As the execution of Bali nine “ringleaders” Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has moved closer, the Australian government has joined hundreds of thousands of Australians calling for clemency. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pronounced the case “a grave injustice” and even threatened Indonesia that Australians might boycott Bali as a holiday destination.
But the government, unlike the millions of people who would like to see Chan and Sukumaran given a second chance, has no real concern for the their lives.
The fact is that in 2005, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) handed over the Bali nine to Indonesia, despite knowing they would face the firing squad. Although there was enough evidence to arrest them on arrival in Australia, the AFP wrote to Indonesian police about the Bali nine’s plans to smuggle heroin from Bali to Sydney, telling them to take whatever action they chose.
Australia has a longstanding policy of refusing to hand over criminals to countries where they face the death penalty. But in this case, as The Saturday Paper revealed there was a secret “memorandum of understanding between the AFP and the Indonesia National Police (INP)”. This agreement “was signed in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings…and renewed in 2011.”
Nor does the government’s objection to the death penalty extend to Papua New Guinea, which decided to re-implement the death penalty in 2013, and plans to execute 13 prisoners by the end of the year. (Both Indonesia and Thailand have offered PNG their financial assistance and expertise.)
Yet both Labor and Liberal governments have maintained the Manus Island gulag for asylum seekers, insisting they are at the mercy of PNG law.
The Coalition’s hypocrisy on the death penalty also undermines their posturing. They say they oppose the death penalty, yet only ever say anything when an Australian is on death row. There is a thinly veiled racism behind the government’s attitude.
Abbott’s attempt to play bully-boy with Indonesia by “reminding” them of Australia’s aid when the tsunami hit Aceh has blown up in his face. An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman said bluntly, “No one responds well to threats.”
When the Bali bombers faced the death penalty then Liberal Prime Minister John Howard declared he thought it, “impossible … to argue that those executions should not take place when they have murdered my fellow countrymen and women.” The Rudd government had no objection to the execution of the Bali bombers in 2008.
Nor does the Australian government’s concern for human life extend to West Papuan independence activists who are routinely shot dead by Indonesian police.
The Abbott government has treated the Indonesian government with contempt with its refugee boat turn-back policy, despite Indonesia’s objections.
Chan and Sukumaran were betrayed by the Australian police and politicians when it mattered. No amount of last-minute posturing can hide the government’s guilt.
By Tom Orsag