The Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are being laid to rest this weekend. Both will be highly charged commemorations of Chan, a Christian pastor and Sukumaran, an acclaimed artist who spent ten years on death row before being shot through the heart by Indonesian firing squads last week.
They may have lost their ten-year battle against the Indonesian justice system, but in the end, Bali Nine duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran won the hearts of many Australians with their apparent rehabilitation.
Even though one poll shows slightly more Australians are opposed to retaliation, it was shocking to hear Foreign Minister Julie Bishop urge Australians “to seek to move on”, before the bodies of the men had been repatriated.
Indeed it’s hard to say what was more shocking – the anticipated executions or the timing of the advice to ‘forgive and forget’.
Add to that the dismay expressed by so many at hearing the AFP Commissioner and his deputy refusing to apologise for giving the Indonesian Police information about some members of the fated nine as they flew to Bali to embark on their deadly folly.
On the question of retaliation, few would quibble with the proposition that the federal government is between a rock and a hard place. There’s more to lose than can be gained.
But anger and grief ran high when news broke of the executions. Prime Minister Abbott had to calm the large and outspoken number of people feeling offended and affronted by the brutality of the decision to kill the two men.
He immediately withdrew the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, a significant move even if it is not seen as such. But those who had railed against the death penalty, not to mention the cruelty and heartlessness meted out to Sukumaran and Chan and their families wanted an assurance that the prime minister would exact a far bigger, more painful price from Jakarta.
What’ve they got to lose?
At stake is an already shaky relationship with the world’s most populous Muslim nation, one rocked by disputes over Australia’s now redundant ‘turn back the boats’ policy on asylum seekers and revelations that Australia had, under a previous administration, spied on the Indonesian leadership.
It is also a relationship with $15b of trade at its heart. That trading partnership, most of it in cattle and wheat exports, is more valuable to Australia than to Indonesia. So too is co-operation on national security and border control more important to Canberra than Jakarta.
Foreign aid is now said to be on the table. Indonesia is Australia’s largest aid beneficiary, receiving about $600 million last year. Fairfax Media reports that sum could be slashed or redirected.
Though the cut reportedly won’t be directly tied to the executions, and the timing is more coincidental than deliberate, it would nonetheless send Jakarta a strong message: Australia won’t tolerate being ignored and Australians don’t want their citizens killed with such heartless abandon.
Slashing aid to Indonesia will of course hurt both the Indonesian people and Australia’s national interest. But it will serve a purpose the prime minister might find useful.
After sustained criticism over what many see as a heartless asylum seeker policy, Tony Abbott was on a winning ticket with his strong pleadings to the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo to show mercy to Sukumaran and Chan.
It was the unrelenting pressure he brought to bear on Jakarta, albeit ignored, along with his outrage when the executions took place that convinced many Australians that Tony Abbott might be, at his core, compassionate, rather than tin eared when it comes to the plight of the underdog.
Cooling his heels so quickly will have given many people reason to revisit that view.
Showing Jakarta that Australia won’t be as generous with foreign aid in the future might help restore what the government lost by telling us to ‘move on’ after the executions. And it would seem a safe move: a recent Essential poll showed 79 per cent of Australians think our foreign aid budget needs to be cut anyway.
Only one more move could deliver as much political benefit – delivering Australians some peace of mind knowing that the AFP would never again give up foolish young people to a nation that kills for political expediency.