A Crisis Of Credibility

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Sadly, there is a growing sense of inevitability surrounding impending execution of Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The political rhetoric continues, but most Australians sense the Indonesians just aren’t listening.

For many there’s a tragic sense of deja vu. In 1986, when Australians Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers were charged with trafficking heroin in Malaysia, our then Minister for Foreign Affairs Bill Hayden made an impassioned appeal for clemency to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to spare their lives, but to no avail. There was widespread public outrage in Australia, and when Barlow and Chambers were eventually executed the Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke publicly decried their hanging as “barbaric.” The remark sparked a decade-long cooling of relations between the two nations, with Mahathir pointing out that hanging as a method of executing criminals originated in the West.

Now history appears to be repeating itself, with Indonesian president Joko Widdodo apparently showing little sympathy for our national pleas for clemency for Chan and Sukumaran. But, upon quiet reflection, perhaps we can appreciate why. The truth is that, on at least a couple of counts, the Australian Government has a serious credibility problem on the issue.

Firstly, it is unlikely Indonesians have forgotten that it was Australian authorities who first delivered the Bali Nine into the hands of the Indonesian Justice system, arguably for political purposes associated with our government’s desire to strengthen economic and other ties with its near neighbour in the wake of the Bali bombings. When the Australian Federal Police learned that Scott Rush and other members of the Bali Nine syndicate were planning to import drugs from Bali into Australia, they could have arrested them at an Australian airport and charged them under Australian law for importing drugs into Australia. But they didn’t. They elected to hand their information over to Indonesian authorities, so the offenders could be arrested by Indonesian police at an Indonesian airport on their way out of Bali, to be prosecuted under Indonesian law which, as our authorities well knew, imposes the death penalty for such offences.

And where was our national outrage at the notion of the death penalty when the Bali bombers faced execution only a few years ago? Our politicians were all but silent on the subject, allowing the executions to proceed without protest or objection. Had we more vehemently pleaded then, in reference to Indonesian citizens convicted of the slaughter of Australians, as we do now, in the face of the planned execution of Australian citizens convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia, our abhorrence at the notion of state-sponsored homicide, we may have had more credibility in this debate.

Whatever principles we as a national collective embrace, our governments need to have the courage and integrity to consistently uphold and champion them, regardless of the politics and fearless of the tabloid criticism.

Chris Nyst

Gold Coast Lawyer, Novelist and Film Maker

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