THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY, 29 APRIL 2015
SUBJECT/S: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran
ELLEN FANNING: First of all, your thoughts this morning following the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well our first thoughts of course are with the families and friends of these two young men. For them it’s been a decade of dashed hopes and their worst fears realised. The legal teams that have worked so hard on behalf of these young men, the consular staff and Australian officials that have tried to help them, all of them this morning would be absolutely devastated by this outcome, particularly as there are still legal processes underway that should have been allowed to be completed. We support the Government in their decision to recall our Ambassador. We support the Government in their decision to continue to suspend high level ministerial visits in both directions. I think anything beyond that is a discussion for another day
FANNING: How incredible is it that the Government has yet to be formally notified of these executions as we watch coffins come off in ambulances?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think the treatment of the families of these young men and indeed the refusal of the Indonesian Government to deal, I think fairly, with the Australian Government in terms of informing them this morning but over the course of this terrible time has been quite reprehensible. If you saw the footage of the families of these young men being jostled yesterday and pushed around through a crowd, it is completely unacceptable. And of course we’ve had a long and close relationship with Indonesia and we hope our relationship will continue to be a good one in the future but we are deeply saddened and deeply troubled and I understand that many Australians are deeply angered.
FANNING: You added your voice in a very personal way to the pleas, not demands, but pleas for the lives of these young men to be spared and you cited the example of your own husband who spent time in gaol on drugs charges and is a shining example of a life rehabilitated. That was very much the tone, of pleading, how hard is it to watch what we’ve seen in response?
PLIBERSEK: We were pleading for mercy because we knew that the Indonesia President had the ability, or we believed he had the ability to grant clemency in this case and we didn’t want to make this a test of strength for him. We believe that a strong person can show their strength by granting mercy. It is devastating because of course the death penalty robs a person of their ability to repay their debt to society. And in fact the death of these two young men robs the Indonesian justice system of an example of successful rehabilitation within its justice system. It also, frankly, robs Indonesia of an ability to plead for their own citizens, 230 of them on death row in countries around the world. How can it be that Indonesia would expect the governments of other nations to listen to their pleas for their own citizens when they have ignored our pleas for clemency?
FANNING: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has declared herself dismayed at Indonesia’s response, not just in pushing ahead with the executions but all the rest of it; the announcement of the timing of this on Anzac Day, a series of what seem to be, or could be interpreted as deliberate slights, calculated to offend. How do you interpret them?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think at the very least, the handling of this has been chaotic and insensitive.
FANNING: That’s a generous description of it. Do you think it has been calculated to cause offence to Australia?
PLIBERSEK: I don’t think today is the day to talk about these things. Today our focus must be on the families and friends of these young men, their supporters and the principled position that wherever Australia can, we should speak up against the death penalty, wherever it is applied, to whomever it is applied. This is not just about our sadness of these young men, although that is the centre of our feeling and our effort today; it is about the principled position that the death penalty is wrong. Mistakes have been made before, if you apply the death penalty, a person can never repay their debt to society.
FANNING: The action we’ve taken today to recall Paul Grigson for consultation, I mean it could prompt a tit for tat response from Jakarta. Do you anticipate that?
PLIBERSEK: Well it is frankly very difficult to predict what the response might be from Jakarta.
FANNING: That’s an extraordinary statement to make after all these decades of relations with Indonesia, that we don’t know how this President and this administration are likely to respond. Do you find that extraordinary?
PLIBERSEK: I find it difficult to comprehend that not only have our pleas for clemency been ignored, that’s one thing certainly, but the examples of insensitivity that you’ve described before are very difficult to understand.
FANNING: All of this has to be weighed against a significant relationship with a significant neighbour, our efforts to combat terrorism, the discussions we have with Indonesia about refugees coming by boat to Australia. Within that context, how significant is this rupture today and how significant can it be allowed to be?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s certainly a time that many Australians feel deeply saddened and angered by the actions of the Indonesian Government but not only do we have a significant strategic relationship with Indonesia as you’ve described, we’ve also got other Australians in prison in Indonesia. We need to consider their interests too. So we will of course work to restore a better understanding between our nations. We have to do that.
FANNING: On the question of President Joko Widodo, and clearly this is perhaps not a conversation for today but how difficult is it going to be during this president’s administration to achieve that rapprochement?
PLIBERSEK: I don’t think it’s a day to personalise any of the sadness that we’re feeling. Our plea to the President was for mercy and our plea was to say to him ‘You can show strength by being merciful’ and of course we’re terribly saddened that he didn’t accept that argument from Australia.
FANNING: I can look into your face now and see how hard it’s hit you and we saw Julie Bishop on television, a woman who’d been up all night very clearly. How hard has it hit you and has it hit your colleagues because Julie Bishop is your colleague very much today?
PLIBERSEK: I think it’s hit all of us very hard and hit many, many Australians very hard too. The people that I’ve been speaking to in recent days and weeks feel so strongly the injustice of two young men spending ten years in gaol, putting so much effort into reforming themselves, putting so much effort into supporting other prisoners including it’s reported in the last hours offering comfort to the other prisoners who were facing the firing squad with them. It seems particularly cruel to spend ten years in gaol and then to have this sentence applied. In our prison system of course they would have expected of course to be seriously punished, but to one day leave prison and have the opportunity of repaying their debt to society. To have that taken from them is I think very difficult for their families and friends to see. I think this aspect of - they are success stories of the Indonesian justice system because they have been able to reform. The prison governor has said so, other prisoners have spoken about the positive influence that they had in turning the lives around of other prisoners. It seems particularly cruel given all of those changes that these men have made in their lives. No one minimises their crime, their crime was a very serious crime. And no one I think disrespects the rights of the Indonesian legal system to take strong action against drug trafficking in their nation. Of course we respect that. But to spend ten years in gaol and then to have this sentence applied does seem like a double punishment.
FANNING: Thank you so much for coming up this morning and speaking to us.