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Our jelly backed PM

By Greg Barns - posted Thursday, 23 October 2008

Kevin Rudd is receiving plaudits both in Australia and overseas for his deft and decisive handling his country’s response to the global financial meltdown. But when it comes to his position on the death penalty for the three Bali bombers, Mr Rudd, is so far at least, looking decidedly unprincipled.

The Bali bombers, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, Ali Ghufron, and Imam Samudra are likely to be executed sometime within the next fortnight for their role in the terrorist attacks in Bali in 2003 which killed 88 Australians.

Mr Rudd has, in the not too distant past, said that the death penalty is wrong - always and everywhere. In journalist Robert Macklin’s 2007 biography of Rudd, the Prime Minister says:


I believe the death penalty is repugnant at every level and we have a responsibility not just to speak out against it, when it applies to Australians, but to argue, uncompromisingly, that the time has come for the world to put an end to this medieval practice.

And a year earlier, in an essay on the need for morality in politics, published in a national magazine, The Monthly, which Rudd used to cleverly position himself as a conviction politician, he wrote that “capital punishment is unacceptable in all circumstances and in all jurisdictions”.

These are not statements which allow for any ambiguity or equivocation. But did Mr Rudd really mean them, or where they said with a calculating eye to political ambition?

Is it just another case where a politician backslides from a principled moral position because political considerations demand he do so?

Mr Rudd appears now to be saying that he is only opposed to the death penalty in Australia, but that if other countries have it on their statute books as a legitimate form of punishment then that’s OK by him. This is how he is justifying comments he made earlier this month that the Bali bombers deserve the death penalty.

On October 3 Mr Rudd had this perplexing exchange with 4BC’s Greg Cary:


CARY: OK. Just perhaps in a sentence then because there is not a lot of time and only one or two points to make - what is your fundamental, philosophical problem with the death penalty?

PM: Oh, I take the underlying view that when it comes to the death penalty, in this country, (my emphasis) I have never accepted the argument that it represents a sufficient deterrent of itself. And secondly, the argument that killing another person doesn’t bring back the person to life that they have already killed themselves.

So, if I was persuaded of the deterrent arguments or the other arguments, then I would have a different view. But I have never had a persuasive argument put to me on that score and that has been my consistent position throughout my life.

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Greg Barns attended the Australian Lawyers Alliance Annual Conference held in Auckland last weekend.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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