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Yes, we're angry. But boycotting Bali will only hurt the innocent.

Susan Carland writes on why the calls to stop travelling to Indonesia are harming, not helping.

Our anger and sadness about the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia last night is completely reasonable. What we do with that anger and sadness must be also.

Calls for boycotts of travel to Indonesia (particularly Bali, the much-loved holiday destination of Australians) or boycotts of Australian aid to Indonesia are myopic, will mostly punish Indonesians living in poverty who had nothing to do with President Widodo’s decision, and will be counter-productive.

Women attend a vigil in Sydney. Via Getty.

The Australian government currently estimates it will give $605.3 million to Indonesia in aid in 2014-15. This aid goes to crucial programs like reducing the infant and maternal mortality rates in Nusa Tenggara Timur, where Australian aid helped to decrease maternal mortality by 35%, and helping to prevent the spread of HIV in Indonesian capital cities and provinces. To suggest this life-giving and life-protecting aid should be revoked because of Indonesia’s use of the death penalty is inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst.

One of many #BoycottBali pictures posted on Twitter.

Australian aid to Indonesia also goes to specific poverty-reduction programs that reached 86 million Indonesians in 2013 alone, offering vital services like rice subsidies and health insurance for people who simply could not afford them. Our aid also put into programs to reduce violence against women, and help them gain access to employment. To cut off assistance to the very poor or those subject to violence because of our anger at an Indonesian government policy is not just a pointless and reactive, it is cruel.

And for those who feel what happened was symptomatic of flaws in the Indonesian legal system, it is worth keeping in mind that $55 million of Australian aid was spent on a “Partnership for Justice” program, which includes a focus on addressing corruption and increasing transparency in the Indonesian legal system, and making justice more accessible for marginalised groups . It is illogical to rage against the failings of the Indonesian legal system while at the same time demanding a decent chunk of its funding be stripped. All the more so when much of this funding is earmarked specifically to tackle the very areas we criticise.

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Children in Aceh, Indonesia, an area affected by the 2012 Tsunami. Image via Getty.
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Similarly, refusing to holiday in Bali will mostly hurt people in a developing region highly reliant on our tourism dollars who were not responsible for President Widodo’s decision. Refusing to give Balinese hotels and restaurants our cash directly harms people like the waiters and cleaners, and achieves little else. It is like punishing every-day Australians for the decisions of the Australian government that we don’t support, especially when we remember there are Indonesians who actively oppose the death penalty.

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Tourists shopping in Indonesia. Image via Getty.

And given that there hasn’t been a similar call for us to also boycott countries like the United States, Japan, Barbados, or Thailand (the United States only has the death penalty in some states, but even by that argument, it would mean no more Australians going on holidays to DisneyWorld in Florida, a state that does have the death penalty), or more specifically, countries like China, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia who, like Indonesia, implement the death penalty for drug traffickers, our angry calls for boycotting Indonesia because of the tragic executions of Chan and Sukumaran seem more knee-jerk punishment than a reasoned act for change.

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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the executions “senseless” in this morning’s press conference. Via Getty.

If we want to send a message to the Indonesian president about our feelings on the death penalty, it needs to be one that is effective and relevant.  We don’t want to punish innocent people simply to make a poorly-constructed point, we don’t want to do anything that makes things worse, and we don’t want to cause a government who feels their sovereignty has been mocked to turn away from us, reducing the influence we currently do have in this area.

This is not about being weak or tip-toeing around delicate egos; this is about being smart and pragmatic. Our best hope is to passionately, relentlessly lobby our leaders to keep engaging with Indonesian officials on this point, with all the force diplomacy allows. And we need to support the work of the many human rights lawyers and activists who are in Indonesia and have been for many years. So many of them are under-paid, under-resourced and over-worked and yet these are the ones who are making real change on the ground in Indonesia in the areas we claim to feel strongly about.

And we need to keep doing this after the stories of Chan and Sukumaran fade from the headlines, and our outrage dissipates. Because there will, sadly, be more Chans and Sukumarans. They may not be Australian, but they are no less important and deserving of our fight. And it is crucial we fight for them in the right way.

Susan Carland recently submitted her PhD in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University, and is the presenter of the forth-coming ABC RN series, “Assumptions”.

Do you think we should boycott Bali?

Photos from the Keep Hope Alive vigil in Sydney:

For more coverage, try these:

Vale, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Two lives were wasted today, but they won’t be forgotten.

The world reacts to the executions.