Friday, June 03, 2005

Indonesia Attacked, Australians Abandoned

An Australian woman, Schapelle Corby, was arrested in Bali for carrying a large quantity (from memory, 4.1 kg) of illicit drugs in her baggage. She was charged under Indonesian law, tried and convicted following a hearing in which she was legally represented. A panel of three judges found her guilty, and had the power to sentence her to be killed by firing squad. The prosecution sought a life sentence in the event she be found guilty. Ms Corby was sentenced to 20 years in gaol.

Ms Corby's arrest comes at a time when over 10 other Australians have been arrested for trying to smuggle illicit drugs through Bali. Other Australians have been arrested elsewhere in Asia, including one Australian of Vietnamese origin sentenced in Vietnam.

However, none of these cases gained the attention of politicians and media as the Corby case. And when the verdict was delivered, the response from many quarters was swift.

Some Australians rang local aid agencies and asked for their donations to the tsunami appeal to be refunded. Somehow tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, Somalia, Thailand and Aceh had some responsibiluty for the apparent injustice Ms Corby had suffered at the hands of the Bali court. Letters to the editor appeared in a number of major newspapers, with writers calling for the Australian government to cancel its $1 billion aid pledge to Indonesia for tsunami relief.

(Predictably, anti-Semites such as Daniel Pipes and Mark Steyn did not make any comment about Australians and their lack of generosity to tsunami victims, whilst being quick to point out the alleged lack of generosity from donors in Muslim countries.)

The Australian media had a field day, both with Corby and against each other. Various news networks were trading blows, accusing each other of paying money to Corby family members and friends for exclusive access to their reactions.

Channel 9's behaviour in this regard was most disturbing. Popular TV personalities such as Ray Martin and others did a marvellous job by asking questions of the Corby family immediately after the verdict, questions whose understandably emotion-charged responses could be used as evidence by the prosecution in any appeal. Poor Ms Corby's mother was caught off guard, virtually admitting that her daughter Schapelle has more or less "done enough time for what she did" and should be returned to her family.

Ms Corby's own defense team, led by 2 Perth QC's offering their services for free, have already commented on the irresponsible nature of the media coverage. But even more irresponsible was the Government's response to the whole affair.

For starters, the Government chose to focus on Corby whilst ignoring the plight of other Australian citizens in custody in the same gaol. It seems that Corby's good looks and green eyes captured the imagination of the PM and Mr Downer in a way that the Asiatic features of the alleged ringleader and the other Australians could not. And we are not hearing a peep from the Government about the Australian caught up in Vietnam on drug charges.

The Australian Government had written to the Indonesian authorities on behalf of Schapelle Corby. Yet we do not hear of any letters being written on behalf of other Australians detained on drug smuggling charges. what does it take to get Government support? Does one require a high profile and wealthy financial backer as well as having a pretty face?

Yet in case anyone thought it was racism which drives the Howard Government's decisions on such matters, what is the Government doing for another white handsome Australian citizen rotting away at Guantanamo Bay?

It seems that having an Australian passport is no guarantee of Government support. Our Government has turned its backs on its citizens. Indeed, as recent events have shown, our Government is even prepared to allow Australian citizens to be detained with "illegal" asylum seekers in the middle of the desert. Worse still, our citizens can even find themselves deported as if they were illegal immigrants!

Returning to the Corby fiasco, the Government's reaction to the finding of a biological agent at the Indonesian embassy on 1 June 2005 was predictably low-key. The word "terrorism" simply did not register on the lips of the PM or his Ministers. Yet there can be little doubt that this was a possible terrorist attack.

So how should we read the Government's response? The following letter to the Melbourn Age pretty sums up my feelings ...

Relieved raghead

If it had been the US embassy targeted, our media would be saturated with conspiracy theories about nasty Islamists from Lakemba attacking our allies. Mr Howard would have called for tougher anti-terror laws, and his shock-jock and tabloid columnist allies would be crying out for more mandatory detention. Thankfully, it was only the Indonesian embassy that was attacked. Indonesia isn't as important to us. And because it is a largely Muslim nation, it's unlikely there were any nasty raghead Muslims involved. I'll be able to sleep much more peacefully now.
I. Yusuf, Fairfield

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