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"Hallmark of a civilised society"
March 16, 2010 8:14 PM   Subscribe

While nobody has been executed in Australia since 1967 and no capital punishments have been on any state books since 1984 there has been the possibility that a state government could reintroduce the death penalty. Today the Australian Senate passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009 without amendment which effectively blocks states from reintroducing the death penalty as soon as the bill received the royal assent. Needless to say, pro-death penalty advocates were up in arms over the vote.
posted by Talez (34 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Reading the comments is very reassuring to me. News site comment sections everywhere are at the mercy of reactionary troglodytes. Boston.com commenters are mentally handicapped, but not measurably more so than their comrades on the other side of the globe.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:43 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't see anyone up in arms apart from the comments on that link.
Did pro-death penalty people organize anything?
posted by bhnyc at 8:43 PM on March 16, 2010


Well that's some good news. I'm always at amazed at the willingness of people to kill other people through the agency of the courts.
posted by awfurby at 9:03 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I must live a terribly sheltered life, because I'm unaware that so many people in this country are pro- the death penalty (but then I only ever read the Hun on a Saturday for the quiz!). I had assumed it was all over (including the legislative aspect, to be honest) after Ronald Ryan.
posted by prettypretty at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


That last link seemed to have the typical newspaper-comment-section blather:

As crime continues over the next few generations and if the current trend of left wing and new age magistrates treats criminals better than victims WE will decide the course of action not these idiots.

I'm now trying to picture New Age Magistrates. It should be the name of a band.
Also, that comment section was the first time I'd seen "peanut" used as an insult.

One thing you can say for Maine: We haven't had capital punishment for 125 years.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:18 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've sentenced myself to a lonely, embattled existence as the local Voice of Reason at my local newspaper's website. I just came from there to here having explained that hard labor is an antiquated punishment used primarily by the US military and some rogue states such as North Korea. Because, you see, 25 years to life in the state pen is getting off lightly. Sheesh. At some point I'm going to lose the will to continue, probably when I find a new hobby, like cutting off my fingernails with tin shears.
posted by dhartung at 9:28 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


One thing you can say for Maine: We haven't had capital punishment for 125 years.

Some people argue that the labor camps in Piscataquis County which replaced it are less humane. I read about it in "One Day in the Life of I. Vern DeRocher."
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:37 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a fascinating conversations with my (economics-graduate) wife a few days ago about the political unwillingness to apply a true CBA to any action. She pointed out that from a political point of view, so-doing is always a losing proposition - whatever the CBA suggests may be wrong, may be unpopular, and will certainly require probabilistic interpretation which will open one to criticism no matter what the outcomes. So the best we can hope for in terms of rationality is an opinion-based decision of desired outcomes, followed by reasonable assessments of how best to do this. It was all immensely depressing, if edifying.
posted by overyield at 9:50 PM on March 16, 2010


I've sentenced myself to a lonely, embattled existence as the local Voice of Reason at my local newspaper's website.

Boston.com forced people to register and give a user name a few years back. They automatically reject comments with naughty words in them. But fortunately they don't do that with user names. So you can make bland comments like "this is a horrible practice" and see it immediately, even if you've registered a filthy name. It will eventually get removed, but it gums up the works and derails the usual "Mussolini didn't go far enough" discourse while armchair fascists openly wish diseases on you for your choice of handle. It's pretty awesome.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:52 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nice. Kudos Australia!

I've noticed that pro-death penalty advocates in the US tend to also be very conservative, small government types. I've always thought it odd that small government conservatives would be willing to grant the state the power to legally murder them. Ahh, the hypocrisy continues unabated.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:57 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pro-death penalty advocates in Australia are a rare breed, even further off the radar than the pro-gun advocates. Which makes me very, very happy. Unfortunately, as others have noted above, online newspaper comment sections tend to distill the crazy down to a dense, thick liquor of stupid.
posted by Jimbob at 10:02 PM on March 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've noticed that pro-death penalty advocates in the US tend to also be very conservative, small government types.

I'm pretty liberal in many regards (although I would identify as a strict Constitutionalist) and I fairly recently realized that I'm not so much anti-death-penalty as I am unconvinced that the court system is infallible. I realized this after reading a horrific story in which a man kidnapped two children, took them to the woods, and videotaped himself torturing and then murdering them. I'm doing you a favor in not repeating the details. They were horrific. My immediate, guttural, absolute reaction was fucking put this guy to death. Wipe him off the face of the Earth. He's forfeited his right to be considered a human being and needs to be put down like a dangerous dog. And I was really surprised at my reaction because I've always considered myself anti-death-penalty. So I started thinking about what the difference in this case was and eventually I realized it was the fact that he taped himself essentially created irrefutable evidence that he was guilty of committing these horrible crimes. That's all I needed to enable me to flip the switch from he's a human being to he's a malfunctioning collection of nerves and biomatter and should be sent to the grave. And that's when I realized that my issue is not that killing horrible people is ethically wrong, it's that executing an innocent person is absolutely unacceptable. Since you obviously can't have two standards for "irrefutable evidence" and "conviction worthy evidence" I'm willing to compromise with locking them up for life. But I firmly believe that some organisms, biologically homo-sapiens or not, should be put to death for the betterment of humanity. But I suppose according to your reasoning (which I'm not arguing) this actually makes me an exceptionally good liberal.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:17 PM on March 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


News site comment demographics are weird for me - is *everyone* hateful and mean (as in, waaaay more people are in "real life" than I meet), or are the hateful and mean more prone to posting on news sites?

On bulletin boards, the "readership" may be lot so trolls get less personal feedback and so forth. On news comments section, I would have thought that trolls would be outnumbered by the forthright. Unless people commenting on news comments are so unsophisticated as to not being able to recognize trolls. Or something.

So, do people suck as much as news comments sections lead me to believe, or is humanity better than that?
posted by porpoise at 10:17 PM on March 16, 2010


Porpoise, I think the physical disassociation that internet discourse brings makes people treat others in a way that they'd never, ever do face to face. I catch myself doing it all the time, and I'm a very polite person in person.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:21 PM on March 16, 2010


News site comment demographics are weird for me - is *everyone* hateful and mean (as in, waaaay more people are in "real life" than I meet), or are the hateful and mean more prone to posting on news sites?

Well, before we had online newspapers, we had "Letters to the Editor", and I remember the same vicious, hateful, idiotic arseholes getting their comments published each and every day in ink on paper. I assume putting this stuff online just makes it even easier and broader, now that they don't even have to pay for a postage stamp.
posted by Jimbob at 10:25 PM on March 16, 2010


eventually I realized it was the fact that he taped himself essentially created irrefutable evidence that he was guilty of committing these horrible crimes.

I sympathize with what you're saying, and I do agree somewhat, but the distinction may be how different people view death. People of the dominant religion in the US, for example, are essentially equating death with eternal damnation in a very hot an uncomfortable place. People with a more secular or rational outlook, however, are more likely to equate death with a quick end. I would much prefer the guy you gave as an example to be locked in solitary, fed gruel and forgotten for the next 60 years, because I tend to feel that would be worse than a quick execution.

Here in Australia, just down the road from where I live in fact, we've got a guy who's serving 35 consecutive life sentences, plus 1035 years non-parole, and I only wish human life were longer so he could serve more of that time before he dies.
posted by Jimbob at 10:31 PM on March 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would much prefer the guy you gave as an example to be locked in solitary, fed gruel and forgotten for the next 60 years, because I tend to feel that would be worse than a quick execution.

Yeah, that's my mother's position too, and I get it... for me though the reaction is less "I want this guy to suffer" and more the revulsion of seeing something terribly unnatural... where every fiber of your being says "this is wrong, burn it".
posted by nathancaswell at 10:36 PM on March 16, 2010


for me though the reaction is less "I want this guy to suffer" and more the revulsion of seeing something terribly unnatural... where every fiber of your being says "this is wrong, burn it".

For me the reaction of seeing something terribly unnatural is "this is wrong, let's put it in a jar and close the lid to see how long it lasts", which makes me more of a sadist, I guess.
posted by Jimbob at 10:45 PM on March 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's the 'news comments section' of papers and then there's the news comments section of the Herald Sun. Don't ever stumble on a comments page on asylum seekers there.
posted by honey-barbara at 10:56 PM on March 16, 2010


Oh, by the way, so I don't have to wait for the Hansard to come out, does anyone know if any Senators voted against this bill? I'm looking in your direction, Senator Abetz.
posted by Jimbob at 11:09 PM on March 16, 2010


Unfortunately for humans, the death penalty is the ultimate punishment belonging to the infallible system of a perfect society.

The death penalty is a human rights issue, as far as I'm concerned. Good on Australia for doing this.
posted by Mikey-San at 11:17 PM on March 16, 2010


Jimbob: the bill was passed on the voices- it didn't go to a formal vote because no 'noes' were voiced when the second or third readings were moved. Not enough to force a vote, anyway.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 11:51 PM on March 16, 2010


I would much prefer the guy you gave as an example to be locked in solitary, fed gruel and forgotten for the next 60 years, because I tend to feel that would be worse than a quick execution.

I like being alive. I like existing, and I don't have to be climbing mountains or dancing in clubs to feel good. I enjoy lying around all by myself, thinking of things, reciting poems to myself, singing to myself. And gruel isn't so bad. If I had to choose dead or alive, I'd always choose alive unless you were enthusiastically and inventively torturing me all day.

I'm against capital punishment, but I'm also against warehousing prisoners for no good. Your punishment for doing evil should be to do good, even if it has to be at the point of a gun. Make prisoners work to feed and house poor people, not sit and watch television.
posted by pracowity at 12:34 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't call myself a death penalty "advocate", but I believe that the option of directly killing people is an occasionally necessary thing for a state to exercise. Consider the long list of powers over you that a state has, including ways (such as jail) to make your life an utter misery, or slowly and indirectly kill you, for example by depriving you of something you require to live. In light of that, it seems kind of arbitrary to me to pick out directly killing you as the one specific thing that the state ought never to do.

It shouldn't be a punishment of the person so killed, though, it should be an admission by the state of the state's complete inability to provide to that person a meaningful and harmless existence for them. Life in jail is neither. Any significant period of time in jail is neither.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:28 AM on March 17, 2010


Well I reckon this is bullshit. But that's because I don't think the federal parliament should be using international treaties and the external affairs powers to do this. Tony Abbott could use exactly this power for evil, if he was PM.

US and other readers, please don't be mistaken, there have been no state murders in Australia for over 40 years, and there is very little support for its introduction. A couple of idiotic comments on a NEWS website doesn't indicate very much at all.

I think that politically the more interesting story in this is the ban on torture (though it's already illegal in a wide variety of ways) - no one is daring to make the link to Gitmo. Labor have been gutless on this, they oughta have slammed Bush & Cheney.

By the way, a more interesting story, mamdouh habib has won his libel case against the Daily tele and poison Piers.
posted by wilful at 2:56 AM on March 17, 2010


there have been no state murders in Australia for over 40 years, and there is very little support for its introduction

After I hit post earlier, I wondered if my comment had been hopelessly naive and I had somehow missed something. But I think I'll happily move back to my view of our country as a quite lovely utopia at our happy little arse end of the world where we don't have to be worried about being put to death by our own government. (I know I'm closing my eyes to the whole detention/stealth-erosion of civil rights thing but please let me have my illusions for a couple of minutes!)
posted by prettypretty at 3:41 AM on March 17, 2010


I'm actually really thinking right now. I've always been very anti-death penalty, mostly because it's so irrevokable: "Many who live deserve to die, some that have died deserve to live" type of jazz. However, I wouldn't call execution "state murder" any more than I would call arrest "state kidnapping" (there are sometimes abuses with the legal system that makes the legality suspect for both of those).

However, I'm not sure death is the ultimate punishment, and neither do I want the main purpose we keep a murdering sadist alive is because we want them to suffer. I don't think the main purpose of the justice system is to rehabilitate; I think of it more in terms of reconcilliation. When a person violates the law, they sunder (to varying degrees) between himself and society. By atoning, they heal the gulf and eventually rejoin society in full. We can do this because they are us which makes it drastically different from prisoner-of-war camps where we imprision people not for crimes but rather because they threaten the State and the People.

But what do you do when reconcilliation is impossible? I would like to think that any violation can be healed, but that isn't always the case. There are crimes so heinous I just don't know if atonement can be given. I sympathize with the comments where certain people are removed from the living. I don't want to punish them; I just want them gone. Death does settle all scores, for good or ill. As we don't have exile in the wilds any more, I suppose the only other alternative is just keeping them in a cell for the rest of their life, and never open it up.

This is all theory though. In practice, the death penalty is too fallible to be used in standard society for my tastes and I'll remain against it.

Sorry for the derail. The post did give me a lot of food for thought this morning.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:32 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


From what I've read, the death penalty is an issue in Australia mostly in the form of Australians being active in campaigns for its abolition worldwide (possibly spurred on by a number of incidents of young Australians facing execution for smuggling drugs through Asia). Pro-death-penalty campaigners tend to be a tiny minority of socks-and-sandals ultra-right crazies.

I wish I could say the same thing about censorship in Australia. *sigh*
posted by acb at 6:04 AM on March 17, 2010


they oughta have slammed Bush & Cheney.

I'm absolutely against capital punishment, but those two should have had a public hanging. Funny how that works.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:51 AM on March 17, 2010


Absolute doesn't mean what it used to I guess.

Bush and Cheney shouldn't be hanged. No matter how much they deserve it either.
posted by Jenga at 7:33 AM on March 17, 2010


Bush and Cheney shouldn't be hanged. No matter how much they deserve it either.

You're right. Life imprisonment is much more fitting.

"Time for your daily waterboarding, Mr. Cheney."
posted by acb at 8:13 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


This sets a dangerous precedent.

Activist lawyers will inevitably extend the principle from Criminal Law into the Common Law, preventing people from moving to Canberra, as that is tantamount to social death.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:30 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


UbuRoivas, I'm afraid I don't see the danger, or indeed any downside at all, in being prevented from moving to Canberra.
posted by No-sword at 5:00 PM on March 17, 2010


True, but we still need somewhere to put all the public servants.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:52 PM on March 17, 2010


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