Friday, August 28

We're a more civilised society

Take a look at this graph – it shows that Australians now oppose the death penalty by an overwhelming margin.

In a recent Roy Morgan poll, only 23 per cent supported the death penalty for those found guilty of murder, while 64 per cent supported imprisonment. When the question was asked in 1947, some 67 per cent supported the death penalty and 24 per cent imprisonment.

The poll also showed that those who believed in a mandatory life sentence for murder are now outnumbered by those who believe judges should have some discretion in sentencing.

It's cheering data for those of us who believe no society can execute criminals and still call itself civilised.

Back on November 9, 2008, worried by my lack of emotion about Indonesia's executing three of the Bali bombers, I put up a long Grumpy Old Journo post examining my opposition to the death penalty. I've just re-read it, and my views are as firm as ever.

First, the post enumerated rational arguments – for example, that now and again innocent people are judicially murdered in countries which carry out executions – but also the more difficult examination of how we form our moral attitudes.

So it's good to learn that two-thirds of Australians would now agree with me. Last November, I wasn't so sure. I wrote:

I'd assumed the fight against the death penalty had long been won in civilised societies like Australia.
But a bit over a year ago, I was at the monthly meeting of a club for retired business and professional men. Our speaker was a retired police inspector, and when he said he still believed in the death penalty, a murmur of assent went around the room. Out there, support for the death penalty remains, although it's hard to assess how strong it is.

So I thank Scott Steel (Possum Comitatus) for cheering me up by outlining the Roy Morgan data in this Crikey blog post (from which I've lifted the graph). You can read Roy Morgan's own report here.

Those interested in the development of anti-death penalty policies in a civilised nation – Australia – will find this NSW Council of Civil Liberties timeline useful.


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