The Politics

A 27 year old Australian woman, Schapelle Corby, was sentenced to 20 years in an Indonesian prison in May 2005, after 4.2 kg of marijuana had been found in her boogie-board bag on arrival in Bali. However, her fate had been determined not in Bali, but in Canberra.


INTRODUCTION: A POLITICAL SACRIFICE
The Schapelle Corby case appeared on the political horizon late in 2004. Even at this early stage answers were lacking to a significant number of questions, questions which were becoming persistent and which were increasingly being put to Australian politicians.

The case itself could hardly have been more contentious. The following extract, from a 2009 research paper, illustrates some of the reasons for this:


Political commentary and involvement escalated as the case gradually unfolded, and the above perspective was compounded further by a number of the features of the Bali trial itself, as illustrated by this 2008 video script:


Given this, the unprecedented 20 year sentence, and the extensive media coverage, the reaction of the Australian public was perhaps predictable. However, even superficially, the position and response of the Australian government was increasingly curious and contradictory.

What emerged, given even the most cursory of investigations, was disturbing in the extreme.


THE POLITICS
The political dimension was evident even prior to the wide scale involvement of the Australian media, whose reporting had an increasing influence on the case itself.

The high profile of such a tenuous drug case soon began to have an effect upon the, already tense, relationship between Australia and Indonesia. The emerging judicial system was particularly sensitive, and Indonesian resentment at years of perceived Australian interference in internal affairs was already acute.

Further, bearing in mind that Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country, and has the world's largest population of Muslims, Australia's geographic proximity made the relationship strategic to the west as a whole. Post the Bali bombings, and in the early years of Indonesian democratisation, its significance on the world stage could hardly be overstated.

The situation was exacerbated further by the potential threat to Australian investments within Indonesia, a market which was also viewed as strategic by the Australian establishment. Total Australian investment in Indonesia had reached A$2.6 billion by the end of December 2005, with annual bilateral trade worth about A$10.4 billion.

Thus, given the vital importance of this relationship, and the political imperative of maintaining it, the pressure upon Australian politicians, created by the case, was intense. The Australian government were well aware that a high profile demonstration by Australia of laissez-faire could only have been politically beneficial.

However, this was not the only political pressure in play.


AIRPORT SECURITY
In 2004, just three years post 9-11, airport security was a high profile matter, not only with the domestic public, but internationally. Australia's airport security was woefully lacking. This was evident not only through whistleblowers, who were generally marginalized, but through a number of official reports and documents (see The Library on this website).

The Australian government had failed to act on these, or at the very least, had failed to act sufficiently. In 2004, it is absolutely clear that the security at Sydney, and other Australian airports, remained severely and dangerously compromised, with criminal syndicates entrenched.

For the Australian government, the Schapelle Corby case raised the prospect that this situation could be reported across the world. The threat that other nations might recognize the risks posed to their own security, via these exposures, was stark and real. Without question, the consequences of this would have been damaging to Australia, and of course, politically damaging to the government itself.

Domestic political pressures were also acute. The case unfolded just two years after the hugely contentious privatisation of Sydney airport. Allegations of nepotism, conflict of interest, and corruption, had been commonplace, as were suggestions that, to mitigate costs, regulation was intentionally light.

The Australian government would have been well aware of this. They would have been well aware that had Schapelle Corby returned to Australia as an innocent woman, or been perceived to be innocent, focus would, inevitably, have turned towards the airports. From the Australian government's perspective, this scenario had to be avoided if possible.


AFP & NSW POLICE CORRUPTION
In terms of domestic politics, the role and status of the Australian Federal Police, and other police agencies, was equally problematic.

Over a number of years, many reports had documented systemic police corruption, particularly in Sydney. As shown in the Expendable film, whistleblower after whistleblower had spoken out, only to be ignored or worse. As with airport insecurity, nothing of substance had been done to address this. It had, in effect, been brushed under the carpet.

The political situation with respect to Schapelle Corby was exacerbated by the demonstrable fact that police corruption actually extended to drug syndication, and worse still, drug syndication through both Sydney airports.

Not only were the airports wholly lacking from a security perspective, but police officers, including senior officers, were involved in the smuggling of drugs through them, as were indemnified sources and informants.

The implications of this were serious, and had it been linked to the Schapelle Corby case, a domestic political crisis could easily have ensued. Public confidence in the police could have collapsed, and again, the reputation of the Australian government, both at home and abroad, may well have been seriously damaged in the short and medium terms.


POLITICAL PRESSURE
Thus, the pressure on Australian politicians posed by the Schapelle Corby case was intense. At risk was not only a vital and strategic international relationship, but exposure of chronic airport insecurity and systemic police corruption.

Accordingly, two broad axes of interest emerged within Australia’s Howard administration: the Howard/Downer interest, and the Ellison/Keelty interest. The former’s prime concern related to the stability of the relationship with Indonesia, whilst that of the latter related to the management and impact of domestic institutional corruption.

Weighed against these considerations, was the welfare of a single citizen.

From an exclusively political viewpoint, the balance of interests driving decision making could hardly have been more one sided.

The cold reality, as demonstrated by The Expendable Project, is that from the moment this complex political equation became apparent, political imperatives drove the actions of the government, and subsequently, its organs of state.

The Australian government, directly, and through its departments and agencies, acted against Schapelle Corby's interests with increasing vigour. The degree of orchestration of government departments was unprecedented.


THE EXPENDABLE PROJECT
The Expendable Project presents the complex political background to the Schapelle Corby case, and documents how incumbent individuals deployed Australian government departments and agencies against her.

It examines the central role of the AFP from an operational perspective, the use of the ABC to manage public opinion, and the actions of a number of other government departments in directly and wilfully undermining Schapelle Corby's position and that of her family.

It identifies a multitude of corrupt and abusive acts, including the wilful withholding of vital evidence from the Bali court, and a premeditated web of lies, which were presented to the Australian Parliament and media.

It exposes a government sacrificing the life and human rights of an innocent citizen, for political expediency and self-interest.



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