In the quiet aftermath of the Schapelle Corby decision, there is now space for reflection - for both her legal team, and her supporters. But we also must now try to make sense of our own response. What prompted our nation’s collective empathy? In a world where issues come and go daily, what is it in this case that has held our interest?
The fact is there is no definite truth in any answer to these questions. In many ways, every analysis we have heard holds some reasonable explanation.
Broadcaster Derryn Hinch may be correct that we sympathise with this young woman because her immaculate appearance, youthful beauty or tears make us feel for her. Schapelle represents a friend, a lover, a sister or daughter to many Australians. But this idea is limited by the fact we can sympathise with most human-interest stories. It doesn’t explain the depth of our connection with Schapelle.
In so many ways, women are still victims of our paternalistic society. When we juxtapose television images of three male judges frankly discussing Schapelle’s case, void of emotion, against the fragile and fearful Schapelle, it resonates powerfully with women who have themselves faced social judgment and powerlessness.
This concept, perhaps, brings us closer to an understanding of the reason our consciences have been piqued and impacted upon by a court case in Bali.
True, we all identify with Schapelle Corby because she could be any one of us. Many carefree Australians have travelled to Bali, and many other overseas destinations. And many preparing to travel will be buying locks for their bags and having them shrink-wrapped in plastic, so heightened are our fears.
But, many of us have not travelled abroad, and may never. Why would these people also have the same compassion and empathy?
Because while any one of us could be Schapelle Corby, every one of us actually is. She represents the fragility of the systems that control our lives.
We live in a global world that offers a sense of freedom, seemingly unlimited choice and incredible affluence. Yet, deep down we are all aware that none of these things are certain. Even in this country, our freedoms and affluence can be removed in an instant. We are only as free as our political and legal systems allow. And, they allow very little.
In this month’s issue of The Monthly magazine, ex-pat Australian lawyer, Richard Bourke, discussed the power of the Australian political and legal system. He argues our democratic systems are threatened by not having a Bill of Rights. Many other nations with whom we identify as having similar freedoms and levels of democracy do. He reflects that a Bill of Rights belongs to the community: it becomes their “bedrock principles” that define them. Our lack of such rights leaves us even more vulnerable.
While many of us take aim at Indonesia for the 20-year sentence that was handed down, we refuse to question our own systems that may have not treated Schapelle Corby all that differently.
This event has unfolded in a post-September 11 world where we have been given many reasons to be afraid.
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