Fuse lit with rhetorical bomb about Indonesia
By suggesting that Indonesia repay aid with clemency, Tony Abbott has taken us to a dark place.
Some of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's senior colleagues are concerned that his tough talk with Indonesia may have undermined a carefully crafted strategy to save the lives of two Australians on death row.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been leading what officials describe as a "massive" private and public diplomacy campaign to persuade Indonesian leaders to halt the execution of drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, convicted of trafficking heroin.
The strategy involves showing respect for Indonesia while outlining deep flaws in the legal and diplomatic policy processes, as excessive pressure could prove to be counterproductive.
Faint hopes of clemency have been kept alive by Indonesian leaders agreeing to delay the executions and hold a press conference to face questions, which appeared to demonstrate that Australian concerns have been taken seriously.
On Wednesday, however, Mr Abbott appeared to depart from the diplomatic script to promise an "absolutely unambiguous" response if the executions went ahead. Mr Abbott linked the threat to Australia's generous humanitarian aid program following the Aceh tsunami of a decade ago.
Abbott's comments not only attracted a heated response from Jakarta but have also caused dismay at senior levels of the Australian government, including inside cabinet.
"It's awful," said a senior source, requesting anonymity.
"It undid a lot of the good work," said another.
Tim Lindsey, director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at Melbourne University, said Ms Bishop had been consistently and respectfully articulating Australia's interests while "elegantly" pointing out deep legal and policy flaws in the Indonesian position.
Abbott's comments, on the other hand, were "probably counterproductive" and certainly "unnecessary".
"Rightly or wrongly, when it comes to diplomacy, Indonesia can respond positively to measured persuasion and historically it has always responds very negatively to threats," said Professor Lindsey.
Abbott yesterday clarified that he was not imposing conditions on Australia's generous aid program.
Legal analysts are dismayed that Indonesia could proceed to carry out the executions while court processes are ongoing and foreign policy analysts have pointed out that Indonesia would greatly compromise efforts to uphold the rights of its own citizens in similar circumstances abroad.
Australian officials are loath to draw historical comparisons but Fairfax has become aware of one case, in China, in which a convicted drug smuggler was saved from likely execution after strenuous diplomatic interventions.
The convicted Australian drug smuggler was spared the death penalty in April 2011, just days before the arrival of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Fairfax has agreed not to publish the prisoner's name in order to respect the privacy of her son, who is studying in Australia and was five years old at the time.
It comes as the two prisoners asked their supporters to make "respectful" representations on their behalf, expressing their gratitude for the surge of support for their cause in Australia.
The mens' lawyer Michael O'Connell, SC, relayed the information after seeing the duo who are facing execution by firing squad in Kerobokan prison on Thursday afternoon.
"Andrew and Myuran are very concerned that people remain respectful when they make representations on their behalf but, of course, they want those representations firmly made," Mr O'Connell said.
Mr O'Connell declined to comment on Mr Abbott's remarks and said the message from Chan and Sukumaran was not directed specifically at any campaign or remarks.
He added that the two were "humbled" by growing support for them in Australia and "to an extent" in Indonesia.
Mr O'Connell also said revelations in Fairfax Media reports that Indonesian President Joko Widodo did not have the men's documentation in support of their clemency bid when he made the decision to reject mercy.
He said that these concerns about process would form a "large part" of their case before Jakarta's administrative court, where they are appealing that the clemency rejection was flawed.