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Bali Nine can thank the civil libertarians

By James McConvill - posted Thursday, 7 September 2006

Following the sentences handed down to members of the Bali Nine by the Bali High Court earlier this year, some commentators argued that the Australian Federal Police had blood on its hands for providing information to Indonesian authorities which led to the arrests. Following the harsher sentence of death by firing squad imposed on four of the Bali Nine by the Indonesian Supreme Court this week, it is civil libertarians in Australia’s media, parliament and universities that have blood on their hands.

No doubt when six of the Bali Nine are eventually executed, the civil libertarians will light a candle for them and protest as to how the death penalty is draconian and violates fundamental human rights. But this would once again highlight the hypocrisy which washes over the soft Left in Australia.

Rather than being left to sanctimoniously light a candle in peace, the civil libertarians should be condemned and condemned hard. They have aided and abetted a cruel execution of a group of misguided young Australians. Not only have the civil libertarians become extremists in pushing human rights to a community that sensibly prefers the common good, they have become dangerous extremists that pose a serious threat to the life and well-being of Australians.


When Australian immigration officers granted refugee status to about 40 West Papuan “freedom fighters” earlier this year, some conservative commentators in Australia wisely predicted that it raised a threat to the appeals of the Bali Nine which were already under way.

Those with an understanding of how the Indonesian judicial system really works, know that Indonesian judges are essentially puppets of the Indonesian Government. Judicial decisions in Indonesia are not characterised by intricate reasoning and strong precedent, but rather are a component of executive policy stemming from Jakarta. Many Indonesian judges even have trouble constructing a sentence, let alone engaging in intelligent and reasoned decision.

Saying to Indonesia that West Papuan asylum seekers faced a real threat of persecution from the Indonesian military if they were to return to their homeland, was a slap in the face to the Indonesian Government and cast the West Papuans as heroes fighting for a genuine cause.

The Indonesian Government was not going to let Australia get away with this, even if the decision was made by the Department of Immigration officers, rather than the Howard Government. The most immediate way to do this was to impose the heavy hand of Indonesian law on Australia’s high-profile Bali Nine.

The Howard Government knew that it would have to act to protect Australia’s interests (as, some forget, it was elected to do), and proposed changes to Australia’s Migration Act. The changes were not controversial. Aside from all the rhetoric stemming from the ear-piercing extremists in cafes around inner Melbourne and Sydney, all that was being proposed is that people that queue-jump and arrive illegally on our shores, would have their refugee claim processed off-shore.

That is, the careless queue-jumper would still have their fundamental international right to refugee determination provided, and would be looked after with food and accommodation up to that time. This sounds pretty generous to me, given that they are essentially delaying the opportunity of others who have patiently waited in the queue to have their claim for refugee status assessed.


The only thing that would change through off-shore processing is that the illegal queue-jumpers would not be able to block up the Australian judicial system with frivolous and vexatious appeals that diminish the efficiency of our court system and cost Australians millions of dollars a year. Again, it sounds sensible.

But along came the human rights brigade for whom the common good is ugly and common sense is an impossibility. All of a sudden the civil libertarians put down their lattes to protest in favour of illegal queue-jumpers being allowed to block up Australia’s courts. That was all they were doing. Remember, under the Howard Government’s proposed changes, the queue-jumpers would still be granted access to refugee determination - in accordance with international law.

To make matters worse, the civil libertarians believed that the proposed changes were fundamentally wrong because they took into account Indonesian interests.

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About the Author

James McConvill is a Melbourne lawyer. The opinions expressed are his personal views only, and were written in the
spirit of academic freedom when James was employed as a university lecturer.

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