Just Punishment Film Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia.

Just Punishment

By Maya Borom

Among the many countries throughout the world that still have the death penalty in place is one of Australia’s closest neighbours, Singapore. Mandatory sentencing of some offences existed in Singapore prior to 2012, which meant that certain offences, such as drug trafficking and murder, would automatically receive the death penalty.

Just Punishment, by Kim Beamish and Shannon Owen, is a documentary shot over two years telling the story of one of the final victims of mandatory sentencing in Singapore, Van Tuong Nguyen. Van Nguyen was found guilty of trafficking heroin and sentenced to death by the High Court; his subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeal was rejected and a date of execution was set to 2nd December 2005. It would mark 12 years since an Australian was executed by a State.

Just Punishment is a short but powerful film that highlights the injustices of the death penalty …

Interestingly, the film initially started off with a timeframe of six months but, as it became apparent that the appeals and clemency process would take longer, it grew to a total of two years. It includes candid and emotional interviews with Van’s mother and twin brother Khoa and former girlfriend and friends. It follows former defence counsel Julian McMahon and Lex Lasry as they battle the Singaporean courts in what is ultimately a struggle of life and death. The emotional toil is clear as those closest to Van try in vain to save his life knowing that there is little that they are able to do – legally or otherwise. Interspersed throughout the footage is the reading of Van’s prison diary, which provides a glimpse into the intimate thoughts of a person who knowingly accepts their fate.

Lex Lasry comments in the film that the death penalty amounts to ‘legalised murder’, and Singapore was condemned widely for it’s decision to go ahead with the execution. Both the Singaporean courts and political offices noted their inability to apply a sentence other than the death penalty due to legislation on mandatory sentencing – something that was only changed last year.  At the time, overwhelming consensus in the Australian political and social landscape was that the sentence was disproportionate to the crime and that capital punishment should not be the sentence. Van’s sentencing instigated important public debate about the role of the death penalty in a contemporary judicial system.

Just Punishment is a short but powerful film that highlights the injustice of the death penalty – it brings to the forefront the real emotional and human cost in a state’s decision to take a life. It’s shown as something that doesn’t just affect the accused, it affects all those involved in a persons life – it affects everyone’s human rights.

Whatever happened to …?

This article was originally published at Election Watch 2013

Whatever happened to …?

Credit: Takver, Flickr

Credit: Takver, Flickr

Both The Wikileaks Party (WLP) and the Pirate Party of Australia (PPAU) failed to win any seats, despite heavy campaigning and a solid groundswell of dedicated volunteers spruiking their respective platforms. So what are some of the theories as to what went wrong? What’s next?

There’s been much discussion as to the internal implosion of the Wikileaks Party and the departure of key people such as Leslie Cannold(link is external). Ms Cannold spoke candidly about the lack of transparency, accountability and backdoor power plays as well as the resignation of key members on the Wikileaks National Council due to the preference deals that saw right-wing parties preferenced over key allies such as The Greens.

The widespread internal disunity painted a picture of a party that seemed highly unlikely to be able to deal with the intricacies and politicking of government.  It failed to deliver any seats, with a paltry 1.19% of votes.

Primary candidate Julian Assange has suggested that an international banking blockade on Wikileaks may have limited the ability of the party to raise money through donations. Mr Assange has vowed to run for the Senate again despite the result.

The Pirate Party of Australia (PPAU) also failed to win any seats with only 0.4% of votes, but for different reasons to the WLP.

The PPAU presented a unified front and were completely transparent about their preferences with arelease(link is external) announcing exactly where its preferences would be allocated. Despite having only a small number of volunteers on polling day when compared to WLP, the PPAU presented a strong online campaign and consistent messaging across platforms.

The failure of the PPAU to win seats may possibly be due to the fact that they are still unable to reach across the digital divide and appeal to the mainstream voter – the majority of which would have come across them only at the ballot box. The PPAU has indicated it intends to continue to campaign on its key policies and platforms.

So where to from here? Both parties could focus more on strategies that preach less to the converted and more to voters in the mainstream voting public. The challenge facing the Wikileaks Party will be to restore the sense of transparency and justice that it campaigned on. The major challenge facing the Pirate Party of Australia, as mentioned in an earlier article(link is external), is to convince the Australian voting public that they are a viable alternative to the major parties.

The Wikileaks Party vs The Pirate Party

This article was originally published at Election Watch 2013

The Wikileaks Party vs The Pirate Party

As we count down to election day, it’s worth making a comparison of some of the key policies and platform of two parties who, on the face of it, share a similar vision for Australian politics – the Wikileaks Party (WLP) and the Pirate Party of Australia (PPAU).

The Wikileaks Party and the Pirate Party are both running on a transparency platform. Both seek to instigate a shift towards the free-flow of information, whether it be in the form of advocating for a greater freedom of speech approach in law or demanding an open media market. Both parties seek to challenge the status quo on asylum seekers and call for greater accountability from governments on data retention and surveillance.

But is it realistic for voters to expect that the parties are able to effect the kind of changes they champion?

The Wikileaks Party catch-all is ‘Transparency. Accountability. Justice’ – it advocates for “…transparency of government information and action…” and will be ‘…fearless in its pursuit of truth and good governance.”

How it will go about achieving this is unclear, though the platform statement does offer a conciliatory gesture for voters wanting more information with an overview of principles that the party advocates for, such as pushing for change to current media policy, global integrity and greater Internet freedoms.

Any real information on the type of mechanisms or platforms they propose to instigate the transparency shift is light on detail. What mechanisms can the WLP employ to effect such change that is not already in use in some way or another? It’s also light on detail of other equally important areas of law such as education or tax.

The Pirate Party of Australia’s core tenets are based around freedom of information, civil and digital liberties and privacy. Like the WLP, PPAU advocates for transparency of government and participatory democracy. However in comparison to the WLP, the PPAU’s platform is much more comprehensive and goes so far as to provide details on proposed legislative exceptions and suggested policy text – in effect presenting the voter with scalable and workable solutions.  PPAU also appears to be running a more comprehensive platform taking into consideration, for example, patent and drug reform and cultural participation.

PPAU’s hurdle is convincing the voting public that they are a serious party with a serious agenda, while the WLP appears to have internal transparency and governance issues that threaten to destroy it before it gets a chance to affect any kind of real change to the Australian political environment.

Read the WLP platform statements and the Pirate Party of Australia platform(link is external).