Explain to me: Why won't Australia save the Bali Nine?

The apparently imminent execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have brought the relationship between Australia and Indonesia into sharp focus.

Many Australians are wondering why Australia has not intervened to stop the execution – or why the Indonesian President Joko Widodo has not granted them clemency.

As Megan Wright explains, there are many reasons why we should not expect a last minute change of heart from the Indonesian Government…

For many years the Australia-Indonesia relationship has been fraught with intense highs and lows, including everything from the Bali bombings, to the Boxing Day Tsunami, to live exports. But what many Australians fail to recognise is that we are, in many ways, more dependent on our South-East Asian neighbour than they are on us.

Indonesia is a country that is increasingly asserting its place in the world under the guise of its new President Joko Widodo, who is intent on publicly eradicating corruption – and being perceived as a strong leader, both domestically and internationally.

And, as the largest Muslim country in the world and the sixth biggest democracy, Indonesia is set to project this power even more in the coming years.

Jokowi (centre) was sworn in as Indonesia’s 7th President in October last year.

As Indonesian Law Professor Tim Lindsey told ABC’s Hack this week, “Australia is somewhere between the 15th and 17th ranked trading partner with Indonesia. We would achieve nothing by threatening some sort of trade sanctioning against Indonesia.”

But the onset of public outrage about the pending executions of convicted drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran has certainly not gone unnoticed in Indonesia.

Read more here: Bali Nine’s Andrew Chan will face the firing squad.

In fact Pierre Marthinus wrote in The Jakarta Post that Australians were engaging in a “surreal form of hypocrisy” for attempting to appeal to the Indonesian Government on this issue when we continue to turn away asylum seekers arriving on our shores by boat from Indonesia.


“Indonesia provides open and accessible trials, opportunities for appeal, sympathetic media coverage, rehabilitation programs and a chance at being granted presidential clemency,” Marthinus wrote.

Adding that, “Australia seemingly prefers secretive on-the-spot extra-judicial actions, better known as “on-sea-matters” that the Abbott government refuses to comment on.”

Bali Nine members, Chan and Sukumaran.

Emotional public appeals, such as the “I Stand For Mercy” video that quickly went viral, have not had the desired impact on our neighbours to the north either.

A major reason for this is the fundamental difference in how drug traffickers are viewed by Indonesia’s legal system, which likens drug trafficking to terrorism. From an Indonesian perspective, it seems highly hypocritical for the Australian Government to support the execution of convicted terrorists in Indonesia, but not convicted drug smugglers.

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

Convicted Bali Nine member Scott Rush (left).

Many Australians seem to be caught in the trap of thinking that, for all our assistance to Indonesia after the Bali bombings and the Boxing Day Tsunami, they owe us a favour. But, even if Indonesia did owe us a favour, a decision to not execute Chan and Sukumaran wouldn’t be it.

There are three fundamental reasons that this is the case:

  1. The case of Schapelle Corby was an exceptional one. The decision of Indonesia’s former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to grant clemency to Schapelle Corby has lead some Australians to believe that they might be treated as an exception when it comes to the Indonesian legal system. But this is a mistake – Schapelle was the exception.
  1. Joko Widodo is out to prove that he is a strong leader for a strong Indonesia. The fact that he granted Schapelle clemency actually led to many Indonesians viewing former President Yudhoyono as a weaker leader. Joko Widodo is not about to fall into the same trap.
  1. These executions will probably have next to no impact on our ongoing relationship with Indonesia. The relationship between our two countries will continue to be fraught with ups and downs. From a diplomatic perspective, the treatment of prisoners and the normal functioning of a country’s criminal justice system is unlikely to upset the relationship.
Schapelle Corby was granted clemency by former President SBY in February last year.

So, while it will be a sad day if and when members of the Bali Nine are executed, it will not be perceived in a diplomatic sense as unprecedented or unexpected.

Australia may continue to hope that the Indonesian President might grant another exception (or even nine) but we must keep in mind that the odds are stacked heavily against it.

Megan has a Bachelor of Development Studies from the ANU with a specialisation in South-East Asian Regional Studies. She speaks Indonesian and is a keen observer of Indonesian politics and diplomatic relations.