The view from Billinudgel

After the killings, the politics
The Bali executions are already taking a back seat to affairs of state

Julie Bishop and Joko Widodo last year. Source

Even before the bodies of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had been repatriated to their grieving parents, the politicians were indulging in an undignified scramble to bury them as quickly as possible.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, did not wait until she had consulted the recalled ambassador, Paul Grigson; she swiftly announced that it was time to move on. Tony Abbott was rabbiting on about the importance of maintaining our relationship with our well-regarded neighbour.

And the Indonesian ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, released a frankly bizarre statement expressing sympathy and condolences to the relatives of the youths his government had shot in cold blood. Back in Jakarta, President Joko Widodo and his officials simply dismissed the whole furore as a hiccup.

Given the reluctance of Australian ministers to maintain their rage, it seemed that the Indonesians might well be correct. The only repercussions came from the role of the Australian Federal Police, who have finally given an explanation of why they passed responsibility for suspect Australians to the Indonesian authorities.

The press conference was, at promised, full and frank; there was no evasion and no weasel words, no passing the buck to the politicians and no crocodile tears. The pity was that it could not have been given earlier. It would not have changed the situation – probably nothing could have – but it might have made it easier to bear. The hard fact is that the guidelines for AFP behaviour when dealing with international crimes that may result in a capital punishment have become perhaps a little clearer, but they remain subject to prevailing circumstances, and there can be no guarantee that a similar horror will not be repeated. And effectively there is almost nothing the politicians can do about it.

The justice minister, Michael Keenan, has admitted that the instruction that the force must take into account the possibility of the death penalty on foreign soil was in fact omitted from his recent set of formal notices, but insisted that it didn’t matter: the order remained in force. It will be followed scrupulously, but it will not save every greedy and reckless gambler who thinks that he or she will this time be invulnerable. But the fact that the ministerial fiat had been removed was, to say the least, perplexing.  

The opposition parties demanded answers, and Bishop's reply that this was no more than a cheap shot is unworthy of her efforts in the case.

And there is little more to be said, except yet again to rail about the sheer, wanton, wilful waste of the two lives. Capital punishment is always primitive and barbaric. But to spend more than ten years keeping two men in prison to reform and rehabilitate them, to transform them from criminals into worthwhile human beings capable of working for the good of both themselves and society as a whole, only to kill them – that is more than stupid. It is perverse, almost psychotic.

And although the victims were repentant, their executioners are not. Joko Widodo, is a Muslim, and therefore regularly invokes his deity as Allah, the merciful and compassionate. He has shown neither of these qualities himself. There were no doubt reasons, pressure from his colleagues and particularly from his party. Politics, in Jakarta as in Canberra, dictate that he will be forgiven. But his moral cowardice will not and should not be forgotten.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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