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The bill, which sought to abolish the death penalty under the laws of the Commonwealth and its territories, was referred to the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee for inquiry and report despite Senator Murphy’s fears that it was ‘a device to bury the Bill’.

The Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee presented its report on 2 December 1971 in which it identified technical matters that in its view should be considered by the Senate. Senator Murphy proposed five amendments to the bill to deal with questions raised in the report, all of which were passed by the Senate.

The bill’s referral was the first practical realisation of the potential for legislative committees to ‘shape Bills both as to policy and detail’.

Protesters in Melbourne against the decision to hang convicted murderer Ronald Ryan, 29 January 1967. The Age, FXJ352892.

While the Death Penalty Abolition Bill passed the Senate in March 1972, it languished in the House of Representatives until the December 1972 federal election. It was introduced again in identical form on 1 March 1973 as the first bill proposed by Senator Murphy as Attorney-General of the incoming Labor government. The bill passed into law on 18 September 1973. It took another 11 years for the death penalty to be abolished in all Australian states.