07/06/2005 - 22:00

Take a deep breath and relax, everyone

07/06/2005 - 22:00


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Last week I was going to air my personal views on the Schapelle Corby case following her conviction for drug trafficking in Bali.

Last week I was going to air my personal views on the Schapelle Corby case following her conviction for drug trafficking in Bali.

I held off because I couldn’t really see how my thoughts related to the business community.

A tragic case? Yes. A key issue for business? No.

I am glad I held back because the events of the past week have changed the importance of this matter to one that has some significance to people in business.

The emotional outpourings of support for Corby and the amateur acts of terrorism that appear to have followed this national unrest risk damaging our relationship with Indonesia, just as things were starting to improve following Australia’s decisive role in the tsunami relief effort.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should be constrained as a nation because of trade issues.

I am simply astounded by the irrational behaviour prompted by this case, even before the verdict was brought down.

Underneath the anger and emotion that boiled over is a real fear in all of us that we might one day arrive in a foreign airport and find ourselves wrongly accused of smuggling drugs – either through a set-up or by accident.

We all know how little sympathy we would get at our destination and how even people back home might doubt our story. It is hard to imagine how powerless you can become when you are the subject of another country’s legal systems and processes, as I am sure refugees in Australia have come to understand.

Allegations, such as those against Corby, are hard to defend at the best of times, let alone in a jurisdiction where the assumption of innocence may not be as firmly held as here.

That fear has been played upon in recent months, firstly by Corby’s friends and relatives and, more recently, by mainstream press sensing a damn good story.

It has been disappointing to witness the hysteria, which as the ABC’s Media Watch television program summed up some time ago has been unhelpful to the Corby defence.

For once, the only people who have come out of this looking good are the politicians who have been a little more cautious than usual in their use of such an issue, entangled in xenophobia as it is, for their own gain. I guess there simply isn’t an election on.

The pollies, for once, are right, though they could be a little louder in their commitment.

Ranting and raving and apportioning wholesale blame to Indonesia’s justice system or its acknowledged corruption is simply inflaming the situation, initially for Corby herself and increasingly to others, including business which would like to get closer to this market as it matures.

As for the crime itself, I admit I have reservations.

Does anyone really smuggle drugs into Bali? It would be a naïve thing to do, though I must admit I have met Australian travellers who have bought gold and opals in Asia in the ridiculous hope that they could make money from their sale back home.

However, even if Corby has been wrongly convicted of this crime, I can’t help feeling that her own connections in Australia might not somehow be the root cause of her calamity, rather than the Indonesians.

It has been reported that people close to her, including some linked to her vocal supporter base, have crime-related pasts.

This in itself does not mean guilt by association, but I can’t help wondering if her tribulations might not have something to do with these connections.

There is certainly plenty of doubt in my mind about her innocence, or at least doubt about the argument that the drugs found in her possession were entirely unlinked to her, even if she was an unwitting courier.

Perhaps Australians have been too quick to assume somehow that Indonesians are the only ones who are corrupt.

Whatever the case, this matter has wrongly fanned the flames of ill-directed national fervour and, what’s worse, prodded the irrational and deranged to commit criminal acts that will be used by other xenophobes to chip away at Australia’s reputation as a stable and tolerant bastion of freedom.

Indonesia is not perfect by any means and its justice system has big flaws, but we need at least to let justice take its course before hysteria sets in.

Just as we judge places such as Indonesia on the actions of a few lunatics – it’s worth remembering that can work in reverse.

Indonesia’s justice system may to many in Australia appear inconsistent in its rulings and application of the law, but we must remember it’s Indonesian law, not Australian law. We therefore need to be rational about how we deal with such a system.

By all means let’s fund Corby’s appeal and truly test the legal process there, but for the sake of good neighbourly relations let’s have some dignity about how we go about it.

The politics of the approvals process

Speaking of justice, there is a fascinating analysis of contrasts in development approval by the State Government on page 5.

Journalist Mark Beyer rightly points to the lenient application of approval when it comes to a coal-fired power station compared with brickworks connected to a construction magnate disliked by the Government and its mates in the union movement. It is interesting to note that this contrast exacerbates the perception that ideology is hindering due process.


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