For a moment this morning I thought the party of Kevin “Me Too” Rudd had rediscovered principle. The Australian led its front page with a report that Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland had given a speech that a Labor Government would speak out “consistently” against the death penalty, whether for terrorists or Australian drug smugglers.

The rediscovery was not for long. Me Too quickly disassociated himself from Mr McClelland’s criticism of Prime Minister John Howard.

Mr Rudd was having none of that business about hypocrisy in Mr Howard supporting “the executions of the perpetrators of the Bali bombings, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein” while continuing to state that “Australia opposed capital punishment.”

The Opposition Leader went on radio to declare that a Labor government would never attempt to have the death penalty against a terrorist overturned.

“We will not be making interventions diplomatically in support of any terrorists anywhere, anytime,” he said.

As for Mr McClelland, well, “I spoke to Robert McClelland this morning and said that I thought his speech last night was insensitive and he agreed with that,” was how Mr Rudd put it. For good measure a staff member from Mr McClelland’s office had been counselled about the content of the speech.

“I also understand … that a person in my own office saw the text of the speech but didn’t identify this part of it,” he said. “That staff member is also being counselled. I think the action involved, that is delivering a speech like this … in the lead up to the fifth anniversary of the Bali bombings, is insensitive in the extreme.”

The form the counseling took was not disclosed but it probably should include getting the offenders to check the website of the Federal Labor Party and purge it of comments like those of the then shadow Attorney General Nicola Roxon back on 10 July 2006. Ms Roxon, in those days before the party turned to Me Tooism, issued a statement on the 15th anniversary of the United Nations Death Penalty Protocol coming into force.

“Labor opposes the death penalty”, Ms Roxon boldly declared.

“The death by hanging, beheading, electrocution, firing squad, or stoning is inhumane, no matter what the crime. Australia needs to use its position internationally and in the region to abolish the death penalty universally.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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