept alive in an empty cell for the duration of their sentence.. no tv ect and no communication with anyone else

    5 REPLY
    • I don’t wish to be a ‘spelling gestapo’ but whatever became of ‘etc’? Abbreviation of ‘etcetera’.

    • It’s about rehabilitation, that’s why we incarcerate.
      If you jail someone lock them in a room without resources to rehabilitate, then what gets released into the community after the sentence is ten times worse of what got incarcerated in the first place… Jails are for punishment just as they are for rehab…

    • Daniel. you right but can people like Ivan Milat be rehabilitated? and even if they do change do we want them back out in society?

    • rehabilitate pedophiles ? doesn’t happen. Guy walks in pours gas on his ex burns her to death. rehabilitate and send him back out to do again. this attitude of rehabilitation and we can’t kill them is way our prison are overflowing. we’ve made jail better than their homes.

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