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Bali Nine: Why aren't Australians fighting for the lives of Chan and Sukumaran?

We cared so much about “our Schapelle”, why aren’t we behind Andrew and Myuran?

In October 2004, Schapelle Corby was arrested in Bali.

I was working in the office of the Queensland Attorney-General at the time. The phone rang non-stop. Ordinary Queenslanders were incensed. They were desperate to see Schapelle released. Most were sure she was innocent, that she had been set up. Even those who didn’t think she was innocent were certain she should be returned to Australia.

Callers told me in graphic detail how horrible prisoners were in “over there”. They asked me what I would do if she was my sister or my daughter. They told me I should be ashamed of myself for trying to tell them that it was a Federal issue and I couldn’t do anything about it.

I got abused – a lot.

People were very, very angry that ‘one of our own’ was alone in an Indonesian jail.

“The phone rang non-stop. Ordinary Queenslanders were incensed.”

The calls, letters and the emails never really stopped. Even when the tide of public opinion seemed to turn against Schapelle and the Corby clan, the public still thought she deserved to come home and serve her time here. The public no longer thought her innocent, but they cared about Schapelle’s future nonetheless and were fascinated by her.

Flash forward 10 or so years.

In December 2014, a woman named Kalynda Davis was arrested for drug trafficking in China and was potentially set to face the firing squad for allegedly trying to smuggle up to 75kg of the drug ice to Australia. It was Schapelle all over again. People were desperate to hear any news on her case.

When she was released and sent home, Australia was relieved. We ate up every detail of an apparent “clandestine diplomatic rescue operation” led by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, which saved Kalynda’s life.

Just this weekend, the papers ran stories with the selfies that she had taken that week, enjoying her freedom (and “her new short haircut”) back in Australia.

“It was Schapelle all over again.”

Now, in January 2015, two Australian men, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, are on death row.

Like Schapelle, they were convicted and had their appeals refused.

Like Schapelle, they have been serving time in an Indonesian prison.

And like Schapelle, their families have been on TV begging for mercy for their brothers and sons (and arguably, they are more relatable and able to engender sympathy than the antic-prone Corby family).

For more on the Bali 9: Families speak of their grief and plead to Tony Abbott for help.

And yet I cannot feel the same heat in the community…. People quite simply appear to care less.

They have from the start.

Why does the community care less? Why are people not moved to action by the plight of these men? Why are they not demanding that Chan and Sukumaran serve their time in this country?

At the very least, why are they not compelled to call on their government to ensure that these men live to see the next fortnight?

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“Why are people not moved to action by the plight of these men? Why are they not demanding that Chan and Sukumaran serve their time in this country?”

Is it because they can’t see themselves in the Chan and Sukamaran families?

For some reason, people don’t seem to be able to say: this could be my brother, that could be my mother on the television pleading for her son’s life, when it comes to these two men.

And yet, for many of us, this could so easily be the case – young men make stupid decisions, get caught up in a scene, think they are bullet-proof, are assured that many people before them have got away with it, it’s such easy money. But of course, it doesn’t turn out that way.

Is it because their surnames are Chan and Sukumaran, rather than Davis or Corby? Is it because we think they are calculating and criminal brown-skinned men, rather than gormless all-Aussie girls who just got caught up with the wrong crowd?

“Is it because they can’t see themselves in the Chan and Sukamaran families?”

Is it because their crimes are “worse”? Their drugs were more deadly?

Do we feel differently about heroin (for Chan and Sukumaran) versus pot or ice (for Corby and Davis)? Does this make a difference to the public, even though all drugs are illegal in Indonesia, making the level of criminality involved the same?

READ: A powerful letter from Bali 9 member Andrew Chan, “My life is an absolute waste”

Or do people not care because they don’t believe an execution is actually going to happen.

Regardless of what you think about the severity of the crime of drug trafficking, these men are set to be killed by firing squad.

Very soon. They will be blindfolded, led to a yard and shot.

“They will be blindfolded, led to a yard and shot.”

The last person to be executed in Australia was Ronald in 1967 (he was hanged for shooting a police officer during a prison escape attempt). People aged under 48 have not lived in an Australia where the death penalty existed. It is not surprising that people feel some distance from the consequences of capital punishment.

But, just last week, Indonesia killed six people for drug trafficking – five of those were foreigners and the other an Indonesian woman in her 20s. And let’s not forget that our country has stood by and let Australian young men be executed overseas before: 25-year-old Van Nguyen was hung for trafficking drugs by Singapore in 2005.

Without a drastic intervention, these men will be killed. And the majority of Australians will have done nothing and, perhaps, even felt nothing until it was too late.

More news: Bali Nine’s Andrew Chan will face the firing squad.

Regardless of whether we can see past their ethnic background or not, regardless of whether we think that heroin is worse than pot, or whether we think they deserve to spend a lifetime in prison for their crimes, these men could be members of our family – our brothers and our sons.

Their fates are so much more dire than that of Schapelle Corby. Even if they received half of the empathy, compassion and public pressure that was brought by her supporters, their destinies could be radically changed.

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