Launch of Australia’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty

  • Speech, check against delivery

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Dean thank you very muchfor your warm introduction. Let me also acknowledge the traditional owners ofthe land on which we are meeting this morning, and by paying my respects totheir elders past and present and emerging.

To the very many distinguished guests who are here today:members of the diplomatic corps, senators and members of the Parliament,distinguished guests.

Everyone has a choice about how they spend their time. Yourchoice to be here this morning speaks volumes to the commitment that you maketo this very important next step in Australia's Strategy for the Abolition ofthe Death Penalty. So I thank you all very much for your time.

I want to acknowledge my friend and colleague Julie Bishopfor her leadership in bringing Australia and us to this point, and I thank hervery much for being here as well.

And I thank Senator Dean Smith for his introduction, andalso, Chris Hayes, for the important work that they both do, as co-chairs ofthe Parliamentary Group Against the Death Penalty. Their leadership is veryimportant. Dean and Chris – thank you very much for that.

I'd acknowledge one of our other guests, Julian McMahon, thePresident of Reprieve Australia. Julian and his organisation are one of ournation's strongest advocates for the global abolition of the death penalty andthey have played a key role in the development of our national strategy.

I also want to extend my acknowledgement and my thanks to allthe other civil society groups, who've worked so closely with us to create thisstrategy. Your efforts, your advice have been invaluable in bringing us to thispoint.

I am very proud to have the role of launching ourwhole-of-Government strategy for the abolition of the death penalty here today.It is a timely occasion. Just last Wednesday we marked world international dayagainst the death penalty, a reminder of the progress that we have made, butalso a reminder of the further work that needs to be done to achieve globalabolition.

I am pleased to note that just last week on WednesdayMalaysia announced that it will abolish the death penalty. Legislation isscheduled for introduction to Malaysia's parliament in their next sittingperiod. Australia also strongly welcomes the Malaysian government's indicationthat it will place an immediate moratorium on carrying out the death penalty.This is important progress, and it is encouraging to all of us.

The strategy that we are launching here today, the first ofits kind in Australia, will see our nation work closely with our partnersacross the world to protect and promote our shared human rights. The messagethat the strategy sends is clear and it is unequivocal: Australia opposes thedeath penalty in all circumstances, for all people. We are committed to itsuniversal abolition and we will pursue this through all fora.

The new strategy provides a comprehensive and cohesiveframework for the Australian government to enhance our efforts to be a globalleader to end the use of the death penalty world-wide.

Our support for this vision is built on four pillars.

Firstly, the death penalty is irrevocable and no legal systemis free of error.

If the convicted is later found to be innocent, that is amiscarriage of justice that cannot be rectified.

Secondly, it removes any possibility of rehabilitation forthe convicted individual.

It brutalises our societies, degrades our citizens, and is anaffront to our shared human dignity.

Thirdly, the death penalty is no more an effective deterrentthan long-term or life imprisonment.

There is no convincing evidence to suggest that there is anyso-called benefit accrued from its application or existence.

And finally it is unfair.

The death penalty is used disproportionately against the mostvulnerable members of society, at times as a political tool, with the poor,minority groups, and people with intellectual or mental disabilitiesoverrepresented in its application.

Australia's stance is part of a movement that is progressingus towards a world where the death penalty is relegated to history.

In the 50 years since Australia's last execution, 95countries have completely abolished the death penalty.

This is significant progress but we still have a lot of workto do.

Our national strategy directs Australia's advocacy, ensuringwe maintain momentum towards our global vision.

We will advocate in a constructive, pragmatic manner whichrespects the cultural and social contexts of all retentionist states around theworld, especially in our own region, the Indo-Pacific.

Abolition is a gradual process, and Australia's diplomaticnetwork has been consistent and diligent in advocating our position.

For some nations, complete abolition of the death penalty iswithin reach, for others, the next step may be to seek a reduction in itsapplication, or perhaps simply ensure it is applied humanely.

We recognise that this journey is a difficult one.

But all steps towards abolition, large or small, take ustowards a more civil and humane world.

Last month in a meeting at the United Nations in New York, Ilaunched this strategy on the international stage at the First MinisterialMeeting of the Global Alliance to end trade in goods used for capitalpunishment and torture. Australia is one of 60 states to have joined thisAlliance, which is a practical initiative designed to prevent trade in goodsand instruments purposely and commonly used in the application of torture andthe death penalty.

Australia's approach, whether through our bilateralrelationships or multilateral fora, will be to engage whenever possible withcountries that permit the death penalty, and advocate for these steps towardsabolition.

Our diplomatic network will create clear and articulatedplans for engaging with non-abolitionist states, implementing our strategyaround the world.

As part of our public diplomacy agenda, many of ourdiplomatic missions marked World Day Against the Death Penalty last week.

We will foster public understanding of Australia's positionand our reasons, and we will collaborate and work closely with otherabolitionist nations to ensure our message is heard at all levels and acrossall states.

Starting in our own federal parliament is a very good firststep for the promotion of our strategy.

The abolition of the death penalty is an important part ofAustralia's human rights advocacy, a pillar of our human rights advocacy.

This year Australia proudly began its term as a member of theUN Human Rights Council.

Part of our platform for the election was a strong commitmentto the global abolition of the death penalty.

We are encouraging all nations to become party to the SecondOptional Protocol to the ICCPR – the International Covenant on Civil andPolitical Rights.

Those states party to the Second Optional Protocol mustabolish the death penalty in their jurisdiction.

Building the membership of this Protocol is important if weare to maintain the global momentum towards a world of complete abolitionacross all states and peoples.

As part of our Human Rights Council membership we willcontinue to promote both accession and adherence to the existing internationallaws central to the abolition of the death penalty.

We will continue to monitor and analyse developments acrossthe world, informing all states of the progress being made.

We will also contribute to and co-sponsor, where relevant,activities through multilateral fora which drive us along the path of globalabolition.

Our co-sponsorship of the biennial anti-death penaltyresolutions at the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council is just apart of our work to implement these aims.

This strategy will be a true national effort, with supportfrom across the parliament here in Canberra, as Dean has alluded to, but alsoin civil society.

Growing and embracing our relationships with non-governmentorganisations will be vital to ensuring our strategy's success.

Civil society informed the strategy, and I look forward todeepening that engagement as we seek to implement what is a strongly sharedvision.

To begin this process, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairsand Trade will also establish a consultative group on the death penalty, whichwill include Australian-based civil society organisations.

This group will meet on the margins of the Department'sannual NGO Human Rights Forum, where we will:

  • shareadvocacy priorities,
  • updateour NGO partners on the state of our implementation,
  • coordinateresponses and
  • exploreopportunities for joint public diplomacy actions.

Together this will bolster, it will inform, it will improveour decision making, and ensure that our strategy remains relevant and robustinto the future.

I understand members of civilsociety here this morning are going to meet with the Parliamentarians Againstthe Death Penalty group later this afternoon here in Parliament to reflect onhow we can work together to implement the Strategy. And again Dean and Chris Ithank you very much for that initiative.

The true strength of our strategy however, comes from itsenduring and persistent nature.

Our resolute opposition to the death penalty is a core valuenot just to this government and this parliament, but also to the Australianpeople. Our successes in pursuing our objective of universal abolitionare based on constructive dialogue, respect and mutual understanding.

They are the values which will ensure that we live in abetter world, where the death penalty is no longer used.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

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