Now that the Bali bombers have been executed, it is time to focus on what Australia should do about ensuring that capital punishment is abolished throughout the world, or at least our region. Already Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has announced Australia will co-sponsor a a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty around the world.

Australia has a leadership role on the issue, according to Julian McMahon, a Melbourne lawyer who is involved in the Bali Nine case.

McMahon, one of the lawyers for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and the lawyer for young Melbourne man Van Nguyen who was executed by the Singaporean government in 2005, says that the actions and words of the Australian government are closely watched in the region on this issue:

“What we say and do is watched closely in Asia, inconsistencies are exposed. The best way to protect all of the poor and marginalized on death rows, and Australians on death row, is to be clear, calm, humane, consistent and principled, in hard and easy cases,” McMahon says.

McMahon told Crikey that when “Van Nguyen was executed, the oft quoted Australian politician in Asia was Wilson Tuckey, who seemed to know too little about the case, but it was his lone voice supporting the execution which got coverage.”

That is why, McMahon says, it was important that yesterday “despite the reality of the raw suffering of the families and friends of the victims, the Australian political figures who spoke up about the executions made Australia’s universal opposition clear. It is this sort of principled leadership position that is needed in our region,” he said.

One group of people who will be watching the Australian government’s words and deeds over the next few months will be the Bali Nine. Will the Rudd government’s refusal to urge the Indonesian government not to execute the Bali bombers, make it more difficult to save the lives of those of the Bali Nine who face the death penalty? Early signs, given statements this morning from the Australian and Indonesian governments, are that it will not. But only time will tell whether or not the Australian Federal Police decision to allow the Indonesians to arrest the Bali Nine, with the full knowledge that it could mean death for some or all of them, will become a grisly reality and a permanent stain on the AFPs reputation.

And what of the Australian media’s treatment of the execution of the Bali bombers? The reports by Cindy Wockner, run by the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph, were gruesome and unnecessary. Ms Wockner reports in breathless and dramatic detail the lead up to and the executions itself. But why do we need to know this? The execution of any human being, no matter what their crime or who they are, is not something to gloat over or to turn into words to sell copy. 

Peter Fray

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