While The Big Smoke has at its heart impartiality around issues of the day, the topic of Chan and Sukumaran warrants commentary, so TBS Editor PB weighs in on this life or death issue.


From ongoing grim reports coming out of Indonesia, two of the Bali 9Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, look all but assured of death by firing squad sometime in the coming weeks. Even their lawyer, Todung Mulya Lubis, seems to have faced this grim reality in a recent tweet.

A tortuously drawn-out period has seen the death penalty hanging ominously over the heads of two of the Bali 9 as they awaited the final outcome of the crimes they committed in Indonesia.

It has also cast an uneasy and burdensome shadow over the hearts of their families, many Australians and our government.

In terms of the latter, the Chan and Sukumaran situation has instigated an ongoing softly-softly diplomatic push by Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop to try and secure clemency for the men who, from all outward appearances, seem to have been fully repatriated as “good citizens”, desperate to prove they have left their criminal pasts behind. It has also brought about solid bipartisanship, again through Julie Bishop and also Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, who made a joint personal plea for a pardon.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s more roughshod approach has been poorly received, typified by the PM indicating to the Indonesians that should President Joko Widodo not change course in offering Chan and Sukumaran a pardon, Australia might not be so generous in the future with our foreign aid.

The ramifications of such veiled threats led to protests in Indonesia where activists put the PM in a mock prison and labelled him a druggie.

The Big Smoke aims to remain politically impartial in debates of the day, encouraging expression and opinion of both sides of any issue, leaving it to our contributors to offer their own personal, subjective and varied viewpoints on whatever topic they feel the need to discuss with the TBS community.

In the instance of Chan and Sukumaran, some commentary must be offered.

Following the rule of law is imperative, as is respecting such in both our own nation and those countries kind enough to allow us to visit. Visiting another nation is a privilege offered by that nation’s government and people, something often taken for granted by tourists as they happily jet off around the globe. When we’re within the borders of the country we are visiting, we effectively relinquish rights offered to us by our own nation and agree to be bound by the laws of our host.

When the Bali 9 entered Indonesia with the express purpose of drug smuggling, knowing the well-documented harsh penalties Indonesia imposes on drug offenders, they put their lives in the hands of Indonesia’s justice system. For Australia to attempt to interfere any way other than diplomatically with that system is highly compromising to our relationship with Indonesia.

Yet, the death penalty, while still in force in more nations than one might assume, including the USA, is a step too far.

We concede that had the Bali 9 not been caught and profited from successfully smuggling drugs back into Australia, such would have further fed the social ills and criminal activity we face at home as a consequence of drug addiction generated by those desperate to secure funds to support their habits. It follows that given the likelihood of drug overdoses and the deaths that might have also come from the importation of the drugs, the Bali 9 effectively would have meted out their own “drug death penalty” on addicts in Australia.

Despite the likelihood of such, this is merely posturing as it is an outcome that never eventuated, thankfully due to the Bali 9 being caught by the efforts of the AFP and local Indonesian authorities in their ongoing quest to try and stamp out drug trafficking. Logically it follows from this that, even embracing the horrific “eye for an eye” mentality the death penalty seeks to prosecute, taking the lives of Chan and Sumukaran is not only unfair, but unjust.

If Indonesia wants to keep them behind bars for the rest of their lives, so be it.

If it wants to use them for ongoing community service so that Chan and Sukumaran can continue to offer themselves up for redemption for crimes committed against the people of Indonesia, all power to them.

And if Indonesia wants to truly show its growing influence on the world stage, clemency and forgiveness would show us it has in its collective heart the ability to acknowledge people change.

That bad can turn to good.

A pardon would not be a sign of weakness for President Joko Widodo, but rather a sign of strength.

While the seemingly impending deaths of Chan and Sukumaran are the clear and present issue, what needs to follow is a broader discussion of the death penalty between governments throughout the entire international community.

The offering of clemency by Joko Widodo and Indonesia to Chan and Sukumaran, rather than terminating their lives, would be the more constructive and positive launching pad for such discussion.

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