Attila the Pun
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I pride myself on being a person of reasonable intelligence, but I really need help to work out:

a) what the hell Jeff Lewis is talking about; and

b) how one manages to get paid to write stuff like that.

There is no doubt that the guilty verdict in the Schapelle Corby case marks a low point in Australia's relationship with Indonesia. The pendulum of sentiment towards Indonesia, so positive around the tsunami relief effort, has now returned to the negative arc.

I may not agree with him (negative sentiment during the looting of East Timor led to public rallies effectively calling for the invasion of what was still Indonesian held land by Aussie troops), but at least his opening makes sense.

He then does his best to give all academics a bad name.

In a post 9/11 world, where relative cultural differences have been amplified in the service of particular ideological and strategic interests, the Corby case illuminates once again the delicacy and contradictory character of the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

This "us and them", "good and evil", "clash of civilisations" rhetoric has clearly been marshalled in the Corby case, especially by the Australian popular media. The governments in Indonesia and Australia have been lured by polemical discourses that threaten their own recent efforts to stabilise the bilateral relationship. The retreat by the Australian Government and its chief policeman into the language of "independent sovereignty" risks the restoration of an East-West divide that so frequently impedes effective diplomatic and cultural interaction.

Having finished attempting to look intelligent, he then proceeds to patronise the Australian public:

The Australian public seems to have been seduced by a popular media that perpetually translates complexity into simple narrative polemics, a myth-making that has constructed Schapelle Corby as innocent victim of a pernicious, inept and corrupt judicial system.

As opposed to academics perpetually attempting to translate simple narratives into complex polemics of course.

The Nine Network, in particular, has represented Schapelle as a "victim-hero", the most familiar and frequently repeated motif of nationalism and xenophobia.

Like all the "victim-heroes" the media repeatedly showed during the tsunami to draw out our natural nationalism and xenophobia? Oh, right.

Of course, this perspective of Indonesia is both inaccurate and damaging. The Indonesian judiciary is a conventional civil system adapted from the Franco-Dutch model. There is a presumption of innocence, and, in this case at least, there is no evidence that corruption and ineptitude have contaminated proceedings.

I don't wish to wade into that aspect of the case, but surely when the head judge brags about his 400-0 record of convictions, the whole presumption of innocence thing looks a bit shaky?

This moral panic is not dissimilar to the anxieties surrounding drug use in Australia. Sadly, Indonesia's strategy of prohibition and punishment mirrors and magnifies the policies that have proven so ineffectual in countries such as Australia. While Indonesian discussions on illicit drugs have focused on crime and penalty, the related issues of social health, education and harm minimisation have been largely neglected. It is not surprising that many younger people in Indonesia are attracted to an anti-establishment cuek since authority has been so infected by corruption and repressive brutality. The savage prohibition of the drug laws seems to resonate with the same unconvincing rhetoric.

But wasn't he just telling us how the legal system was a conventional civil one, with no hint of corruption or ineptitude in the proceeding?

The Schapelle Corby case illustrates very clearly that a more broadly based dialogue on drugs is necessary. It is not good enough for the Australian Government to retreat from its regional responsibilities into a facile discourse of "independent sovereignty": diplomacy, above all else, is an exercise of mutual influence.

So this article is a call for drug law reform? I thought it was about the relationship with Indonesia.

If there is to be greater regional co-operation on trade and security, and if cultural interaction is to be further enhanced, then the respective governments must lead and inspire these accommodations of policy and support. Both governments must more actively engage in regional health and social issues, including drug policy and prevention strategies.

So Australia should be calling for changes in Indonesian drug policy, and Indonesia should be calling for changes in Australian harm prevention strategies?

Schapelle Corby is now part of the swelling army of convicted drug traffickers in Indonesia. While she has avoided the fate of the 20 foreign nationals on death row for comparable crimes, she nevertheless faces considerable time in abhorrent incarceration.

She is hoping, of course, that the appeal process or the Australian Government can save her. Like many other Australians, I hope that she is released.

Because you think she is innocent, or you think the sentence was too harsh, or you think the trial was flawed?

Not because I am convinced she is innocent of the crime, but because she is innocent enough to deserve understanding and compassion within a context of complex and rapidly evolving global contiguities.

When that is your penultimate sentence, you know your argument (if that is what this is supposed to be) is in real trouble.

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