WHETHER YOU AGREE with the sentences carried out on Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran today, the Prime Minister is right to recall Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta; behind the campaign to “save” the pair lies an unpleasant reality that has been laid bare by their executions: under its present leadership at least, Indonesia is a dubious friend of Australia at best. We would do well to recalibrate our approach to our northern neighbour.
This has been a divisive and distasteful episode whichever way you cut it, and the executions of recidivist drug traffickers has seen proponents of the death penalty find much common ground with the secondary positions of those who oppose it, and others who eschew capital punishment find succour in other points made by those who advocate that sit below the headline positions of each.
With support for capital punishment in Australia (I believe) growing, irrespective of the executions that took place in Indonesia this morning — one only has to take stock of the outpouring of sentiment whenever a recidivist criminal on release rapes or murders someone else, or the residual outrage against the likes of Julian Knight and Martin Bryant, and other pieces of shit like them — the entire saga, if nothing else, probably suggests it is time for a serious debate over the issue domestically even if such a conversation results in no change to our own system of penalties and sentences.
But distinct hints of an unpleasant reality have emerged throughout the Chan/Sukumaran case, and particularly since the change of government in Indonesia last year, that Australia would be most unwise to ignore.
And the offensive, idiotic, brainless stunt yesterday by members of Australia’s acting community that we ripped into late last night, whether you agree with or oppose capital punishment, probably served as a provocation to Indonesian officials that did more harm than good, and whilst we will now never know if a last-minute reprieve might have been secured for the pair, the reprieve given (literally) at the death knock to a Filipino national due to be executed with them shows the possibility was certainly alive in the minds of the Indonesian leadership.
My point in writing this morning derives from the simple fact — evidenced in how events have played out in the Chan/Sukumaran case — that under its current leadership, it is difficult to see how Indonesia can be regarded as a friend to Australia, and if some good can come from their deaths is should be the recognition that the controversy surrounding the Bali Nine has laid bare a cavalier disregard in Jakarta for Australian interests, and this ominous fact is one that should prompt a rethink in Canberra over how we approach an undeniably crucial strategic relationship.
Whilst generalisations invariably contain exceptions, and whilst not all of the traffic in the relationship between the two administrations has been a one-way street, it is no exaggeration to assert that Indonesia has ignored and snubbed the federal government, refused to open communication channels between its President and our Prime Minister, and at times has appeared to revel in the pursuit of administering a regime of justice that the Australian government has consistently and forcefully opposed.
I don’t have the time this morning to spend a great deal of time elaborating on the point; life goes on, and today I’m very busy, and in any case it scarcely seems decent to labour the point.
But this is an unpalatable reality that transcends whether you agree with capital punishment or not; the signs of total Indonesian indifference to the priorities of Australia (unless they coincide with Indonesia’s) has been clear for all to see in recent times, and it follows plenty of other examples of it that have had nothing at all to do with the fate of condemned drug traffickers sitting on death row in Kerobokan prison.
Whether you agreed with the bipartisan position advanced by Abbott, his Foreign minister Julie Bishop, and supported and endorsed by Labor, the fact remains that Indonesia has thumbed its nose at Australia — to the extent, that is, that it hasn’t simply ignored us.
And the fact it chose to commute the sentence of one convict from the Philippines at the last possible moment simply must be interpreted as a signal of Indonesia’s real priorities in the region and its contempt for Australia, however much it might have been a bona fide show of justice in its own right.
The fracas over ASIO surveillance of Indonesian figures — conducted on the watch of the Rudd government, but expediently used by Indonesia to pick a fight with an Australian government of a completely different complexion — is another example of what I am talking about.
And its threats, simply distilled, to unleash a “human tidal wave” of asylum seekers toward Australia if, in short, our government didn’t stop making trouble and noise over Chan and Sukumaran’s sentences is yet another.
These are discussions to be had in full, of course, at another time and when passions and tempers and emotions have all cooled, and when I return this evening (time permitting) it will be to talk about something unrelated to Indonesia that I have “held over” for a couple of days.
Yet have that discussion we must: for the growing frostiness in relations between Australia and Indonesia is unmistakable.
It would be unwise to assume that that country, under the regime presently in charge of it, is friendly to Australia, or even a friend at all: and whilst better weather will no doubt come in the fullness of time, as others come to power in Jakarta who are possessed of a different outlook to Joko Widodo and the interests that back him, this increasingly evident reality will pose problems for the next few years at least that those who shape our policies toward regional neighbours would be ill-advised to ignore.