The death penalty has been banished in Australia since
the 1960s. The last inmate hanged in Western Australia was Eric Edgar Cooke.

Cooke was a serial killer.  He
had only ever been tried and convicted of one murder, but evidence - and
strangely enough, his own confessions - lead authorities to believe there was
more than one victim.  He was hung in the gallows at Fremantle Prison on the 26th October 1964.

The execution

Most executions were carried out at
the prison at 8am on a Monday morning. Prior to the
execution the hangman was responsible for making sure the trapdoor was working
and eliminating any possibility of the rope stretching, which would cause the
inmate to slowly suffocate rather than have their neck broken and die instantly
(thank god for small mercies hey?). This was done by calculating the condemned
persons height and weight.

On the day of the execution the prisoner was
woken at 5:30am.  They showered and had breakfast,
then transferred from death row to a holding cell. They were offered the
services of a priest and a glass of whiskey.

At the allotted time the prisoner was escorted
to the gallows with hands and feet secured in leather shackles, and head
covered in a cloth hood. The execution ritual was always strictly observed; as
soon as everything was in place the hanging was carried out. The prisoner was
only left in the holding cell for 60 seconds before being taken to the gallows.

Since around 1891, there were approximately 44
legal executions at the Fremantle Prison.

The death penalty is not something
people born after the 1960s in Australia have had to deal with.
We've only observed it through the safety of a television screen or known that
it is something that happens in other countries.

It may be happening in other countries, but suddenly we have
been forced to think about the finality of the death penalty over
the last year as some of our citizens have faced or are still facing the
possibility of being punished with death.

The first was Schapelle Corby, the 27 year-old
woman from Queensland's Gold Coast; she was arrested at
Denpasar airport in October 2004 with 4 kg of marijuana in her bodyboard bag.

In an interview just a month after the arrest with 60
reporter Liz Hayes, Corby -  in a somewhat overly animated manner -
regaled how she was ‘shocked' at the marijuana being found in her bag; she
swore from day one that someone planted it there. Testimonials given to the
Indonesian court by a prisoner who allegedly overheard other inmates talking
about planting the drugs in Corby's bag,
proved to be inadmissible thanks to the witness's lawyer telling the media that
his client was a pathological liar who suffered from delusional episodes.

was indeed the media guinea pig for drug trials in
Indonesia, she put up with relentless attention, collapsing only once
among the
heat of camera's and the humid Indonesian summer outside the Denpasar
court. One can only pray she didn't see the one hour special put
together by Channel Nine during the week of the verdict. Mike Willesee
hosted the talk show that
seemed more like an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, complete
with a roving street reporter asking folks what they thought about Corby and
the evidence stacked against her, with the audience voting on electronic polling
devices on her innocence or guilt. Like they really had any
affect ...

Or did they?


You have to wonder whether the media circus
that surrounded the Corby case had anything to do with her receiving a twenty-year
sentence as opposed to death – which is generally the punishment sought in a
drug haul of this size, and if history is anything to go by, people have been
executed for possessing much less.

As invasive as the media attention was, it probably saved
her from the firing squad. Surely Indonesia wouldn't want to piss-off their
closest neighbors and their closest allies, especially after $40million was
collected and given to the tsunami-devastated regions by Australia - including the government. Some
people threatened to withdraw aid, stickers touting ‘Boycott Indonesia' were seen on the bumpers of cars
all over Australia, and flights to the island of Bali
declined significantly. The public
outrage at this attractive young woman being imprisoned for life - or
worse, killed - was truly something to behold. The government, however,
impassive.  And I guess they have to, don't they?

I wonder if people would have been so disgusted if Corby looked a little more like, well, Renee

There was about two weeks to go until the Corby
verdict was handed down.  It was established that the prosecution weren't going for
the death penalty so the nation waited to see if she
would get off or get life, when nine Australians, including the abovementioned
Renee Lawrence, were caught with heroin strapped to their bodies trying to
board a flight back to Australia.

Australia was outraged – how could they be so

How could they be so stupid and get caught now?  Surely this
would not look good for the beloved Corby.


The Bali Nine

The Australian Federal Police had been watching
the group for a while and currently there are lawsuits filed against the
AFP for informing the Indonesian government of the impending trafficking –
information that allowed the Australian citizens to be caught in a country that
dishes out the death penalty for as little as a few grams of cocaine or heroin.
These kids had kilograms strapped to them.

Lawrence is the only woman in the group.  She is a lesbian and
unfortunately she embodies the ‘dyke' stereotype better
than anyone I've seen down at the Court Hotel on a Friday night. While
being politically incorrect, this is the only time I would say to her –
such a shame you look like a man"

Because, obviously judging by the Corby case – femininity will save you. So Corby, who is Lawrence's cellmate and was a beauty student
before being arrested, gave Lawrence a makeover for her court appearance.
Yeah there isn't much you can do in Kerobokan jail, but it was a nice gesture
nonetheless. More than what the Australian government did, or probably will do
for them – good on you Schapelle.

The trials for the Bali Nine and fellow
Australian Michelle Leslie (who was caught with two ecstasy pills in her purse)
are happening as we speak but there isn't the same amount of media attention on
them as there was for Corby. Perhaps the media learned that by
not respecting the Indonesian culture – which is overwhelmingly Muslim and very
conservative - was probably not doing the accused any favors.

Now let's move onto Nyugen Van Tuang, the
Australian man arrested in 2002 at Changi airport in Singapore with heroin strapped to his body. By
the time this story is uploaded onto Cheers, he could be dead. In fact he could
be dead as I'm typing this.

There has been a protest based in Melbourne where people are urged to trace an
outline of their hand and send it to the government.  It's called ‘Reach out'.
The Australian government has thrown their own hands up: there is nothing they
can do anymore. All pleas for clemency have been denied and it is now up to the
UN to give it a go. Good luck. Singapore is the kind of place you get thrown
in jail if you spit chewing gum out on the footpath.

Being the annoying and rational person I am I can see that
the government is in a hard spot: they don't want an Aussie citizen to die, but if
this execution goes ahead they will have to live with the public backlash for
years, and know that they have lost a good percentage of their voters within the
Australian-Asian community. The thing is, the government has power but they are
not some super-entity that can wave a magic wand and make other countries
disregard their own law.

Nyugen broke the law in a country where they are not afraid
of sending you to the gallows if they think it will keep the city-state clean.
There is always a story behind it.  The Bali Nine received threats from the
ringleader saying their families would be hurt if they don't go through with the
operation.  What would it be like to sit back and realize you have got yourself
in way too deep?


Your life, or your families?

No doubt Nyugen has a story too: desperate for money,
threatened – whatever it is, there is one because there always is. As
journalists we know that, otherwise we wouldn't have jobs. But unfortunately no
matter what your story, the judicial systems in Indonesia and Singapore don't care. It isn't like Oz where
you can plead guilty but have a reduced sentence because you were abused as a

Everything is black and white in these countries – the proof
you are guilty is strapped to your body or ‘planted' in your body board bag.So currently there are nine Australians on trial
for their life and one getting closer to the noose as the seconds
slip by.

Every year in America up to 79 inmates are executed in
states like Texas, every Thursday night another ‘perp'
on Law & Order is threatened with the needle if they don't 'fess up.

Right to life

this brings up the 'right to life' topic; something that
Australians have probably only considered in terms of abortion. Even
then it is
not something openly discussed or protested about, like in other
countries. Our
political decision-makers who, are also male, continue to have
conservative views and refuse to move forward with the times – but
that's a whole
other story, as they say.

I have always been a ‘pro-choice' person. It's a woman's right to choose when she has a baby; it's a woman's
right to receive counseling and the proper care if she decides to terminate.

We all have choices. Everyday we choose what to
wear and whether to have that extra piece of chocolate cake – knowing the
consequences will end up on our thighs. We choose whether to do the right or
wrong thing, when we get in our car after a few drinks at the pub we have the
choice – albeit one made in a hazy beer fog – about whether or not to turn the
key, pull out onto the road and possibly hurt ourselves or someone else.

I guess these poor sods made the wrong choice huh?

Only they know what was going through their minds when they
decided to tape that stuff onto their chests, believing and/or praying they
wouldn't get sniffed out.

in the moments before the operation was carried out
they did not realize the reality of the death penalty – perhaps the
drug lords told them they would be killed if they didn't go through
with it.

I think the time is right to jump on the death
penalty issue – we must ask ourselves what does it solve? Sorry America but you are the proof in the pudding
– you can hardly say it's a deterrent when there are nearly 11000 murders a
year. I know that has a lot to do with lax gun laws…

Like I said before - justifying the death penalty for murderers
is a whole other story, I want to focus on the drug traffickers who are facing

The Indonesian and Singaporean prosecutors are taking the
angle that drug trafficking is worth the death penalty because of the way drugs
ruin lives. They bring up a good point but they also say - stop traffickers and
the addicts will stop. Not true, they'll just find a new dealer or maker.

Who makes us God?

A bunch of people plan how and when it will be done and then
they do it, they execute a person. That's taking a life, something that cannot
be replaced. There's no compensation for a life, no amount of money could ever
replace a daughter, husband or son.

I think the only thing these kids
are guilty of is making poor choices and being the victims of a government who
didn't protect them. I direct this point specifically to the AFP – had they
waited for the Bali Nine to get back to Australia and arrested them at the airports
they were destined for, they would probably be facing a few years in prison and
not bullets in their young brains.