Death penalty polarises opinion

A reader asks why we can’t have a referendum on the controversial issue of capital punishment.


MY concern is the death penalty and the great differences in the western world.

In Australia we are paying for mass murderers to live. Surely the accountants of our country would look at this as a big liability.

Personally, I do believe in capital punishment, because the Bible does mention an eye for an eye – and it is a big deterrent to some crimes.

Also, it is a justice for the poor folks who have to suffer, and it is final. Why can we not have a state referendum on this issue, as we seem to follow the United States?


The topic of the death penalty arouses passionate feelings and intense debate whenever it is raised. Your letter had the same impact on the panel.

The topic often comes to the fore at times when feelings are already running high over the commission of a particularly brutal crime or one involving multiple deaths, the death of a child or, say, a police officer.

Although the issue is complex there are a few facts that are well established. For example it is very clear from data gathered around Australia that capital punishment is not a deterrent to the crime of murder. In fact when capital punishment has been abolished murder rates have remained stable or even decreased.

Also because capital punishment is final and irreversible it has been shown that juries are far less likely to convict a person for the crime of murder, preferring to acquit or choose manslaughter for fear of making a mistake.

Resumption of capital punishment would also create the paradox of a society that kills, even humanely, in order to protect the value of human life.

The idea of a referendum may seem appealing initially, however for practical and complex legal reasons it is unlikely to occur.

It is also unlikely to be as popular as some might suppose. Vocal minorities and like-minded individuals often believe their views are widely shared but when put to the test this proves not to be the case.

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