Robert McClelland made a principled stand against the death penalty, in Australia and abroad.
Part of democracy involves a skepticism of government, and whatever other powers you give a government, power over life and death shouldn't be one of them (except in war, which should be used sparingly and where death is incidental to the survival of the state). By extending this belief to those outside Australia we shed our parochialism and make a stand for our fellow human beings.
It is a beat-up to link this to the sentences of the Bali bombers, a situation caused by Australia having a government that can't last and won't go. It is a reflection of media priorities that Rudd's statement on insensitive timing was the last word on the matter, while Downer's witterings about Rudd's hypocrisy cut no ice at all (if McClelland is such a nice bloke, you won't mind us voting for him then).
Rudd will shrug off Downer as he always has, and he will get away with his oddly short and schematic commennt on the trooper killed in Afghanistan - but after the proposed dawn service in Long Tan earlier this year, it's entirely possible that this man is deaf to the cultural theme of Honouring Those Who Died At The Hands Of Australia's Enemies. You could never accuse Howard or Beazley of this, and even Costello can go through the motions, but if Rudd doesn't wake up to this he'll give the conservatives the meat they need to cut short his term in government.