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The death penalty is a wider issue than the Bali Nine

By Xavier Symons - posted Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Australian government, media and people seldom speak with one voice. With the impending execution of the Bali 9 ringleaders, we are experiencing one of those rare moments when they do.

There have been prayer vigils in Sydney's capital cities, attended by thousands. Foreign minister Julie Bishop has been trying – now it seems in vain – to broker a drug-offenders prisoner swap with Indonesia. The Australian government appears to value the well being of our citizens over relations with Indonesia.

It now seems unlikely that the pair will be spared. As early as this week they could face the firing squad – 12 armed executioners, aiming for the prisoners' hearts.


The Australian government abolished capital punishment for federal offences in 1969, and in 1985 NSW joined the other states and territories in ending the practice for state offences. No one is debating its morality any more.

The sporadic executions of Australian citizens in foreign jails, however, ought to spur us on to demand the abolition of the death penalty internationally.

The wrath of the Australian media has been focused on Indonesia.

But it would be unfortunate if we single out Indonesia for the charges of 'cruelty' and 'inhumanity'. There are far worse offenders.

The United States executed more prisoners in 2014 – 35 to be exact –than Indonesia has in the past 15 years.

Since 1976 – when the US Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on capital punishment– the US has executed 1402 prisoners.


The preferred method of execution in the United States is lethal injection. This is supposed to be more humane than hanging or the electric chair. But recent executions in Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma have been botched.

Last July, Arizona man Joseph Rudolph Wood took almost two hours to die after being injected with the drugs midazolam and hydromorphone.

The two drugs are a new barbiturate combination being trialled in a number of US states. Drug companies are refusing to supply the traditional cocktail of barbiturates used for execution, forcing state correctional facilities to take extreme measures.

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Xavier Symons is deputy editor of

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