Labor is taking a “fresh look” at legislation introduced by the Abbott government that abolished the death penalty for all offences in its mandate, including slavery-related offences, after the death of Indigenous lawyer Lee Lonsdale.
Mr Lonsdell, who was executed in 1887 for murdering a former slave in Melbourne, was the victim of a Victorian slave trade.
The Labor government has said it would like to see a repeal of the law, but the legislation was passed before the Lonsdsons death and will expire in 2019.
“I don’t know if we can undo it, but I know there are some things that we need to look at and we’re looking at it,” Mr Hockey said.
“We’re not prepared to be as hard on slavery as we were in the 19th century.”
Mr Hockey also rejected calls for an end to the death penalties for murder, rape and manslaughter.
“The death penalty has been abolished in Australia for almost two centuries,” he said.
“It is not a good idea to use that as an excuse to make a crime.”
Mr Lonesdell was the first Aboriginal person executed in the nation’s history and was among the last Aboriginal people executed in Australia.
He died in 1891 at the age of 70.
“As we mourn the passing of Lee Lonesdale, we must also honour the legacy of our ancestors who were executed for their crime of owning, using and selling their own people,” Mr Latsdell’s widow, Lucy, said in a statement.
“Lee Lonesdon and his family were not only brave and hardworking, they were good people.”
Mr Abbott’s decision to remove the death sentence for all slave-related crimes was a move widely criticised by Indigenous Australians.
“It’s an embarrassment,” Indigenous activist and activist from the Aboriginal People’s Legal Centre of WA, Darryl Brown, told the ABC.
“He’s saying that the death row is for all crimes.”
“What a shame.
It means we don’t have a death penalty in Australia,” he added.
“They should be putting it on the death list for all of these crimes, but they aren’t.”
Ms Brown said the decision to abolish the death sentences for all the offences under the Racial Discrimination Act was a “misguided” move.
“There is a huge gap between the Indigenous people of Australia and the Australians who are being targeted in this case,” she said.
“The abolition of the death warrant has a huge impact on the Indigenous community in Australia and that is really sad.”
Labor has promised to restore the death warrants for all slavery-linked crimes, as well as the death punishment for murder and rape, and introduce new offences for other crimes, including arson and murder.
Mr Hockey’s government has not said what it would do about the abolition of capital punishment for Indigenous offenders, which was removed from the Crimes Act in 2014.
Under the Racial Violence Prevention Act, Indigenous people in New South Wales were given the option to appeal the death verdicts, but it was not until the Lonesdsons case was settled that the law was reinstated.
Labor is calling for a full review of the Racial Justice Act.
“Labor is committed to ensuring the Racial justice system is as free as possible for all Australians,” Mr Hobart said in the statement.