Opposition deputy leader Tanya Plibersek gave an impassioned plea for the lives of Myuran Sukumaran, 33, and Andrew Chan, 31, currently facing the death penalty for drug smuggling in a Bali prison, to be spared in the Australian Parliament this afternoon.
The member for Sydney has her own very personal perspective on the issue, and remorse and redemption, having married Michael Coutts-Trotter, now secretary of the NSW Dept. of Family and Community Services. He was a 21-year-old heroin addict and dealer when he jailed for three years over drug offences.
Plibersek described her husband as “a man who spent the rest of his life making amends for the crime that he committed”.
She lost her brother to a violent crime in Papua New Guinea in 1997. “I know that if I had been the one making the decision about the punishment of the person who did that crime, I couldn’t have thought of a punishment bad enough. That’s why we don’t make decisions about punishment on the basis of how we feel, but on the basis of universal consistently applied rules.”
Here is her speech in full:
Over the last several months the Government and Opposition have worked closely and very hard on diplomatic efforts calling on the Indonesian Government to show these two men clemency. Our consular staff, as the Foreign Minister said, many private individuals, business leaders, people with long connections to Indonesia have been part of that diplomatic effort behind the scenes to urge clemency.
Of course these two young men know that they have done the wrong thing.
They know they have broken the law and they deserve to be punished, and indeed they should be.
But reports suggest that they have made significant and successful efforts to rehabilitate themselves.
The head of Kerobokan Prison has attested that both Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran have made exemplary efforts to rehabilitate themselves.
They have by all reports become model prisoners and taken a leadership role within the prison, facilitating educational courses for others prisoners including English language classes, painting classes, drawing, music, dance, fitness and basic computer skills.
They have helped coordinate fundraising activities both to improve the prison facilities and also to support the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
Both Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran have demonstrated genuine remorse.
About 3,800 years ago, the Stela of Hammurabi was erected. It was the first written codification of law. It appeared in Babylon thousands of years ago and it includes a section that says ‘if a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye; if one breaks a man’s bone, they shall break his bone; if one destroys the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman, he shall pay one mana of silver; and if they do that to a slave, they shall pay half that price’.
That’s the basic eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth law that has influenced the Old Testament and earlier legal codes in countries around the world.
But that’s 3,700 years ago. We’ve moved on a great deal from an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
And one of the reasons we’ve done that is we’ve understood that the people who are most hurt by crimes should not be the ones making the decisions about the punishment.
We need to have a principled and methodical approach to punishments of serious crimes.
I perhaps have a particular view on remorse and redemption because of experiences in my own life.
In 1988, my husband left prison after being charged and convicted of a similar crime to these young men.
I imagine what would have happened if he had been caught in Thailand, instead of in Australia, where that crime was committed, when he was coming back to Australia.
I think about – I didn’t know him at the time, this was 30 years ago, what the world would have missed out on.
They would have missed out on the three beautiful children that we’ve had together. They would have missed out on a man who spent the rest of his life making amends for the crime that he committed.
I have another perspective on this too.
In 1997, I lost my brother to a violent crime in Port Moresby. And I know that if I had been the one making the decision about the punishment of the person who did that crime, I couldn’t have thought of a punishment bad enough.
That’s why we don’t make decisions about punishment on the basis of how we feel, but on the basis of universal consistently applied rules.
I think it’s important to say that when it comes to the death penalty, there has been for many years in Australia a bipartisan rejection of the death penalty.
Our former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam said:
“Capital punishment is just as barbaric and inexcusable in the hands of States as it is in the hands of individuals. As we know, it barbarises and unsettles the executioners themselves.”
And that’s why in 1973 the Whitlam Government abolished the death penalty under Federal Law.
That was one step. There have been successive steps by both sides of the House in reducing Australia’s exposure to the death penalty.
I was part of the Labor Government that passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Act in 2010 which prevented the death penalty from being reintroduced by any State or Territory Government now and into the future.
The former Justice Michael Kirby said:
“The death penalty brutalises the State that carries it out… [it] is left over from an earlier and more barbaric time.”
I think that these words are just as important today as they were when Gough Whitlam and Michael Kirby uttered them.
Our opposition to the death penalty and the legal changes we’ve made over time are based on that simple respect for the sanctity of human life and a rejection of that code of thousands of years, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
This belief is a moral one; it reflects the kind of world we want to live in.
It is a belief that all people should have inherent dignity simply by virtue of being human.
“To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.” said Desmond Tutu.
He was talking about the power of restorative justice, the possibility that offenders can be rehabilitated.
A justice that punishes, but can restore offenders to be productive members of society.
This is the kind of justice Australia advocates, for everyone, everywhere.
Regardless of where an offence occurs, regardless of whether they are Australian citizens, we oppose the death penalty.
And this opposition has been bipartisan for many years now.
The best expression of that recently has been this letter signed by so many Members of Parliament on both sides.
The letter to the Indonesian ambassador to Australia says:
We do not seek to minimise the serious nature of their crimes, given the damaging effects of illicit drugs on our societies.
We do believe Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan should be punished. Indeed, we have the highest respect for Indonesia’s sovereignty and political independence.
Australia abolished the death penalty some years ago and opposition to the death penalty has strong bipartisan and broad public support.
We note that the international trend is overwhelmingly away from capital punishment and towards the imposition of lengthy prison sentences for serious crimes, where prisoners can reflect on their mistakes and endeavour to demonstrate remorse and make amends through rehabilitation and community service.
Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan have demonstrated genuine remorse and have become model prisoners, working constructively at Kerobokan not only on their own rehabilitation and reform, but also for that of other prisoners.
By reason of their good behaviour, demonstrated rehabilitation and education of other prisoners, both Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran come within the Constitutional Court’s recommendation.
Also, we believe it is significant that both Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran were only apprehended as a result of the Australian Federal Police providing information to Indonesian Police.
Their crime, serious as it was, was intended to impact on Australians in Australia, not Indonesia.
Over many years now Indonesian and Australian Federal Police have exchanged intelligence and engaged with each other to address international crime and terrorism.
We are committed to ensuring that international police cooperation and intelligence sharing continues in the interests of Indonesia, Australia, and all other nations in the region.
The fact is that the 2010 legislation preventing the reintroduction of the death penalty was supported by both sides of politics, Madam Speaker.
This letter, that bipartisan support then, the bipartisan support for the consular efforts that have gone to help Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan show that Australia is united in renouncing the death penalty.
Now, here in Australia and around the world.
Our strong stance is also reflected in our international obligations.
Australia has ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which is aimed at eliminating the death penalty.
Our view is reflected in the preamble:
The abolition of the death penalty “contributes to enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights.”
As a nation we should continue to use our diplomatic powers and efforts to constructively engage with other nations to help eradicate the death penalty.
We have a particular challenge in this area.
We must continue to build our agency to agency links wherever we have those established with other nations.
The work that the Australian Federal Police does with the Indonesian Police is vital for both countries and our cooperation should remain strong.
It is important that we work with all other nations to prevent serious transnational crimes, such as the crime that these young men have been convicted of.
However, we must also make sure we take a principled approach to the “death penalty to ensure that [we] are not involved in the imposition of the sentences in other nations.” [George Williams, UNSW Law Professor]
Building the capacity to cooperate to prevent transnational crime while ensuring that we do not become a party to the imposition of the death penalty needs to be a focus of our engagement with other nations.
Progress requires long-term constructive engagement through our diplomatic channels and through our agency to agency cooperation.
Of course this process won’t happen overnight, but I believe it is important that we continue both our work to prevent transnational crimes but without compromising our stance on the death penalty.
I remain hopeful even in these difficult times that the Indonesian Government and the Indonesian President will show clemency to these young men and provide them with a stay of execution.
I think that all Australians would join with me in calling on the Indonesian Government to show that mercy.
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