Saturday, 30 May 2015


If you ever find yourself facing a capital charge the first thing to do is not find a good lawyer or tell your mum. You should pray that Tony Abbott keeps his mouth shut. The moment he opens it you might as well say your last goodbyes.

Abbott's linking of Australia’s billion dollar aid package to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami – which killed around 200,000 Indonesians – with the fate of two convicted drug smugglers is absurd. His declaration that if Indonesia refused to ‘reciprocate’ for Australia’s tsunami assistance ‘we [would] feel grievously let down’ takes the idea of humanitarian aid to a new low.

John Howard, it seems, was a political naif after all. When he announced the assistance in early 2005 it was about helping Indonesians rather than Australians. He described the tsunami as ‘a human tragedy on a scale that none of us in our lifetime have seen and it does require a response above the ordinary’. No mention of reciprocity of any sort at any later date. When he was asked if the $500 million earmarked for concessional loans would be tied to Australian companies Howard replied, ‘No, no … that’s not the purpose of the aid’.

Tony knows better. While a good deal of the package was probably never actually spent he’s calculated that Australians are worth around half a billion dollars each. He also knows that executing Australians who have broken Indonesia’s drug laws is not in that country’s ‘best interest’.
The Indonesians might well have a different view.

21 February 2015

A wave of fury will soon sweep across Australia with the execution of Bali Nine ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, by an Indonesian firing squad. Threats of boycotting Bali, cutting aid, expelling Indonesian diplomats and recalling our own officials, will flood the airwaves.

And then what?

Will that same outrage be directed at the 50+ countries around the globe who still have capital punishment on their books, including for such ‘grievous’ misdemeanours as adultery and blasphemy?

Will our senior religious figures urge Saudi Arabia to stop the Friday lopping of heads, including of minors? Will our politicians unite to tell the Japanese, the Americans, the Malaysians and a host of others that the problem is not who is killed and how they are killed but that they are killed at all?

Sadly, indeed scandalously, the answer will be no. Normal service will resume—resume that is until the next Australian is shot, hanged, beheaded, injected etc. Then we’ll rage again at the injustice of it all.

We obsess about the person when our real target should be the principle: there’s no place for capital punishment in a civilised world. Nationality has nothing to do with it. So if any good can possibly come from the deaths of Sukumaran and Chan it will be that people like Julie Bishop and Tanya Plibersek and Ben Quilty drive a campaign for the abolition of capital punishment. Fullstop.

13 February 2015

What exactly is driving so many Australians – from the Prime Minister down – to vent their spleen at Indonesia over its likely execution of two Australian drug smugglers? The answer is simple – selective outrage.

It can’t be about capital punishment itself.

We don’t seem to have issued dire warnings over Indonesia’s recent execution of citizens from Brazil, Malawi, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Vietnam and Indonesia itself.

We don’t seem to have made much of a fuss over the fact that in 2013 – according to Amnesty International – nearly 800 people worldwide were put to death by their governments. And that figure excludes China, which refuses to tell anyone what its execution rate is.

Could it be that the 2013 figure doesn’t bother us too much because most of those killed were from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and (probably) China? Perhaps they’re not on our list of ‘civilised’ states. But what of the 39 Americans and 8 Japanese executed in 2013? Where was the noise about them?

Wherever, whenever, whomever and however, capital punishment is abhorrent. Australian lives are worth not one jot more or less than any others. By all means protest Indonesia’s intentions. But do so because capital punishment is evil and Australia should energetically campaign against it. Not because, this time, ‘our lads’ are the victims.

23 January 2015