THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
MR CHAN AND MR SUKUMARAN
Recently, while in gaol in Indonesia, Andrew Chan wrote a letter to his teenage self.
In the letter he says:
"Your family and your friends are heartbroken and your life will be ended by a firing squad.
"I have missed weddings. I've missed funerals and the simple presence of my own family. The hurt and pain - I don't just put it on to myself. But the pain I put on my family is agonising.”
There aren’t many people who’d fail to be moved by those words.
They give us some understanding of the heartache, and the guilt felt by this son, brother, cousin.
That said, of course prison is not meant to be easy. It’s punishment. And it’s an opportunity to reform.
Both Andrew and his co-convicted, Myuran Sukumaran, know they committed a very serious crime. They have demonstrated genuine remorse. But they know they must pay a heavy price. They know their time in prison is an opportunity to repay their debt to society.
By all reports, during their decade in gaol, both young men have made exemplary efforts to rehabilitate themselves, as well as other prisoners. Even the Governor of the prison has commended their work.
Andrew has become a pastor. Myuran has trained as an artist. They have facilitated educational courses for others prisoners including English language classes, painting classes, drawing, music, dance, fitness and basic computer skills. They have helped coordinate fundraising activities both to improve the prison facilities and to support the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
Allowed life, the example of Andrew and Myuran’s reform shows the strength of the Indonesian justice system.
Death weakens Indonesia’s ability to plead mercy for its own citizens facing execution around the world – currently some 229 people.
And death would rob Indonesia of two young men who want to continue repaying their debt to society.
I have a particularly strong view on remorse and redemption because of experiences in my own life.
A few weeks ago I made a speech in the Parliament about Andrew and Myuran.
In that speech, I mentioned the example of my husband. In 1988, nearly 30 years ago and long before I knew him, my husband left prison after being convicted of being part of a conspiracy to import heroin.
Re-hab and prison as a very young man probably saved his life, and more importantly, allowed him to show remorse and reform. Leaving prison, he has spent every day since repaying his debt to society.
Had my husband been subject to death penalty, I think about what the world would have missed out on.
The world would have missed out on the three beautiful children that we’ve had together. It would have missed out on a man who spent the rest of his life making amends for the crime he committed.
I rarely talk about my private life in public. But I shared that story was because I think it’s important for everyone, especially family and friends, to see that while there’s life, there’s hope. While there’s life, there’s opportunity to reform. While there’s life, there’s potential to repay a debt to society. Death extinguishes these things forever.
The reason Andrew Chan’s words to his teenage self are so heart-wrenching is because they remind us that the death penalty is not just a sentence on these two young men, but on all those who love them.
I plead with the Indonesian Government to show them mercy.
This article was originally published in MAMAMIA on Tuesday the 9th of March 2015.