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Another Australian has been sentenced to death. Where is the outrage?

Antonio Bagnato
Antonio Bagnato
How far does your compassion go? Do your moral principles apply to everyone, or only those you think are "good" or "on your side"?

Australia's morality is likely to be sorely tested with the news that another citizen has been sentenced to death overseas.


After the tragic deaths of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia, many Australians said "never again".

They believed that despite the wrong done by the pair – attempted drug importation – rehabilitation was possible. Importantly, they came to the conclusion that murder is murder, barbaric and cruel, no matter whether it is ordered by a court or at the hands of a hitman.

The Bagnato case will ask us to put our money where our mouth is. Because, by all accounts, Bagnato is not a good guy. In fact, he's up there with what we might imagine is the worst of the worst.

Evidence from the crime scene indicated his victim had been tortured. When Schneider's body was found in a shallow grave, his neck had been broken.

But this is exactly why Australia should fight to ensure Bagnato is not given the death penalty.

We make hypocrites of ourselves if we care about state-sanctioned murder only when it is applied to people we feel sympathy towards, or those with a narrative of redemption. 

There are so many powerful practical arguments against the death penalty, it's no wonder Australia last executed someone 50 years ago. The fallibility of courts means it regularly leads to the killing of the innocent, and it doesn't work to reduce murder rates. (It's worth noting that the trial of Bagnato's co-accused was marred by allegations of translation issues and confusion.)

But even if these practical reasons were not compelling, we should still oppose it.

The death penalty is not clean. It's not "killing" as opposed to "murder" because it is done via bureaucracy. It's slow – sometimes lasting more an hour – it's messy, and it's premeditated.

If he is lucky, Bagnato will feel nothing as his life is taken by lethal injection.

If not, he may feel like he is burning from the inside out, brutally tortured in his last moments by inadequate anaesthetic levels combined with drugs that prevent him from moving to show he is in pain. Lethal injections are one of the forms of capital punishment most likely to have their delivery botched.

We must fight to stop this kind of barbarism wherever it occurs – fight for a society that refuses to put a price on human life, that does not condone retribution and violence.

Bagnato's victim was a former Hells Angels bikie who was allegedly being investigated along with Bagnato for another murder in Australia, as well as international drug deals. Yet few would argue that Bagnato was justified in killing him.

The murder was a terrible act and it will be a terrible act if the Thai government murders him. When we justify taking the life of another, we turn ourselves into murderers, too.

These men were raised in Australia. Their crimes, and their lives, are our responsibility.

The arguments in favour of standing by and doing nothing when other countries impose the death penalty are bunkum. We can't pick and choose which foreign laws to be moral relativists about (as I've previously argued, we would never stand by and condone women being stoned to death for adultery because "that's the law"), just as we shouldn't pick and choose which lives we fight for.

In fact, legal experts believe this case could be the perfect opportunity for Australia to use its friendly relationship with Thailand to begin to implement the recommendations of a recent parliamentary inquiry into the death penalty.

There should be no place for state-imposed murder in Thailand, a deeply Buddhist nation, just as there is no place for it in Australia.

As the chair of the inquiry, former Liberal MP Philip Ruddock, wrote:

"Not only does an eye for an eye leave the world blind, but the deliberate destruction of human life as a response to crime is an affront to the 'right to life', enshrined under international human rights law. We must continue to campaign in a strong and consistent manner to rid the world of this cruel practice for all time".

Since the death penalty decision on Tuesday, there has been relative silence from the government and advocates on this case – something Foreign Minister Julie Bishop must urgently address. Otherwise this case risks bending our moral consistency so far it breaks it.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Amy Corderoy, February 10, 2017

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