Hubris and Hypocrisy

How the Bali Nine Affair exposes Australia’s arrogant and abusive regional policies

(This article also appears at

While Australian media raise hue and cry over the deaths of two heroin dealers, they fail to recognize what the Bali Nine Affair is really about: the conflict between Australia’s paranoid regional policies and her neighbors’ reflexive need to assert their sovereignty.

Australians have been executed by neighboring countries before, though not by Indonesia. Indeed, when Singapore executed Australian drug dealer Nguyen Tuong Van, Australia’s official response was considerably more sober:

“It’s obviously very tragic for his family. In my view, in this case, the punishment certainly did not fit the crime. But people do need to understand that drug trafficking is a very serious offence and it has heavy penalties in Australia and it has even more drastic penalties overseas as we have been reminded today.”
– Tony Abbott, Australian Health Minister, December 2005

Much has been made of Chan and Sukumaran’s supposed redemption. The problem is that personal redemption does not guarantee clemency in any judicial system. There are lots of “saved souls” on death row in the United States, and probably one or more serving life or no-parole terms in Australia.

Ultimately, the Bali Nine Affair is not about the relative superiority or inferiority of neighboring cultures or justice systems. It’s really about Australia’s willful blindness with regard to regional policy. Yes, Australia has a civil society, which should be an exemplar for the region. Yes, Australia has made real sacrifices in the Global War on Terror. But her regional policies seem informed more by one too many episodes of Sea Patrol than by the realities of modern diplomacy.

There has also been a failure to understand the precarious position of Joko Widodo. Once celebrated as the Obama of Southeast Asia, recent events have increasingly made Indonesia’s president take on the appearance of a figurehead for interests within that country’s establishment who wish to create little more than the appearance of incremental reform. As such, it should’ve come as no surprise that Australia’s pointedly vocal disapprobation would cause Jokowi to simply dig his heels in.

Then there is the very related question of Australia’s asylum seeker policies. Quite possibly the most draconian in the Western influenced world, they not only expose Australia’s relative selfishness when it comes to dealing with refugees, but also the humiliating and illegal burdens the policy places upon neighboring nations — Indonesia chiefly among them.

Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, seems to relish in defending the mindset behind these policies. It’s almost as if Abbott sees Australia as some sort of Rhodesia of the South Pacific, that must prop up images of bogeymen and barbarians to their North in order to legitimize actions which only serve to increase unrest, resentment, and inequality in the region. Perhaps some reflection is in order.