In the wake of the execution of 8 people in Indonesia, Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce has said that Australia should be discussing the Death Penalty. He says that people approach him, saying that while he may not agree with the death penalty, many Australians do, and we should have a conversation about it.

Considering the online commentary and actual discussion I have seen and heard over the last few days, I can see that Mr Joyce is right- there are indeed many Australians who support the death penalty. Some do so conditionally; for certain crimes or in certain circumstances. Some believe it’s the right of every country to decide for itself. I’m no expert on the matter but seeing this level of support reinforces Minister Joyce’s opinion- we should be having a discussion here in Australia. But perhaps not the discussion he implies. As someone in favour of mercy, I don’t think we should even for a second entertain the idea of bringing back the death penalty in Australia and the conversation needs to be about explaining why that is.

death penalty

The Death Penalty is Not Supported by Evidence

Numerous studies and statistics have shown the death penalty doesn’t deter people from committing capital crimes in the first place. For example, this fact sheet from Amnesty looks at the USA and shows that states where the death penalty in not used have a consistently lower rate of murder. While there are other studies showing death can be a deterrent, there have been shown to be serious methodological flaws in some studies and a review of all evidence concluded that the studies done to date should not be used to form policy. Whatever your position on the death penalty, this is a very good reason not to implement it. There are many logical and confident arguments on both sides but I found this snippet particularly compelling:

“Yet, according to the N.C. Department of Justice, the state murder rate has declined in the years since executions stopped. Given this fact, there is no credible argument that the death penalty deters crime. In fact, most people on death row committed their crimes in the heat of passion, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or while suffering from mental illness. They represent a group that is highly unlikely to make rational decisions based on a fear of future consequences for their actions.” Full article here.

The Death Penalty is Expensive

You would be forgiven for thinking that killing a prisoner would be significantly cheaper than keeping them alive. Surprisingly, it would seem that this is not actually the case. It’s not that the execution is costly. It’s things like the legal costs and costs of housing death row inmates. It’s not a small difference in cost, either. The state of Kansas, in the US, spends 44 times the amount on a typical death penalty appeal than it does on a life sentence appeal and death row inmate housing costs them more than double what a general population inmate costs. Trials where the death penalty is sought take literally thousands of hours longer. Overall, it’s a very costly exercise.

The Death Penalty is Irreversible

Sounds pretty obvious, but it is. If new evidence becomes available or the real culprit comes forward, the, the state is in the terrible position of having killed an innocent person. It does happen. A study published last year indicates the rate of death row inmates wrongly executed is around 4.1%. That’s around one in 25.

The Death Penalty is Discriminatory

In countries that still execute prisoners, discrimination is a key issue. If you are from  a poor minority, there is a higher chance you will be sentenced to death. Compounding that is the fact that people from poor minorities have less resources with which to defend themselves.

The Death Penalty is a Sign of an Unjust Legal System

Some countries who have the death penalty have extremely unfair legal systems. People are sentenced to die after unfair trials or confessions that are obtained by torture, not to mention the issue of discrimination already mentioned.

The Death Penalty Creates State Sanctioned Murderers

Punishing people with death is not an abstract idea- it requires a person or persons to actually carry out the task of killing another human being. I read here that, in Indonesia, marksmen for execution firing squads are selected for their marksmanship and physical and spiritual health. To me, this would appear to say that they take their healthiest and best adjusted policemen and make them live with the knowledge that they may have killed someone (only some of the squad are given live rounds so they never actually know who fires the killing shots). I wonder how their well-being fares after this? Reading this account, it would seem not all that well.  It also makes me wonder… If we punish a murderer by killing them….how much do we REALLY value human life?

The Death Penalty is an Abuse of Human Rights

This is perhaps the most important aspect of this argument. The death penalty violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is cruel and inhumane. Taking into account that Australia is already under deserved scrutiny for human rights issues, surely it would be considerably wiser to address those issues rather than adding to them? Already our treatment of asylum seekers has drawn unfavourable international commentary and widespread criticism. Our Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at higher rates than others, they fare worse in life expectancy and illness rates and are being forced out of their communities. A shockingly high number of Australians with disabilities live near or below the poverty line. We are still fighting for marriage equality. Instead of discussing the possibility of reinstating this barbaric practice in Australia, I’d rather discuss why we shouldn’t and how we can help stop it elsewhere. When you read about how some countries allow the death penalty for children or for mass groups after mass trials, some procure confessions by torture, some do not observe fair legal practices like providing interpreters and some use this penalty as punishment for less serious crimes, it seems blatantly obvious to me that we must not join the ranks of those countries that utilise capital punishment but should instead work on addressing our already considerable shortcomings in areas to do with human rights and do what we can to end this practice world-wide.

A valid point…


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  • LydiaCLee

    I don’t agree with the death penalty for anything. There are a LOT of countries that still have it. If only for the risk of error, it’s a dangerous ‘punishment’.

  • I am against the death penalty. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • So very well written. Thank you. I have many thoughts on the death penalty – all in disagreement – but the one overriding thought is that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t point a gun at someone’s heart, pull the trigger and kill them. I couldn’t inject them with something designed to kill them. I couldn’t flick the switch on a chair, or put a noose around their neck and knock the floor from beneath them. So I see absolutely no circumstance in which I could possibly expect someone else to do it on my or my country’s behalf.
    People are arguing for the death penalty in such abstract terms. That people can talk about death so casually and dismissively, even as retribution, sickens me.

    • Thanks Emily. I’m the same- I could not expect that from someone else.

  • If the ‘majority’ think we should bring back segregation, stoning and anti-gay laws, does that mean it’s worth discussing?

    • Ha, exactly. A good government should give the people everything they need- not random crap they want that week.

  • I am not actually sure where I stand on the death penalty to be entirely honest. I think there are some serial killers that will never be reformed and they have been proven guilty beyond a doubt and in these instances, I feel almost comfortable with the idea. Then again, I could never make that call. I have no answers. (Thank god I don’t have to provide them either.) I am very against what just occurred in Indonesia however – they suffered a double sentence with a punishment that was way above their crimes. Ten years and two successfully rehabilitated men had more than ‘paid’ their debt to society. Sad, sad day indeed. Brilliant piece again from you. x

    • I know what you mean- some criminals do horrendous things. But then I think- someone would have to kill them. Someone else may love them. How many lives would that one execution impact?

  • There’s an excellent Chris Berry song that goes ‘Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong, if it’s wrong (and it’s wrong)’, says it all really. It’s simply barbaric to perpetuate murder with more murder, or a “lesser” crime with murder, for all of the reasons that you state. Barnaby Joyce wtf, is that all that you gleaned from the past week?

    • Poor old Barny really missed the point, I reckon.

  • People can be pretty glib when discussing the death penalty – full of words like “justice” and “punishment fits the crime”. Especially on talkback radio this week… it makes me sick that some Australians consider state-sanctioned murder a reasonable legal outcome.

    • Me too- they seem to miss the point that an execution only creates more victims.

  • I didn’t wade into this discussion at all. I’m very much against the death penalty, however… my biggest issue with ‘our’ outrage is that it was entirely absent back in January when 6 others were executed in Indonesia. It was like we only started caring when it impacted on us.

    Having said that… I know it’s human nature to predominantly care about things in our own backyards. It’s a quandary!

    • I think many still cared- but the media didn’t make much of it and those 6 people were not as familiar to us as Andrew and Myuran. It’s a real case of what Stalin once summed up really well- The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    No no no… I don’t believe anyone has the right to take a life – a life for a life, not in my world. I don’t agree with what happened in Indonesia but we as a country have no right to govern anyone else. We are an educated country, people know the rules when they head to another country. If you break those rules, there will be a consequence and you may or may not agree with the consequence but that has been YOUR choice to do it. This I will teach my children to RESPECT the law in whatever country to enter but if it was my child being executed I would have been there fighting my arse off to stop it.

    • Absolutely we must respect the laws of the land we are in. On the flip side, if the law of that land violates human rights- I do think we have a responsibility to speak up. Humanity knows no borders- we are all people, you know? And yes- same if it were my child. Absolutely.

  • I can’t even anymore. I just want this week to end. 🙁

  • I am totally against it. Killing isn’t right whether it’s a crime or a punishment.

  • Kaz @ MeltingMoments

    “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”

  • I do not believe in the death penalty at all. It take away our right to live, our right to prove ourselves in the eyes of the law – its not the way to deal with those that are in the wrong. And there is always that chance that the Court has convicted the wrong person, and is serving a sentence for a crime that they didn’t commit – so why give them a death penalty when it could be the wrong person? Its a very scary line to cross – do Child Killers deserve the same treatment as what they did to a sweet child? Now that is a whole different/difficult topic to cover!

    • That’s the rub for me. We abhor someone who murders yet to punish them we consider making someone else do the very same.

  • roboschmobo

    This is a really interesting post about a topic that’s divided so many conversations I’ve had of late. I’ve always struggled with my own views on the death penalty and I still do. Myuran and Andrew pulled at my heart strings from the very beginning. I saw was dumb youngsters who did a really dumb thing. Before the end, there was PROOF that they were rehabilitated, changed men. In their case, the death penalty was the wrong decision.

    • It is a divisive topic. I tried to write about it without too much emotion just to show that factually speaking, it’s really not a great option- it’s a poor choice from an economic standpoint as well as being ineffective and so on.

  • You always manage to get to the core of a discussion, Amy. As always, I completely agree with everything you’ve written here. There is no argument that could make me change my mind: killing another human being is wrong. x

  • I just at can’t for one moment entertain the idea that anyone has the right to take ones life or enforce anyone else to do so. In my eyes there is no difference between paying a hit man it paying a marksman. Both are wrong in my opinion. Thankyou for presenting the facts without letting emotion get in the way. I wouldn’t be able to do that so much respect for you chick xx

  • A very fine point indeed. I have felt sick about the proceedings this week. I think this incident has sure educated the wider public, who were unaware or naive about the death penalty and the fact it still happens and the brutality and unjust nature of it. I couldn’t ever fathom or accept the death penalty being reintroduced in Australia. I cannot see how it would happen and I’m very glad about that.

  • Great article but I do wonder in a modern, civil society why we need to even have this discussion. I am strongly opposed to the death penalty, in any and all circumstances. The crime does not, and should not, matter. The rehabilitation or remorse of the offender is also entirely irrelevant. A great deal was made of Chan and Sukumaran’s repentance, to my mind they deserved mercy not because they were reformed but rather because they were humans.

  • Thank YOU for being part of the conversation.

  • Two wrongs don’t make a right. I am totally agains the death penalty too but I can see how this discussion can go on and on. I think the one thing that makes me waver my opinion is pedophilia.

  • Oh seriously? Horrific. Total agreement with all your points.

  • We have great arguments about the death penalty in the United States. There is really a “hang ’em high” mentality and a belief that the death penalty is in fact a deterrent. I live in the South, where there is a real stubborn resistance to even thinking about what the death penalty means, how it is applied and whether it is in fact justice. The sentiment here seems to be that the death penalty needs to be more brutal, more efficient, and more public – that the reason why it’s not a deterrent is because we (& the criminals) don’t see it and it’s so sanitary…that if it were a hanging on the square like it used to be, it would be more effective. Which is really kinda horrifying to me – have we become so blood thirsty that we need that as a form of entertainment? (Because that’s why people used to go to lynchings here in the south)

    Forget trying to bring up the racial aspects in how the death penalty is applied.

    I’ve stopped trying to have debates about it. I just say, when the state is killing someone in my name – meaning I’m killing someone – I want to make sure without a shadow of a doubt that the person is guilty and the punishment is applied fairly. I can’t be reassured that will happen with the death penalty so I can’t support it.

  • Yay for evidence based discussion! If more people looked for research evidence and engaged in critical thinking and discussion then there would be less hand wringing, less woo woo and a whole lot more sensible and efficient decisions made. It’s a shame we’re not all wired up the same 😉

  • Robyna@theMummyandtheMinx

    We live in a world with so much hate and violence, where injustice is rife and lives are lost to folly, fate and plain evil. I cannot fathom how or why we would want to add to that tally and call it justice. Sickens me to the core.

  • Very good points. The main one for me is irreversible. With a justice system that does get it wrong I think there is no way the death penalty can come into play. Even though there are some very disgusting human beings out there that only deserve to rot.

  • I agree. A call for the death penalty is a call for vengeance, not justice.

  • Bucko

    Sorry I am
    old school; I read about serial killers, child killers, sexual killers and the
    rest of them, if they can’t live within a community and live by the laws stated
    and it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt they are guilty.

    should be no hesitation in using the Death Penalty as an answer to the problem.

    And there
    also is no talk of breaking Human Rights either where were the Human Rights to
    the victim when they committed the crime, or Crimes they did?

    I am sure
    you don’t like putting your hand in your pocket to hand over money to feed and
    comfort a convicted killer, I know I don’t.

    In short
    if they are prepared to kill they should be prepared to die.

    It simple
    the Punishment fits the Crime.

    about it wouldn’t you like to feel safe walking the streets again like it once
    was long ago because you are not safe these days.

    • I understand your point of view. However, I can’t endorse the idea of killing people- it makes someone else a murderer, then. State sanctioned, but still morally wrong in my eyes. It doesn’t bring back the victims or undo what was done to them.