Tanya Levin

Bali 9: Aussies must learn to say “NO”


Trying make sense of the impending execution of two of the Bali 9, Tanya Levin realises that part of the problem is that Aussies simply don’t want to be told “No, you can’t do that.”


Here’s the thing.

I’ve read all the defences of the Chan/Sukumaran case. I wanted to find some logic that would dismiss my simplistic morality on it, but I’ve pretty much come up empty.

There is the argument that the Indonesians ask for clemency for their own citizens in similar circumstances, but that doesn’t change the original situation. It’s not about the death penalty. Australians are not worried about unfair death or there’d be vigils for all the health inadequacies in our own country, including for the inmates in our jails. They face alarming premature death statistics, and most of them have not been convicted of charges anywhere near the gravity of the Bali Nine.

The only imperative I am urged by the defenders to employ is compassion. Well, guess what? I’ve got this condition called compassion fatigue. I can only care so much about so many things.

Sue me.

There are Aboriginal people in jail and kids in detention, over whom I lose way more sleep.

There are many other reasons my heart is cold. I have nothing personal against these men; they took a risk and it failed. It’s great that they have found their joy in God and art. In my opinion, the last thing this world needs is more pastors or artists, but it goes beyond that. This week I read a blogger’s stance that these two have evolved into the kind of people we all want to be: good people. No. A big no.

You wonder why my compassion is exhausted.

We know that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent in the USA, where its meting out is based on class, race, wealth and politics. Keep in mind that many of those on death row are convicted of crimes of passion, not pre-meditated profits, thus it is never clear who will and who won’t merit execution.

It could not have been clearer in Bali that day. Do “this” (traffic in drugs) and this (the death penalty) will happen. That’s why drugs are expensive…because of these risks. That’s why these guys did it and thought nothing of taking seven other people with them. And that’s because Australians have always known that they can get away with anything. As kids they get notes from Mum to take to school. At uni, there were “Special Consideration” forms. When they get a job, the Australian work ethic known as “the sickie” is justified by a medical certificate. If it’s too hard, there’s stress leave, and unfair dismissal and all kinds of legitimate tools that Aussies know will grant them forgiveness, rather than permission, if they get caught.

An Australian dies every nine days in Bali, with drugs or alcohol fuelling many of the accidents. We don’t know how to behave overseas. We drink stuff, and jump off things and think we’re funny. We’re not. We’re accidents waiting to happen, because we think the rules don’t apply to us.

I want our kids to know that if it says DO NOT TOUCH, that they don’t touch. Could be an electrical fault.

That if it says DO NOT DIVE, they won’t.

It’s critical that our kids believe that if the sign says, “TRAFFIC DRUGS IN OUR COUNTRY AND WE WILL KILL YOU”, that these people aren’t mucking around. That there aren’t always exits. That “sorry” isn’t always enough.

The media’s inch-by-inch coverage of this saga has indelibly inked these men in this generation’s memories.

Whether or not the execution goes through, the lesson has been learned.

It’s an urgent one we need them to get right now.



Tanya Levin

Tanya Levin is an author, social worker and mother, and other things that involve telling people what to do. She hopes the siesta will soon be part of the Australian working day.

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  1. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    Well thank you for clearing the matter up.

  2. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    Thank you for clearing the matter up.

  3. Magpie said:

    Yeah, but, I’m against killing people on purpose. So… there’s that.

    There’s heaps of death around, and heaps of ways of preventing it, and we don’t all do the things we need to do to help prevent it. That’s true. But intentionally killing someone, that’s different. My inaction is not intended to kill anyone. It does kill people, probably, but that’s not the intent. I’m just living my life, and there’s only so much that can reasonably be expected of a person. But Indonesian authorities are going to intentionally kill some people, and that’s very different.

  4. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    A sound commentary on the debate about human rights, rehabilitation and the justice system.

  5. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    Perhaps I did. It is certainly difficult to discern, which is why I asked for clarification.

  6. Belinda said:

    Tanya this is brave of you thank you. you have spoken the words many Aussies are afraid to say, we find it easier to tow the party line like the guys below me. What you said took guts. And its true.

  7. Ben said:

    I am sorry Lachlan but I think you have really missed the point of this article.

  8. Ben said:

    Brilliant article Tanya could not agree more. We are definitely a land of entitled buggers who can’t be told no and who throw a tantrum when we don’t get our way. White privilege perhaps. These comments just reiterate that you are on the right path Tanya! Cheers

  9. David siu said:

    What rubbish. Tanya, I certainly hope you have never done anything wrong in your entire life.

  10. Lachlan R. Dale said:

    Your argument isn’t particularly sound.

    Firstly, do you see no moral or ethical issue with the death penalty? You seem to side step this question.

    Secondly, do you not understand why these two have become poster boys for rehabilitation? Not only have they undergone a dramatic change of attitude, but they are actively assisting other prisoners with their rehabilitation. This is of huge value. Rehabilitation is no easy thing.

    Thirdly, you vaguely imply that while there is no evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent against crime, you trot out a particularly impotent counter argument based on analogy (“kids should follow signs that they DO NOT TOUCH and DO NOT DIVE”).

    For some reason these two are no pariahs for millions of Australians who, according to yourself, feel they can ‘get away with anything.’

    Does this image have any reality in the various interviews and human profiles of these two individuals; in analysis of why they acted as they did? For some reason I doubt any serious academic analysing the drives of criminality would back your assertion.

    Let’s take two issues you say you care about – the incarceration rates of Indigenous People, and kids in detention.

    Shouldn’t you be *for* locking up each group?

    I mean, the indigenous population must surely learn that the law is theree for everyone (and need to be able to read signs that say ‘DO NOT TOUCH’), no?

    As for kids in detention, sheyyt, I mean their parents should have watched all those really great infomercials about how if you travel here by boat, you will be thrown in detention.

    Shouldn’t they ALL be forced to learn from their mistakes, with no forgiveness or reprieve? Why are they any different?

    I don’t think you’ve worked your ideas through. The substance of your article references no serious idea of justice or morality. I would love to hear clarification from you on this matter.

  11. Ben Carey said:

    I’m sorry – but it is possible to disagree entirely with one’s life choices, to be disgraced by their actions and at the same time want compassion for the way those choices pan out. Yes – they knew what they were doing, but the Death penalty should be fought everywhere, and this has been brought into sharp relief with the fate of two Australian men who have surely showed the best rehabilitation possible. Any argument against the death penalty is surely an argument for the possibilities of rehabilitation. Fighting the death penalty is about fighting for the sanctity of human life. Rolling up the choices of these two men in a thin argument about Australian entitlement, and snide quips about there being too many artists and pastors is really stretching things too far. It’s simplistic, and although compassion fatigue is definitely a thing we all feel, dismissing the plight of these men because it doesn’t fit into your own view of personal responsibility by extension dismisses the fight against capital punishment entirely.

  12. Elsa said:

    Thank you for writing this. I have compassion fatigue too. It isn’t that I don’t care for the 2 bali 9 men but because I am also upset about the beautiful humans in our own country.

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