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July 2 2009 | AUSTRALIA

Australia

Federal Government warns states: death penalty never again

 
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The Sidney Morning Herald

Law to ensure death penalty stays dead

Cynthia Banham Diplomatic Correspondent

July 1, 2009

THE Federal Government has written to the states telling them of its plans to introduce laws banning them from ever reintroducing the death penalty, whether they like it or not.

Although all states have abolished the death penalty, under existing laws there is nothing preventing a future government from bringing it back.

The Herald understands the federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, wrote to his state counterparts on June 16 informing them "of the Commonwealth Government's intention to introduce legislation to prohibit the application of the death penalty throughout Australia". The Herald has obtained a copy of the letter.

The language of the letter is significant, as it indicates the Government has chosen to use the external affairs power in the constitution to put the prohibition in place. This is instead of asking the states to refer their powers to the Commonwealth to enable it to pass the laws banning the reintroduction of the death penalty - an option considered less watertight by the Government because usually states refer their powers for only a limited period.

It is understood the Government has legal advice that it has the power under the external affairs power, and international treaties signed by Australia including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to enact the laws.

The Government has given the states until Monday to respond to its letter. It says the formal prohibition would "further demonstrate our nation's commitment to the worldwide abolitionist movement".

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