December 01, 2005 | Jeff Wall

The public view on capital punishment

The “disconnect” between our politicians and the people is sometimes only exceeded by that between the media and the people.
And the issue of capital punishment, and the imminent execution of a young Australian drug trafficker illustrates that one again…and does so very starkly.
If the media were to be believed, then there is massive, if not almost total, opposition to the hanging of Van Nguyen by the Government of Singapore tomorrow.
Not so. No so in the case of Van Nguyen, and most certainly not so in the matter of the death penalty for serious drug trafficking.
Overnight, a Morgan Poll on the issue of capital punishment generally, and the current case in particular, was issued.
It makes interesting reading. Despite the massive media, political and community campaign to have the execution overturned – and the broadly favourable publicity for Van Nguyen despite the fact he has admitted to trafficking a large quantity of heroin – the nation seems evenly divided on his execution…47 per cent in favour, 46 per cent against.
And the question of executing Australian drug traffickers caught in countries where the death penalty is clearly enforced for drug trafficking, 57 per cent are in favour and 36 per cent against.
Interestingly, the community view on the death penalty for murder is quite significantly against it…more so than in earlier polls.
I raise the polling because I have heard several members of the Canberra press gallery allege widespread community “outrage” at the execution of Van Nguyen.
My own soundings, and the view on talkback radio, has not identified such outrage as being widespread at all.
The media does not have to, and should not generally, reflect the community view. But it should not treat it with contempt.
Yet that is what happened on Monday when Southern Cross Radio?s Canberra bureau head, Alison Carobine, commented on 4BC on calls for the Prime Minister?s Eleven v West Indies match tomorrow to be called off because of the execution in Singapore.
Carobine proffered the view that John Howard would have to seriously consider whether the match should go ahead.
How out of touch can you get. Not only did Howard not even consider the suggestion, the Labor Opposition said he did not need to.
But perhaps Ms Carobine should spend a little more time listening to the views of the Southern Cross network’s listeners. An on line poll initiated by the networks John Laws is running this way – Should the match be called off – THREE per cent; Should it go ahead NINETY SEVEN per cent.
How out of touch is it possible, even in Canberra, to get?
The circumstances of the Van Nguyen case are enough to warrant the death penalty being commuted. But he does not deserve the hero status some are now according him.
Oh, and by the way, there will be an execution of a convicted murderer in the USA around 24 hours after Van Nguyen meets his fate tomorrow.
I wonder whether there will be a protest about that – or the fifty or so other executions carried out in the USA each and every year?

Posted by Jeff Wall at 9:41 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. There should also be protests about the US executions, although those that do will probably be labelled ‘anti-American.’ (and protests about executions in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Africa, etc too)
    However, the core point being made here is a valid one. It shows why in other cases, many MPs have soft-pedalled on the death penalty – which unfortunately has made calls to save Van Nguyen a bit less credible.
    The opinion polls on this also shows that those who oppose the death penalty on principle need to encourage ongoing, strong and unequivocal political leadership, explaining why the death penalty is a bad idea in all circumstances.
    Otherwise, the figures mentioned here won’t shift much, and the next time an indivudal case grabs people’s attention, it will again be too late.

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — December 1, 2005 @ 10:47 am

  2. Hi Andrew,
    I agree with your view; there is not great ‘rage’ out in the community. However the Morgan poll is quite significant. If my memory is correct, not so long ago I seem to recall a poll showing roughly 30% of the population against the use of the death penalty. That was about the time of the sentencing of Amrosi.
    I doubt thinking Australians would maintain such an ambiguous stance (For in Amrosi’s case and anti in Nguyen, even inspite of the different crimes.) without considering it’s implications. Firstly for it’s impact their own morality and secondly for the inconsistance or even racial overtones it may engender in the views others. Especially those of our neighbours.
    I’d like to see the results of a poll which merely asks Australians whether they favour Capital Punishment, without any qualifications, either motive or association with any particular heirachy of crimminal offense.
    I reckon we’d see close to 50% against the practice. I also think any politician who showed the leadership to foster the anti case, both within Australia and overseas, would receicve significant community support.
    regards Keith Kennelly

    Comment by Keith Kennelly — December 1, 2005 @ 1:46 pm

  3. Why did they ban Capital punishment

    Comment by Some random — August 22, 2011 @ 9:16 am

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